Thursday, 20 June 2019

One small step...

Exactly a month from now, on 20th July 2019, we shall be commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the first moon landing.

Apollo 11 left the Kennedy Space Centre on July 16th, 1969 and on July 20th the lunar module, Eagle, landed in the beautifully named part of the moon designated as The Sea of Tranquillity. Neil Armstrong was the first man out and as he set foot on the lunar surface broadcast those immortal words: One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind. Minutes later Buzz Aldrin joined him and that day they spent two and a quarter hours roaming the surface, collecting forty-eight pounds of rock to bring back for analysis.  One of those small fragments is now encased in the Lunar Window at Washington Cathedral.  These brave and adventurous astronauts, along with the not to be forgotten Michael Collins, who flew the command module and gave them a lift home, splashed down in the Pacific on July 24th.

I remember watching all this as an eight-year-old and being transfixed by those fuzzy images as we all gathered around the family TV. 

I know it is probably a much-overused metaphor, but we often talk of our pilgrimage through life as a ‘journey’. 

The journey to the moon is about 239,000 miles and a bright spark has worked out it would take most car drivers six months to complete the journey! 

Yet, maybe the most important journey we make in life is the ‘interior’ one.  We are constantly moving on from one phase of our lives to another for nothing stands still very long.  Sometimes we fear the change that comes our way whilst at other times we embrace it. What is true for all of us is that ‘the next step’ in life is usually a step into the unknown. 

Way back, in 1696, Tate and Brady set the words of Psalm 34 to music and came up with a hymn that urges us to trust in God as our companion and guide.  Their words still resonate with me as I consider that interior journey which is as life changing as any lunar landing:

                                Through all the changing scenes of life,
                                               In trouble and in joy,
                                        The praises of my God shall still
                                          My heart and tongue employ.

Friday, 14 June 2019

aaggghh I've forgotten my mobile....!

The other day a personal crisis of epic proportions came my way!

Whilst driving, en route to a dog walk, it suddenly dawned on me that my mobile phone was missing from my right hand side trouser pocket.  A wave of panic and anxiety filled me, all be it momentarily!

I had left it on the breakfast table.  Later that day I would be attending an organ recital at Southwark Cathedral.  We had got talking over the toast about the history of the place and, as is our custom these days, pulled out the phone to ‘google’ (is that really a verb as well as a noun?!) some information about its antiquity.

Well, despite my irrational fears (because I have existed on this planet perfectly well for half a century before buying my first mobile) I survived the dog walk without a phone and arrived home in one piece.

Just to prove the point, Google tells me the first cell phones came about in the USA in 1973, six years later in 1979 they were used in a car phone network in Japan.  The first portable cell phone, resembling a brick, came on the scene in 1983 and whilst these became popular in America and on the Continent it wasn’t until 1992 that they were introduced to the UK.

It’s hard to believe now that the general public were at first mystified as to why they needed a mobile phone.  Sales were sluggish! 1992 saw the first text message on 3rd December, it simply said ‘Merry Christmas’.

We got used to mobiles throughout the 90’s and in 2007 the iphone was launched, and the rest they say is history!

I suspect it’s all about that insatiable and intriguing human need for connectivity and although some of us need it more than others it does seem to be a universal desire.

Family and friends who are younger than me have a virtual world of connections that runs into hundreds of people; Facebook and WhatsApp to name just two platforms a dinosaur like me is aware of.

A minister friend of mine is working on a doctoral thesis examining the impact of this idea of ‘virtual community’ upon the Church.

In terms of faith ‘connectivity’ is a big issue.  This weekend congregations around the world will be celebrating Trinity Sunday, a time when we ponder the community of The Godhead and the connectivity between Father, Son and Spirit.

I sense, in my own pilgrimage, that much of my search for meaning and purpose rests on the idea that I am, in some way, ‘connected’ to both God and other people.  That gives me a sense of identity and hope.  It is the essence of prayer.

Whether walking in the countryside or bowing my head in church I think of prayer as the process of making ‘connections’ and sensing my place in the network of life.

Fortunately I can still pray whether or not I’ve remembered to pick up the phone from the kitchen table and that sense of the blessing of God and others in my life is not, ultimately, dependent on the availability of a 5G network.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Pentecost Gloves

Some of the lessons you learn in Sunday School stay with you a life-time; as has one about gloves and the Holy Spirit for me.

I remember my Sunday School teacher holding up a glove.  It was a nice glove – not that as a nine year old I took much notice of their finer points!  She asked how this glove might be transformed and come alive?  We must have been a particularly dense lot because I remember none of us proffered an answer!  Of course, she simply put her hand in the glove and it was instantly transformed into something that moved.  That, she says, is a picture of the Holy Spirit filling the life of the Church enabling us to become the living Body of Christ.

Well, it’s stayed with me all these years; the simplest of illustrations with the profoundest of meanings.

Without the Spirit of God we are merely a very worthwhile institution, yet with His Spirit we become a vibrant expression of God’s love and life for the here and now.

Happy Pentecost on Sunday – and, remembering that Sunday School lesson of years ago, I’ll be taking my gloves to church for the All Age Talk!!

Saturday, 1 June 2019

We 'Circled the City'!

After Morning Service on Sunday 19th May 2019 fourteen of us from AFC took the Metropolitan Line into London and joined 500 other people doing the 'Circle the City' sponsored walk for Christian Aid.  We visited twelve churches in three hours and walked either the six or three mile route.  It was great fun and we hope to have raied about £500 for Christian Aid in the process.  Many thanks to everyone who supported us!

Walk finished with medals proudly worn!

Friday, 17 May 2019

Word Morphing

Word Morphing is new to me!

It’s the idea of changing a word by altering a letter.  Apparently, it’s quite big on the internet with open Morphing groups set up with a continuous stream of word transitions going on.

At its simplest morphing happens when you change a letter; so hog becomes log, or tap morphs into map, or when you add a letter; ate turns into gate, ice become mice and so on!

