Thursday, 28 June 2018

Love doesn't watch the clock

This Sunday’s gospel reading has two healings: The Woman who touches Jesus and Jairus’ Daughter.

On both occasions Jesus shows practical compassion even if one is characterised by confusion and the other by delay.

A 19th century saying from enslaved African Americans goes: God may not come when you call him, but he’ll be there right on time!

There’s a lot to ponder in that seemingly contradictory statement, one borne out of a real experience for how faith can meet adversity yet still get through.

Perhaps we could add a further thought to St Paul’s litany all about love in 1 Corinthians 13 and say: Love doesn’t look at the clock. 

That is, love has time for people, makes time, finds time – even willingly ‘wastes’ time in loving others.

These healings in Sunday’s lectionary just remind us yet again that Jesus chooses to leave people in a better condition than he finds them.  In other words, no matter how hard pressed or time restricted, love finds a way.

A couple of friends of mine took a long train journey down to Devon last week to visit a sick relative – they hardly knew how appropriate this act of kindness was.  They deliberately and compassionately made that time to be with someone they loved.  Just a minute upon arriving back home they received the telephone call that their relative has just passed away.

When we make the time, when we stay to listen, when we drive a loved one to Casualty in the middle of the night, when we visit a relative lost in dementia – that’s the way ‘God turns up’.  Or as those 19th century African Americans said:  God may not come when you call him, but he’ll be there right on time’.

Love, it does what it can, without looking at the clock.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Endings and Beginnings

Part of a minister’s responsibility is to take funerals.  You might think it one of the most difficult things we do; and, in a way, that’s true.  Yet, standing alongside folk at such times is also an immense privilege.

I took the funeral services of both my grandparents and parents.  My colleagues tell me you are not meant to do that – and I know why that’s the received wisdom!

It did feel lonely meeting their coffins at the entrance to the crematorium chapel but (I wonder if you can understand this) it was the last thing I could do for them as a son or grandson.  I know clergy colleagues would have led wonderful services for my folk, but the truth was, on the day, I wanted to ‘look after them’.  And all four services were fine and I’m unrepentantly glad I did it!

As I’ve heard the sad news this week of two church families at AFC going through personal loss I’ve been reflecting on those four funerals of my grandparents and parents and all that has followed.

I’ve known for some time that actually good things have happened to my family since their passing.  These four people occupied such a central place amongst us that, whilst they were alive, we simply couldn’t imagine the wider ‘Green Clan’ without them.  Yet, since their deaths my brothers and I have grown closer, and wider family gatherings still ring with laughter and companionship.

We have not forgotten them.  Indeed, we speak with much loving affection about them often.  Yet we have now grown together in different ways, and in doing so, I believe, we honour their memory and the wonderful foundations they laid for us.

The journey of love never ends.

The various phases of grief takes us on many twists and turns and no one follows exactly the same path.  Life without the people we have lost is different but, pray God, it still holds the potential to be good.  

Thursday, 14 June 2018

On this day...

Ordination Sunday 14th June 1987

Over breakfast I was listening to the radio this morning and I heard that ‘On this day…’ in 1777 the United States adopted the Stars and Stripes as their national flag.

Then I realised it was 14th June – which for me is a memorable date because it was ‘On this day…’ thirty one years ago that I was ordained.  It was Trinity Sunday 1987 and I was 26 years old!

I suppose in some ways it was a different age: No internet or emails so I actually read newspapers and made telephone calls.  No ‘cut and paste’ facility on my electric typewriter, so I wasn’t tempted to use the template for last week’s order of service and forget to change the date!  No Whatsapp, so I wrote letters and no Spotify so I listened to CDs!

It’s also true that back in the late 80’s Church life was different too.  There were more people around.  We were still the beneficiaries of what I sometimes think of as the ‘Billy Graham’ generation.  Those folk who had come to faith in the 50’s and 60’s – many of whom have now been ‘promoted to glory’.  A repeat ‘influx’ of new people has never really been repeated on quite the same scale.

I have had the privilege, over these last thirty-one years, of serving in five churches: in Northamptonshire, Worcestershire, the West Country and two in the Home Counties.

However, for me, today isn’t just about looking back but re-committing myself to those ordination vows I took in my late twenties – even as I now enter my late fifties!!

I think I am fortunate that I still have a sense of optimism and conviction about local church life, never more so than in serving amongst my present congregation for whom I have the deepest respect and admiration.

My prayer for coming days is that, with God’s help:

 I’ll continue to strive to make sermons as interesting and relevant as I can.

That our worship together will resonate with daily life.

That we’ll be an ‘encouraging’ congregation.

That we’ll seek not only a personal application for faith but a corporate/civic/ society understanding too.

That we’ll be a church, confident enough in God, that we go on asking questions.

I have no doubt they’ll be ups and downs in coming days, but I have every confidence that God will work beside us every step of the way and that ‘good’ things will develop.

On 14th June 1987 my prayer was that God would help me ‘make good my vow’ – and that prayer has never changed.

Friday, 8 June 2018

The 'Sound of Silence'

Last Sunday’s lectionary reading from the Jewish Scriptures was the story of Samuel’s call.  Part of the narrative is that the Lord’s voice had not been heard in recent years at Shiloh, the national shrine of Israel.  There had been silence.

Some people long for silence whilst others fear it.

In just over a week’s time I’ll be attending the Retreat Association conference in Derbyshire which this year has the intriguing title: ‘Sounding the Silence’.

I think I personally have a love/hate relationship with silence.

On the negative side I struggle a little with short periods of silence.  I never seem to settle down. Perhaps I need more practise!

On the positive side, I love silent weekend retreats.  After the welcome and first shared meal on Friday evening the group goes into a corporate silence until after communion on Sunday morning.  As I journey through these few days I actually feel myself ‘calming’ down and becoming more focussed, and I hope, open to God.  The lack of a need to talk, even in company with others, I find surprisingly liberating.  Come Sunday lunchtime and I’m slightly reluctant to leave the silence – but at least I know I take the fresh perspectives I’ve found within it away with me.

One of my favourite ‘modern’ hymns, by Christopher Idle, puts it like this:

Lord, you sometimes speak in silence
through our loud and noisy day.
We can know and trust you better
when we quietly wait and pray.

Faith...is it ever a linear process?

John the Baptist by Dinah Roe Kendall It’s ‘John the Baptist day’ this weekend, as it is every second Sunday of Advent. His story i...