Thursday, 26 April 2018

On St George's Day - one of 353,000 new arrivals hits the headlines!


So, our country has a new prince – who seems to have arrived remarkably promptly on Monday morning just after 11 o’clock.  It’s lovely news for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and for the nation.

UNICEF estimate that every day the world welcomes 353,000 new citizens, that's 4 babies born every minute!  Interesting to put that into context with the figure of 155,000 daily deaths.

At the Manse we have a new puppy and a member of our family commented this week that whilst she looks a bit like a teddy bear its amazing to realise she’s actually ALIVE!  It seemed to have come as something of a revelation!

Well, every new life feels a bit like a wonderful miracle.  I think the Sunday TV serial ‘Call the Midwife’ knows a thing or two about touching the heart strings and making even the most desperate situation seem just that little bit more bearable with the news of a new arrival in the family.

The bible charts the whole of life with ‘Hatches, Matches and Dispatches’ featuring in both Testaments.  Significant births include the longed for, yet slightly unexpected arrival of Isaac and Samuel, to the highly chronicled stories of John and Jesus’ entry into the world.

Over recent days, as we have anticipated, and then experienced,the arrival of this new royal child there has been a sort of inference in some reporting that as he is only fifth in line to the throne his arrival isn’t as important as that of Prince George’s in July 2013.

Well, in an historical context I suppose we understand that.  Yet in a family and personal sense the birth of this (at the time of writing) unnamed youngster is of equal and precious worth alongside that of his siblings.

Whether children are born into our lives, adopted, fostered, or befriended – whether we are a parent, aunt or uncle or a friendly and encouraging presence – we give thanks for them and value our limited role in their development.

As an old hymn puts it;

Father, in your presence kneeling,
All our heart’s desire revealing,
to your love, in faith, appealing –
For our children, Lord, we pray.




Saturday, 21 April 2018

The day I almost worked for Marks and Spencer!

This week I ventured over to Wycombe and popped into Marks and Spencer. 

I was having a ‘happy’ time just wandering around minding my own business when this man comes over to me with a shirt in hand complaining that it had a label indicating the chest size but not the neck measurements.  ‘Oh, is that right’, I said.  ‘Yes’, he replied, ‘So what do you think I should do?’ 

Well, as our acquaintance was less than a minute old I thought this rather odd being entrusted so soon in our unexpected friendship with his wardrobe requirements!

Eventually – well after another fifteen seconds – I had to put him out of his misery and tell him I too was a customer!  His remorse was instant as he apologised profusely telling me he thought I was staff.  I’m still trying to work out why!!

There are a couple of cases of mistaken identity to be found in the Easter story. 

On the Emmaus road the dejected followers of Jesus spent the entire journey thinking they were speaking to a stranger rather than their Lord.  And most strikingly, perhaps, is Mary at the Garden Tomb supposing that her early morning conversation was with the ‘gardener’.

Jesus turned up – but, for a time at least, wasn’t recognised.

Maybe it’s not too different today.  We look for God in cathedrals and chapels yet so often miss his incarnational presence in the so called ‘ordinary’ and ‘mundane’ aspects of our lives. 

So, if I see you in Marks and Spencer – I still don’t know the equivalent neck measurements to chest sizes – so its better if you ask someone else!

Ian

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Continuing Resurrection

Over the last few weeks, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4th 1968, many churches have been remembering the life and ministry of Martin Luther King.

This spell bindingly eloquent Baptist minister from the Deep South of the United States played a seminal role in the story of the advancement of civil rights in that country and during this 50th anniversary I’ve heard interviews with people who knew him and they have not only wanted to speak of the day he died but the life he lived.  They have wanted to help us understand his message and passion.  They have wanted to continue his work – of striving in a non-violent way – towards the goal of mutual respect and representation.

And that, it seems to me, is Luke’s agenda in the lectionary passage from Acts that is set for this coming Sunday – it’s the passage in which Peter and John healed a lame man at the temple and then went on to preach a sermon about Jesus and his death and resurrection.

This isn’t just plain reporting.  This is interpretation.

Luke gives Peter’s sermon an edge and fills in the dots. And that was an accepted way of writing history in those days.  You didn’t only tell the story of your hero, you gave them a speech that explained their passion and reasoning; that made them come alive.

I think there is no doubt that Peter isn’t just giving the crowd a history lesson about Jesus – he is proclaiming and then living out the message that the work of Jesus, his spirit and presence is still around.  Indeed, he says of himself and John: We are witnesses to all that has happened.

The supporters of Martin Luther King passionately want his work to carry on; the disciples of Jesus Christ want nothing less for their Lord and Master.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Easter Day: Running towards Resurrection

The Swiss painter, Eugene Burnand shows the disciples Peter and John running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of Resurrection.

If you want to see the real thing you’ll need to take a trip to Paris and visit the wonderful Musee d’Orsay on the bank of the Seine.

Peter is graphically portrayed by Burnand.  He’s the older disciple with furrowed brow and gnarled hands.  He has the eyes of a man who thinks with emotion and who has spent a lifetime acting on impulse.

I suspect that Peter is a much-loved disciple amongst us.  He’s all too human and we see ourselves in him.

Where does Peter find resurrection that first Easter?

Well, I’d like to think he encounters it in his mind and the way he thinks.

His journey thus far with Jesus hasn’t been the smoothest.

On the Mount of Transfiguration he misreads the sacredness of it all and wants to build tabernacles there to preserve the moment in aspic.

He once told Jesus he would not be a suffering Messiah and received the rebuke of his Lord in the severest tone with Jesus declaring: Get thee behind me Satan!

And, of course, in the early hours of Good Friday, around the fire in Pilate’s courtyard Peter denies Jesus three times before the cock crowed.

Yet this wizened and world weary character we see in our painting this morning got so much right.

He was the first to recognised Jesus as the Christ and he was the disciple who actually got out of the boat and joined Jesus on the water.

He, like so many of the male disciples, wasn’t at the cross.  Yet here he is running towards resurrection.  And if we could read his mind and hear his thoughts as he strains to arrive at the garden tomb, maybe we would hear a dialogue going on in his mind as he ponders that perhaps Good Friday wasn’t the end after all, and just maybe there is another chapter in the story of Jesus.

As the gospel unfolds Peter’s narrative develops too.  For him the resurrection brings a new beginning as he is re-instated.  He can begin afresh, he isn’t to be remembered solely as the disciple who denied his master, he will go down in history as a faithful servant of Christ, indeed one upon whom the church has been built.

Peter will still make mistakes.  Indeed, quite soon he’ll retreat into a certain exclusivity, a sort of mindset that over-emphasises a particular religious tradition.  Paul will come along and challenge him and once more he’ll change his mind and become more inclusive in his outlook.

But that, I suggest is the very essence of resurrection for Peter.  The living presence of Jesus constantly challenges his thinking and taking him to new places. 

This continuous revelation, these exciting ongoing discoveries about the breath of God’s love are Peter’s way of exploring faith and encountering the divine.

Perhaps they can be ours.

For it seems to me that one of the greatest experiences of resurrection for us today is the way that God is continually renewing our minds as we think through our questions, apply our faith to new situations, become eager to tease out more and more our understanding of the way spirituality touches the everyday – and in all this something of the life of God blossoms in us and in the church.

We too can meet resurrection in our thinking – just like Peter.


ps. Blog holiday this week!

A big 'thank you' to the Vogel Family

Eight of us from AFC spent part of this last week visiting Hauke, our former Time for God volunteer, and his parents on their farm near Ha...