Every week I send my upcoming sermon down the tube so that one of our Elders can print it and make copies available at the back of the church for Sunday morning.  Last week was no exception, so the sermon was duly sent off.  Later in the day I received an email from my astute proof reading elder to say she had taken the liberty of changing the phrase: God wants to give us the foulness of life into…the fulness of life.  She hoped that is what I really meant!!

I was so pleased she changed it.  Yet in a sense that is the morph of grace that we celebrate in the new life Jesus gives us, changing the foulness of our lives into the fulness of life.

Well, I sent this week’s sermon off yesterday and haven’t heard back – so hopefully no morphing this time round!

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Watford to Wembley - more than a journey on the Met Line!

Some of the houses around Amersham currently have Watford F.C. scarves hanging from their windows; all in readiness for the F.A. Cup final at Wembley next weekend.

Alongside Wycombe, Watford is really our nearest big town; one I feel a certain affinity to because I was born there!

My grandfather, who had a chance to play for them, turned them down because the money was better in the Fire Service; how things have changed!

I think it would be interesting thinking which positions the Apostles would play if they had ever been a football team.  Maybe Peter would have been the main striker, with James and John (the sons of thunders) in midfield with the rest of them (of whom we know very little) as defenders.  Perhaps Matthew (ex tax- collector so a very solid and reliable type) in goal.  Judas, as he looked after the money, could organise the player transfers and Paul, always a bit pedantic, might have made a good referee!

Actually an ‘apostles’ team’ might not be too far fetched because many famous clubs actually owe their origins to the days of church football teams, perhaps the most famous being Southampton, otherwise called ‘The Saints’, who grew out of St Mary’s Church.  Everton traces its origins back to a Methodist church team. 

Perhaps the closest Watford get to this tradition is that their ground is Vicarage Road!

Team sports create an enormous sense of local identity and I hope Watford have a good day at Wembley next week; I think my Grandfather will be cheering them on from a heavenly grandstand.

Working as team with a sense of purpose and a common aim isn’t a bad comparison with a church.  And just like any football club a church community has its strikers, midfield and defender players.  St Paul used the Olympic running track as a metaphor for the Christian race, perhaps today he’d also have a word or two to say about striving to score a goal in a Wembley Cup Final.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Build My Church

This week, whilst internet browsing, we stumbled upon some original plans for the building of the new Amersham Free Church back in 1962.  It’s rather moving to ponder these drawings of a building yet to be completed.  I can see so much careful thought behind them, much of it arising from the ‘liturgical movement’ that was popular in the Free Churches of that era.

It is, perhaps, remarkable that in the Sanctuary, at least, the building is used today in exactly the way it was envisaged nearly sixty years ago with prayer desk, communion table and pulpit being in use every Sunday in one way or another.

Since these drawings the actual building they aspired to has become a reality and thousands of worshippers have gathered in this sacred space since its opening on Sunday 30th September 1962.

We never really stop ‘building’ the Church – the real Church – the people, the congregation, the community. 

The building we call AFC houses a community of faith that is constantly changing.  We rejoice when folks settle among us an make us their spiritual home and we are sad, like yesterday, when we hold a service of thanksgiving for a much loved friend. 

I feel quite moved as I look at these architectural plans and realise all the hope they contained for future days – pray God some of those dreams have come to pass as faithful and committed friends have given their all by serving Christ in this place for their time.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Still Singing Hallelujah?

How do you top Easter Sunday?

This coming weekend sees ‘Low Sunday’ and the Vicar of our local Parish church told me, as we were having coffee together on Good Friday, that she won’t even preach a sermon this week as it’s a short service followed by their AGM!

I see that the lectionary reading from the Jewish Scriptures for Low Sunday is Psalm 150, the final one in the temple hymnbook. It’s part of the five so called ‘Hallelujah Psalms’ that bring the book to a close.

I find the presence of these praise songs right at the end of Psalms very encouraging.

The book of Psalms is a mixed bag.  There are psalms to be sung whilst on pilgrimage and others to be almost shouted at God in frustration and lament.  The songs reflect our lives in its ebb and flow.

So, how wonderful that come the end of this emotional journey the Psalmist, in numbers 146-150, still finishes by singing Hallelujah.

I’d love that to be my pilgrimage experience too – that no matter what comes my way in life I can still look to heaven and want to praise God.

I asked a cheeky question at the beginning of this Blog: How can we top Easter Sunday?

Of course, the truth is we don’t have to, because whether it’s April or August every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection and Hallelujahs are never out of place.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Easter Day: New Beginnings

Sunday just wasn’t meant to be like this. 

Resurrection is about the unexpected.

Good Friday had been a dreadful day for Jesus’ followers and it ended with a burial.

When I was growing up my journey to school meant that every day I walked through a cemetery.  Yet, when you’re young death seems so far off that my daily brush with tomb stones never really troubled me.

After Calvary the Jesus’ story is all about the tomb.  It’s a borrowed tomb, it has a stone to seal it and by Sunday women are drawn to it because graves and stones, tombs and memorials are all about endings and remembering.

That’s what this Sunday was meant to be about; making the best of it, catching a crumb of comfort that the struggle, even if it ended in defeat and failure was at least a struggle that was now over.  So, the women came to say it with flowers.

Well, at dawn it’s as if it all goes off script.  Resurrection is in the air.  The disciples sense the life of Jesus amongst them once again. Instead of a tomb sealed by a stone the gospels talk of an empty tomb.  No longer is this a memorial to a life snuffed out but a celebration of life to be lived.  It’s not the end of the story but the beginning of the next chapter.

And there are moments, thank God, like that in our lives too.  Moments when we thought we’d come to the end of the road; but then, maybe unexpectedly, seemingly from nowhere, a solution is found, a relationship is restored, new strength is gained and suddenly what we too thought was an ending has the touch of resurrection about it as the love of God and the life of the Spirit and the kindness of Jesus blesses our life once more with hope and new beginnings.

We might be praying for such moments this Easter Sunday – praying for a fresh dawn in the politics of our nation, in relationships within our families, in the spirit of our workplace or in the momentum of our church.

Today’s gospel gives us hope that fresh starts and new beginnings are possible.  What we once thought was inevitably coming to an end has turned out to be the Segway into the next chapter.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Holy Week Meditations: Holy Saturday: Mary

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a tough cookie.  How her life changed.

Initially we meet her as a young girl shocked to the core that she had been chosen to bear Jesus.  It’s a crisis and it never seems to end.  An out of the way birth followed by a refugee migration.  Maybe the early death of her husband and the infighting amongst her children as to the legitimacy of Jesus’ mission.

Yet, Mary is always there.  She’s there at the end.  When bold men like Peter have melted into the shadows, Mary stays close to Jesus.  Her loyalty, her love, her constancy – all an expression of tough love, deep love, love that never ends.

There is a juxtaposition of opposites at the cross.  Alongside the brutality and violence of nails hammered into palms, a spear that pierces his side, a crown of thorns that draws blood and the lingering death by asphyxiation that crucifixion brought there is also: the loyalty of Mary as she stays close, the companionship of John who stands alongside her and the kindness of Jesus as he entrusts the future of his mother to the beloved disciple.

Loyalty, companionship and kindness – expressions of love on a day marked by brutality, hatred and violence.

Down the centuries that juxtaposition has continued so that even in the bleakest moments those at the centre of the storm have been able to proclaim a belief in the sun even when it isn’t shining.

The essence, I believe of this day, is that in the suffering of Jesus we see God with us.  Immanuel is just as fitting a description of the cross as it is of the manger.  God is with us – in the pain, in the darkness, in the failure, in the agony of loss.  God is with us and that’s why even here as encounter Jesus, John and Mary we meet with loyalty, companionship and kindness on the most terrible of days.

Such love gives us hope and inspires us with courage.

Good Friday speaks into our life and calls us to believe in the sun even when it isn’t shining because God is with us – it’s the way of our Christlike God – it’s the way of the cross.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Holy Week Meditations: Good Friday: Penitent Thief

Strange way to become famous.  To commit a felony and be sentenced to death by imperial Rome, a death by crucifixion.  And then to find the day of execution was the same day, and the place of execution the same hill as those chosen for Jesus of Nazareth.

Strange way to become famous – to be crucified alongside Jesus.

But that’s the story of the Penitent Thief.  A life story we know hardly anything about except for its dying moments.  We don’t know his crime, his name or the finer details of the life he’d lived.  Yet we know something of his end.

This man doesn’t have to go through baptismal classes or recite a creed, he doesn’t need to become a church member or be confirmed.  There are no hoops for him to jump through, no formula of belief to which he must assent.

He simply asks that Jesus remember him. To which Jesus says: today you will be with me in paradise.

I suspect that many of us have more in common with the penitent thief than at first, we might imagine.

Perhaps like him we don’t view our faith journey as primarily a set of protocols through which we must pass. 

Often those protocols are good because rites of passage like baptism or expressions of belonging such as church membership have honourable intentions.

Yet, I suspect, there must be something else that draws us to faith.

I sense the thief saw something in Jesus that made sense to him.  And so, he asks that Jesus remembers him. 

I feel continually inspired and challenged by Jesus Christ.  I’m not sure that Christianity is so much about signing on a dotted line, or saying we understand pages of doctrine as much as it is being drawn to God, a God whose character was expressed in the life and death of Jesus.

As far as we know this thief hadn’t travelled on the road with Jesus.  The Sermon on the Mount had passed him by.

His encounter was brief and focused in mutual suffering.  They were executed together yet Jesus had to bear not just the brutality of the officials who hammered in the nails but also the taunts of the other thief.  The way he suffered, the way he bore that burden seems to have made the deepest impression upon the penitent thief.

This Lent a member of our congregation here at AFC has introduced me to one of his favourite hymns from the old Congregational Hymn Book.  The words are by the early 19th century poet Jean Ingelow and it’s her hymn: And dids’t thou love.

The hymn focuses on the idea that we see in Jesus’ character something of ourselves and maybe even the better person we could become.

Here are just a few lines:

And didst Thou take to Heaven a human brow?
Dost plead with man’s voice by the marvelous sea?
Art Thou his kinsman now?
O God, O Kinsman loved, but not enough;
O Man, with eyes majestic after death,
Whose feet have toiled along our pathways rough,
Whose lips drawn human breath:
By that one likeness which is ours and Thine,
By that one nature which doth hold us kin,

Love that line describing the likeness which is both Christ’s and ours – a sort of mutual kinship.

And maybe on this Good Friday we, like the Pentitent Thief look upon Jesus and we are inspired by his character, his longsuffering, his dignity.  It’s his humanity that touches us and in his dying something of his life blesses ours.

I suspect we have all been touched by the example of family, friends and colleagues who have faced suffering and sorrow with a dignity and courage that has inspired us.

Good Friday speaks into our life and says it’s sometimes at our weakest moments that our lives will send out the strongest message about the God we believe in  – it’s the way of our Christlike God – it’s the way of the cross.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Holy Week Meditations: Maundy Thursday: Pontius Pilate

Jesus is not the most talkative prisoner in the dock.

When asked if he was ‘The King of the Jews’ – which was, of course a subversive title that had strings attached, he simply bats it back to Pilate and says: ‘The words are yours’.

This trial is going nowhere and already has the stench of corruption about it.

Now fresh evidence is brought to court by the religious authorities.  In their eyes he is blasphemous, yet only the Roman Governor can pronounce the death sentence.  So, they connive with their occupying power to do away with this troublesome preacher from Nazareth once and for all.

In the face of all their accusations Jesus says nothing.  Pilate is astonished by his reticence to justify himself yet when prompted by the governor to mount a defence we are told by Matthew, ‘Jesus refused to answer a single word’.

Maybe he just knew the time for debate was long gone. 

What words would they put on the tombstone in St Paul’s Cathedral of the great architect, Sir Christopher Wren?  Set amid the soaring beauty of London’s new baroque House of Prayer, words seemed superfluous.  So, his son instructed they wrote this on his sarcophagus: if you are searching for his monument, look around.

Maybe there was a similar sentiment running through Jesus’ mind that prompted his silence.

Might he have thought: I don’t have to justify my message of good news.  Just look at my life.  The life I have lived, stretching out to those on the margins, speaking up for the poor and downtrodden, challenging the comfortable status quo – this is the life I have lived, this is the message I have lived.  I don’t have to justify my message of good news just look around you and see my life.

On Good Friday we meet a Jesus who stood before civic and religious leaders, a Jesus who did not shy away from conflict, a Jesus who challenged the way things were done, a Jesus who says faith is not just personal, it’s about the way we live in community – it’s a society thing – it’s a people thing.

Jesus was crucified because he spoke truth unto power.  He lived a life where the last became first and his sermons not only comforted the disturbed, they disturbed the comfortable.

This is the Radical Jesus and the Establishment couldn’t cope with him.
Good Friday speaks into our life and says it’s always right to work for a just and fairer world – it’s the way of our Christlike God – it’s the way of the cross.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

The Cross and ....?

The Church Yard at Cores End URC on the Saturday of our Quiet Day

As we met in Lent it seemed appropriate to me to focus the day at Cores End upon the cross.

In our first session I suggested that at various cross roads of his life Jesus deliberately chose the paths that would lead to conflict and suffering – he rejected easier ways. 

In our second session, when, as it were, we had already arrived at Calvary, I suggested that even whilst upon the cross the Lord Jesus chose the way of love and forgiveness in the face of hatred and violence.

So, where do the cross roads leads on our third session?

Well, I don’t know!  Because that is a question we must answer for ourselves.  So, maybe it is better framed as: Where do the cross roads lead me?

We have already quoted Sam Wells today, Vicar of St Martin’s, and in a number of his books he makes the same point again and again – that for him one of the most important things about his faith is a belief not so much in a God who does things ‘for’ us, as the God who is ‘with’ us.

For centuries one of the main ways of looking at the cross has been to see it as that moment when God did something ‘for’ us.  And for many that ‘atonement’ understanding of Good Friday is an important one.

Yet, and I think Sam Wells argues this with some conviction in his little book: Hanging by a Thread, the cross – representing so much of the chaos, failure, confusion and suffering of life, is also the place where God is essentially ‘with’ us.

Maybe, after all the words about how we can explain the relationship between a Good God and the presence of evil in the world – the only answer is to talk of the God who shares the suffering.

At St Martins much of the church’s time is spent working alongside homeless people.  It’s a church that is famous for its annual Radio 4 Christmas Appeal.

In his book entitled The Nazareth Manifesto, Sam Wells reflects on that demanding and seemingly unending ministry.  And once again he makes the point, that the starting place for every helper and worker at St Martin’s isn’t that they are doing something ‘for’ those who are homeless, but they come alongside them and stand ‘with’ them.  Of course, they may be offering professional and practical help – but the experience of those who work in the centre next to the church is that they, the workers, receive as well as give.

Years ago now, when I was a young minister and the BBC still had a lent course on telly – (seems like a different age!) – Charles Elliot, Director of Christian Aid presented a series called Sword and Spirit.  In one scene he was visiting the dust heaps of a South American shanty town.  Children were living on the rubbish heaps, scavenging for food.  Where, he asked, is God in all this misery and suffering?  The only answer he came up with, which – I think is the best he could have given, is that God is here, in the mess, here in the poverty, here in the pain.

Well, at times it may take some believing.  But I believe it is one of the most precious truths this season, so focused on the cross, can offer us.  The God who is with us and shares in our sorrows as well as dancing alongside us in our joys.

So, maybe in this final session we will be asking ourselves where the cross roads lead us.  Yet, we do that with this thought that the cross carrying God always accompanies cross carrying disciples.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

The Cross: Loving and Forgiving

The Quiet Day Group at Cores End 30th March 2019 where this talk was first given
At the beginning of Lent we travel with Jesus into the Wilderness and watch him deal with three choices at the end of forty days of fasting.  Will he turn stones into bread, will he bow down to Satan in order to reign over the kingdoms of the world and might he throw himself off the temple parapet in a spectacular show, trusting that God would send angels to soften his fall?

On every occasion Jesus chooses the way of love rather than power.

As Lent ends we’ll once more stand, as it were, at Calvary and hear those who mock Jesus as he dies upon the cross.  Once more temptation comes his way, this time from brutish by standers calling him to use power and come down from the cross.

As in the wilderness, Jesus stays put.  He does not short circuit his suffering – he endures it, offering forgiveness to those who beat him, hammered him, spat upon him and cursed him.  I’m sure that everything about him would have instinctively wanted to lash out against the injustice of it all.  Yet Jesus, at the Cross Road, consciously and deliberately chooses the way of peace and the offer of forgiveness in place of the hand of violence and the cries of damnation.

Jesus is horrified that Simon Peter cuts of the ear of the High Priest in Gethsemane’s Garden.  And upon the cross our Lord cries: Father forgive them, they know not what they do.

The cross is one of those moments when we see God, - when we see who God really is – the character of God expressed in the face and person of Jesus Christ.  At the cross we see forgiveness and encounter love. 

Jesus dies because, in love, he reached out to the marginalised and in doing so somehow scandalised his mission.  Eating with tax collectors, curing those with skin diseases, giving the woman at the well a new-found dignity – well, it undermined the rules civic and religious leaders laid down. 

Jesus preached outside the box.  He shows us love incarnate.  Look at the way Jesus lived, listen to his sermons and night time talks, look up and see not an empty cross but Jesus who hung and suffered there, and aren’t we left with the conclusion that love is simply, wonderfully and overwhelmingly in God’s DNA.
Yet there is nothing sentimental about all this.  It’s the hardest, most secure, yet most sacrificial love we could ever think of.

Incarnation came with a risk. In the end that upside down message of Jesus about the first being last, turning the other cheek and forgiving seventy times seven was publicly and utterly rejected by the authorities. 

The subtle temptation Jesus must have felt – much more nuanced I think than those recorded in the Wilderness, might have been to have watered down this gospel.  To collaborate with power.  Maybe we in the Church do that too often. 

The radical challenge of the Sermon on the Mount becomes a call for personal holiness rather than social transformation.

Jesus did not shirk from the risk of incarnation.  He kept walking to Jerusalem. 

At the cross road Jesus chose to speak truth unto power.

When he was crushed and bruised, this Man of Sorrows so acquainted with grief, dies uttering words of forgiveness and offering love to both the penitent thief beside him and his mother who so faithfully kept watch at the foot of the cross until he breathed his last.

Thank God love has a power to endure. In fact, I suspect that is the central message of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

In his book: Hanging by a Thread - Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin in the Fields, tells the story of a forgotten part of town by the canal.  Mabel and Arthur used to live there until they died in a gas explosion in the front bedroom of their home – their bodies were never found.  For thirty years this canal area became greyer and greyer full of vandalism, a no-go area, a left behind place.

One July a sunflower unexpectedly grew next to Mable and Arthurs derelict house.  It bloomed and suddenly there was colour.  At first people loved it, they walked taller.  But eventually it confused them.  This beauty – ironically – seemed to threaten them.  So, one evening a few of them tore down the sunflower and trampled upon it.  It was crushed, seemingly destroyed, done away with.

Yet its seeds were ripe.  In pulling the plant to pieces and treading it under foot those who wished to destroy the beauty had, in fact, released hundreds of ripe seeds around Mable and Arthur’s house.  Many had been trodden into the ground and next spring germinated.  The plants grew and at last there were flowers, dozens of sunflowers, upon Mable and Arthur’s grave.

Rob Bell has a book that says it all in the title: Love Wins.

I’ve been thinking recently of those two state funerals India held for two of its citizens that says so much – the state funerals of Gandhi and Mother Theresa.  Held, not to honour a president or a person of wealth but a man who owned nothing but a loin cloth and a woman who said she saw the face of Jesus in the sick of Kolkata.

Love wins.

At the cross road of Jesus life, as he took the risk of incarnation, Jesus chose love, sought peace and offered forgiveness.  Not a cheap love, but one worth dying for.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

The Cross: conflict and suffering

Hazel's beautiful table piece: Road to the cross - used at Cores End
Over the next three weeks I'll be posting the three talks I gave at The Chiltern URC Group Lent Quiet Day at Cores End URC near Marlow on Saturday 30th March 2019.  Here's the first...

As we meet during Lent I thought it might be appropriate to entitle today’s theme: Cross Roads.

On a journey a crossroad is a moment of decision.  The choice we make determines our destination.

These days I rely far too much on the sat nav on my phone.  I rarely plan out the route and I’ve noticed that just occasionally the signal of where I am can be two or three seconds behind exactly where I am!  That doesn’t matter until I’m at a crossroad or roundabout and those seconds make a huge difference as to where I end up heading.

It seems to me that Jesus grasped the essence of how his life was going to pan out quite early on.  That last journey to Jerusalem seems one full of quiet yet dogged determination to leave the security and safety of Galilee and willingly enter the swirl of controversy and conflict that would await him upon arrival in Jerusalem.

Yet Jesus deliberately makes this choice.

I know of a church which, in its reordering project, made a radical decision about its processional cross.  The new cross would be two pieces of drift wood collected from the beach and clasped together.  This was wood that had undergone the ravages of tempest, storm and wind.  This wood wasn’t pristine, it was disfigured and roughly honed.  I can see why this cross was made the way it was.  It spoke truthfully about life.

But then a wealthy benefactor came along and heard about the driftwood cross.  Perhaps for all sorts of reasons his offer couldn’t be turned down, an offer to cover the cross in gold leaf.  Well, now it shimmers with a different sort of palatable beauty.  In one sense it’s a more precious object, yet in another it’s lost some of its deeper value.

The truth is there have been many attempts, perhaps we have made them ourselves, to sanitise the cross.  All too quickly it becomes an empty cross.  A glorious cross.  A triumphant cross.

Yet I’m not sure Jesus saw it that way, the one who hung and suffered there.  He shouts a cry of dereliction from it.  He feels forsaken by it.

I sense more and more that to Jesus and his friends Calvary was a tremendously bleak and confusing day.  It was a pain-filled day.  Blood flowed, and friends deserted, so the suffering was physical, spiritual and emotional.

You cannot suffer ‘theoretically’.  When the bereavement comes the loss can leave the deepest void.  When families split the ripples keep spreading for a lifetime.  When friends betray us, or we them, the sense that something beautiful has been corrupted can feel irrevocably final.

Suffering is real and there is nothing inevitable that Kierkegaard’s dictum is always right when he said: life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forwards.  Sometimes even hindsight doesn’t obliterate the pain.

Jesus seems to choose this road, this cross road. 

He sets his face to Jerusalem and he meets with conflict.

His message is toxic to tetrarchs who are puppet kings and to governors who feel Israel is just about the worst posting the Roman Civil Service ever had to offer.

Put this civil opposition alongside the religious self-interest that made genuine debate or fresh insights a complete no-go area and Jesus was a dead man walking even on Palm Sunday.

Part of my journey this Lent has, I think, simply been to name that sense of conflict that dominated the life of Jesus and that sense of confusion, suffering and even failure that was so central in his death.

At that other season of the Christian year when the liturgical colour is purple: Advent, some of us at AFC play a little game as we sing that beautifully haunting hymn; O come, O come Immanuel.  It’s in a minor key.  That somehow fits the sense of intense longing that’s at the centre of the hymn.  We have a rota of organists and it’s interesting to see which ones cannot bear to leave the final chord of the final verse in the minor, instead they just have to resolve it back into the more comfortable major. They can’t linger in the un-resolved.

The opposite is true of a Tenebrae service when the lights are extinguished and the congregation leaves the church in darkness and silence – holding the questions, living with the waiting, not rushing to a forced and maybe too easily explained resolution.

It’s the essence of Holy Saturday.

So, as we ponder the cross today and the road that Jesus took towards it – my first thought is that it can speak of the suffering and conflict that is surely a characteristic of every life.  Suffering and struggle is a normal part of living, it’s not exceptional or unusual.

And to know that conflict and suffering was part of Jesus’ life maybe helps us to own those moments rather than run away from them.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Lessons on Wilderness - from Serengeti

Lent is a time when we think about Wilderness.

Jesus, we are told, spent forty days in that inhospitable and disorientating environment, being tempted by the devil.

It was customary in those days that stories of great leaders always had a sort of ‘Wilderness’ preamble describing a time, before they were famous, of struggle; during such days their character was formed.

‘Wilderness’ has become for us a metaphor for those times in our lives when our faith and character is tested.  Such a process isn’t exceptional but the normal route that life takes us. 

Whilst on a safari holiday last August in Tanzania we travelled through the Serengeti.  Just the sheer size of this National Park gives it something of a wilderness feel.  We drove for miles on dusty roads through the scrub and there was a sinister beauty about it all.

All of a sudden, we heard a loud thud from underneath the jeep and I think we all knew instantly that we were in for an interesting couple of hours.  We had broken down on the edge of the Serengeti on our way to our next game lodge outside of the Park.

What happened next, although not on the official itinerary, became one of the most memorable moments of our trip; and a sort of parable about how we might cope with wilderness.

We were certainly in something of a fix.  This wasn’t supposed to happen!  Indeed, some of our fellow passengers had already, in their minds, compiled a letter to the tour company to tell them so! 

How were we to get out of this difficulty?  Well, three aspects to the solution soon became apparent.

The first was that our driver, whose responsibility it was to get us to the next lodge safely, didn’t have to cope with this incident alone.  Even in the Serengeti he was able to use his mobile phone, contact a garage who sent out a van with three ‘mechanics’; and all of this just took half an hour. 

However, the truth is the next thirty minutes was spent with these four men fiddling with the broken wheel, scratching their heads, standing back from the van, and then having another fiddle!  For a time, this ‘community’ just shared the problem rather than solved it!  But that isn’t a bad lesson.  Sometimes we cope best with our struggles, at least initially, just by sharing them with others on the journey.  The fix may not be instant, but the fact that we have friends around us to help carry the burden is a blessing in itself.

Yet, eventually in the Serengeti, that sense of community did win through.  That’s because the group of mechanics needed a machete knife to finish the job.  They hadn’t brought one out with them but the third jeep they hailed down to ask for help just happened to have such a knife under the driver’s seat.

Facing the problem with others was stage one in finding a solution to our wilderness dilemma.

So with machete at hand our mechanics knew what to do – well it looked that way!  A new-found sense of confidence seemed to come over them and we sensed that maybe jeeps like ours had broken down in the Serengeti before!  Using the imagery of a journey we might even have said: people had walked this way before us.

Our own experience, or when that is missing, that of other people can be a great support in a time of crisis. 

I remember when one of our sons was taken to Birmingham Children’s Hospital under a blue light with peritonitis how relieved we were to hear the surgeon say to him: Matthew I’ve done hundreds of operations like the one you need, and now I’m going to do one on you!

Whenever we are in the ‘wilderness’ the comfort and counsel of others who have walked a similar path can be a great encouragement. Experience is a great teacher.  It can teach us not to panic and rush to premature conclusions.  It helps us deal with the moment calmly.

In the Serengeti wilderness I realised just how important facing our problems in community and drawing on experience is.

The last lesson I learnt that day was that often the resources closest to us are the best. 

You might be wondering what our ingenious African mechanics wanted with the machete?  We were puzzled to!

They went off into the scrub, chopped down a branch, honed it and then divided it into two. They inserted a piece either side of the wheel to stabilise it just enough to get us to the next lodge.  Incredible as it might seem it did the trick and we travelled the next 50 miles with our back wheel being supported by a scrub branch!

We often look for complex answers but sometimes the strength we need is closer to us than we think.  It often comes in the love and loyalty of those around us and in the everyday trust in God that can form the best backdrop to our lives.

This Lent, as I ponder ‘Wilderness’ my mind wanders back to the Serengeti where our challenge that day was faced by relying on community, learning from experience and using close at hand resources.  I suspect they are useful tools in any wilderness moment, whether the struggle be physical or spiritual.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Goodies and Baddies

There is a moment in Sunday’s lectionary reading when the Pharisees become the good guys because they warn Jesus of the dangers awaiting him in Jerusalem.  It’s all so confusing when the baddies become the goodies!

All of us can, and do, come to either premature or permanent judgements about people.  Thank God we can be wrong.

Currently the Church of England is celebrating the 25th year since women were admitted to the priesthood.  Time and again I hear stories of folk who were so against having a woman vicar – until they had one!  Once they experienced such ministry their preconceptions melted away.

‘Changing our minds’ is rarely a personality fault in my book; instead I believe it’s generally the mark of an honest maturity.

Prejudice based on blanket statements often poisons us and can infect the groups we belong to. 

Today at ‘Great Sacred Music’, in St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, we heard some of the delightful and uplifting music of William Byrd.  In Medieval times Byrd sang as a chorister at St Paul’s and probably studied under Thomas Tallis.  Yet once he ‘defected’ and became a Roman Catholic he was immediately expelled from The Chapel Royal.   Ironic that today his music is probably heard in every Anglican Cathedral around the world.  Even the Church gets very confused at times as to who are the baddies and goodies!!

As Jesus made his way to Jerusalem and the cross we encounter him meeting and accepting all sorts of people.  He crossed the social divide and willingly, it seems, made time for the ‘wrong’ sort of people.  Of course, one’s definition of wrong is totally subjective and seen through the prism of our own prejudice.

So this Sunday, after the gospel reading perhaps we could have a different acclamation and shout: Three cheers for Pharisees!

Friday, 8 March 2019

A slow, yet deeper journey

Every Lent I get this stone out of the drawer and look at it again.  We picked it up from the Dorset coastline and it immediately reminded us of a freshly baked roll!

After spending forty days in The Wilderness Jesus decided not to turn stones into croissants.

I wonder if that first temptation wasn’t so much about satisfying hunger as much as overvaluing the ‘instantaneous’.  Jesus chose not to go down the ‘quick fix’ route.  Instead the stones stayed stones and he coped with his hunger for yet another day.

We live in an age in which so much can be done quickly; we can hardly keep up with the pace of it all.  Bit by bit we buy in to the idea that news can be obtained at the press of a button, meals are ready when the microwave pings and big political issues can all be solved with nothing more than a catchy and popular soundbite.  Yet quick news is rarely the whole picture, quick food is rarely a good and wholesome diet and quick solutions rarely stand up to the complexities which follow.

I grew up in a wing of the Church that emphasized ‘conversion’.  It was so important to the congregation of my youth whether you had been ‘converted’; could you name the date on which you ‘accepted Jesus Christ as your Saviour’?  Well, I can, but that’s not the point.  Although I will always feel a deep sense of gratitude for those days I’ve sinced realised that Jesus wasn’t so much interested in the day I became a Christian but the life I’ve lived as a Christian.  He asked those fishermen to ‘follow’ him.  It wasn’t a one-off event but a lifetime’s journey.

In that ‘lifetime’ we will all change, and that change can be good and positive.  We may barely notice it’s going on.  Our life experiences will change us and will change our theology; our view of God, faith and love.  It will happen naturally and inevitably.  It’s the growth of a person filled with the Spirit of God and I suspect it will rarely be quick.

Jesus, in The Wilderness, rejects the quick fix answers and decides to go on a slower route, one that embraces complexity and struggle, yet one that opens all sorts of unexpected possibilities.  It’s a slow yet deeper journey.

Friday, 1 March 2019

The Little Things

Happy St David’s Day!

A Welsh friend of mine emailed me this morning with such a greeting and, in preparation for March 1st, Radio 4’s Sunday Worship was broadcast last week from St David’s Cathedral in Wales.

My Welsh friend reminded me of those famous words by David about doing the ‘little things’ well.

Here at AFC we held a packed service of thanksgiving for a much loved and highly regarded member of our church yesterday.  He was exemplary in doing the little things well.  His tribute finished with this story:

Perhaps it would be appropriate to end this tribute recalling the time when Dowling, driving through Great Missenden, offered a lift to a man who was a little worse for wear after a rough night with a bottle. 

Dowling insisted on driving him on to where he needed to be in order that he might arrive home safely in one piece.  As he went to get out of the car his passenger offered to contribute to the petrol.  Dowling wouldn’t hear of it and instead told the man to ‘pass it on’.  ‘What do you mean?’ said the man.  ‘Pass on the kindness to someone you meet one day’, replied Dowling.

Our friend was a Scot, but I think his life summed up the essence of the Welsh Saint David in doing the little things well.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Lunch with George IV!

Had lunch today with George IV!  Perhaps I need to explain that.

Before attending Great Sacred Music at St Martin in the Fields I picnicked in the balmy February sunshine at Trafalgar Square under the imposing and elegant statue of George IV.

He’s depicted on horseback in the style of a triumphant Roman emperor.  All very impressive but even with a modicum of history it’s clear to any onlooker that the statue is all too flattering!

George IV was the infamous Prince Regent before he acceded to the throne.  He was flamboyant and a lover of excess, famous for his appetite and womanising!  His statue in Trafalgar Square probably says more about how he’d like to be remembered  than the reality of his life.

I suppose he isn’t alone, but fortunately most of us won’t have the dilemma of having ourselves cast in bronze for eternity!

Last weekend a much loved and respected member of our congregation at AFC passed away.  His death was sudden and has rather shocked us all.  At evening service as the news was trickling through, our preacher began her sermon with a lovely tribute to him, saying that he and his wife would be remembered amongst us for their constant, generous and kind hospitality.

I suspect today, on Valentine’s Day, we are remembering such people.  Folk who have no physical memorial to them, but whose memory lives on in our minds and makes our hearts glad. 

One of my favourite hymns puts it like this:

For all the love that from our earliest days
has gladdened life and guarded all our ways,
we bring you, Lord, our song of grateful praise.

 A good day to sing such a hymn and remember such people.

ps: Blog holiday next week

Friday, 8 February 2019

William Carey - a rather modern missionary

Over recent weeks I’ve been revisiting the life of William Carey, the first BMS missionary who sailed for India just a year after the Baptist Missionary Society was founded in 1792.  That’s because I gave a talk on him at Women’s Own last month and tomorrow I’ll give a second at our Men’s Breakfast. I’ve partly chosen him for both occasions because we have a room named after him at Amersham Free Church and I want to make it clear it’s in honour of an historic Baptist minister rather than a recent Archbishop of Canterbury!

Carey was a remarkable man.  He came from the Particular Baptist tradition that believed in pre-destination to such a degree that many in his circle considered evangelism totally unnecessary, even sinful.  One senior minister is reported to have said to Carey at a Northamptonshire Baptist Ministers’ Meeting: ‘Sit down, young men, if God wants to save the heathen he’ll do it without your help!’.  Well, it might have been intended as a ‘put down’ but it had completely the opposite outcome!  Carey stepped up to the mark and immediately offered to go to India as the BMS’s first missionary in 1793.

He served there a full seven years before baptising his first convert.  He translated the Bible into local dialects only to have the printing shed burn down one night; so, he started all over again.  His son and wife died prematurely because of the climate. He worked hard at understanding local vegetation and working for increased crop yield, helping to form the Indian Horticultural Society En route.  He participated in setting up the first Theological College in India at Serampore, with a charter to award degrees from the King of Denmark.  And he campaigned for the abolition of ‘Sati’ – the tradition of burning the widow on her husband’s funeral pyre.

Carey was such an all-rounder. For him mission was about body, mind and soul.  In fact, the BMS have pretty much taken that as their template ever since.  He was a trail blazer – and although I guess it’s not his greatest honour, he is more than worthy to have a room named after him at AFC!

Friday, 1 February 2019

150 - not out!

Although some folks live a settled life in the same location for years ministers can, potentially at least, live quite mobile lives.  Since my ordination in 1987 we’ve had the privilege of serving in five churches in different parts of the UK; each has been a ‘chapter’ in its own right.

Last Sunday I revisited one of these churches, Walsworth Road Baptist in Hitchin, as a guest preacher at the start of their 150th anniversary year. It was super to be back and learn of all the exciting and imaginative projects the congregation are involved in.

I always enjoy meeting up with college friends occasionally and that’s usually on a one to one basis in London.  Sunday was different.  I found myself in a building I knew intimately and after the service, over coffee, a queue started to form around me of people who had known me when I was the church’s minister.  I served at Hitchin between 1992 to 1999 and our children were born there. Last weekend every handshake seemed like a ‘time machine’ back to the 1990’s.  Each conversation recalling some event or person from the past and in that process making it ‘come alive’ again.

I am only too aware that some issues from our past are difficult to deal with and that ‘living’ in bygone days is not the best way to cope with the present.  However, Sunday made me realise again that the past is very ‘real’ and has formed us into the people we are.  Fortunately for us our trip down ‘memory lane’ to Hitchin last Sunday reminded us of some very happy and positive days.

We wish our old church God’s richest blessing during this very special anniversary year.

Friday, 25 January 2019

The heavens are's snowing!

Tuesday saw Amersham and district grind to a miserable halt because it was snowing.  Folks leaving Tea at Three and the Property and Finance Committee (we do have fun on Tuesdays!!) endured road journeys home lasting between 3 to 4 hours; trips that normally take 20 to 25 mins.  It was a difficult rush/slow hour full of angst and frustration. 

I left church on Tuesday evening with just a walk back home to the Manse and to be truthful the ‘whiteout’ looked quite beautiful with one little schoolgirl in front of me singing ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ as she skipped home; it felt like the return of Christmas.

Yet for those drivers anxious to arrive home without accident or injury there was no sense of celebration, just struggle.

Last week our Life and Faith homegroup looked at Psalm 19 which begins with those wonderful words: The heaven are telling the glory of God.  Well yes, but on Tuesday as the snow fell from those heavens I guess very few drivers looked heavenward and sang alleluia.

Of course, many of the Psalms use the poetry of praise as they ponder the wonder of creation.  Somehow the majesty and grandeur of creation, along with the rhythm of the seasons, drew these temple songwriters to worship and thanksgiving.  Even today many people would still say they feel ‘nearer to God in a garden than anywhere else on earth’.

Yet there is another, more dangerous and demanding side to the natural world which is ‘red in tooth and claw’.  Those ‘heavens’ described in Psalm 19 also bring hurricanes or scorching heat; on Tuesday it was disruptive snow.

I don’t think the Old Testament writers were unaware of this seeming contradiction.  Just think of the story of Joseph overseeing the Egyptian famine in the book of Genesis.  Seven years of plenty were followed by seven lean years.  The point of the story is that the management of Joseph, his foresight and planning, saved the day.  He worked with nature in both the good times and bad.

Psalm 19, and other ‘creation songs’ are poetry.  They rejoice in the earth’s great potential and made a link between that sustaining provision and the faithfulness of God.  But the Bible doesn’t blandly look out on nature in a sentimental way. The writers of both Testaments knew the terror of tempest, storm and wind alongside the life-threatening horror of the noontide heat in The Wilderness.

The natural world can be frightening as well as inspiring.  It draws us to wonder even as it demands from us a certain respect and deep understanding.  We are both ‘stewards’ and ‘worshippers’, working with creation even as we give thanks for it.

Friday, 18 January 2019

A Poisoned Chalice

Back in the very early years of this new century I was persuaded to accept the post of Moderator of my regional Baptist Association.  This meant I kept the day job of local church minister, but in my ‘spare time’ chaired the Association’s Board of Trustees, the Council Meetings and became ‘line manager’ to the Regional Ministers.  I was full of optimism as I took up the post, thinking it would be fascinating to get a broader view of Church life as I got to know the 150 or so churches that made up the Association.

What I hadn’t bargained for was that my tenure of office came immediately after an acrimonious reorganisation.  Various ‘top’ jobs had been re-allocated and not everyone way happy, in fact the ‘fall out’ from that rearrangement of the chairs dominated the Association’s life for the three years I was in post.

Although I wasn’t the architect of the changes, the mere fact that I was the Moderator made me, in the eyes of many, the automatic ‘villain of the piece’!

I regularly sat with my fellow trustees around the board table and encountered amongst them a willingness to listen, calmly reflect and do everything in their power to make the situation better.  Yet, they too were viewed by many as the ‘baddies’. 

I sometimes wrote emails to grieved parties in what I thought was an encouraging tone, only to get back a response accusing me of being aggressive.

I chaired full Council Meetings with over a hundred reps from the churches being present only to hear one speaker after another decry the Association as a bad and uncaring employer.

Throughout this time it seemed to me that so many agendas were running it was hard to know exactly where people were coming from.  I would go to the annual Ministers’ Conference, supposedly for the good of my own soul, only to find after evenings prayers a line of half a dozen colleagues queuing up to see me and share their ‘disgust’ at what was going on.

As the time went by it dawned on me that I was just about the only person who now knew the whole story, as so many people had shared opposing views with me, yet I was not at liberty to disclose to others the confidential information I had from time to time picked up along the way.

It was a mess!  I had been handed a poisoned chalice.  I hadn’t made the mess, but I was charged with clearing it up.

In the end, often because people left the area, the tensions eased, and Association life turned a corner.

It was a deeply disillusioning experience to go through, made bearable because of the sanity and goodwill I encountered Sunday by Sunday in my own congregation.

Does any of that sound familiar?!! 

For me this ‘mess’ occurred in the ecclesiastical world.  It’s happened this week in the political one.  Indeed, it can occur in any micro or macro context.

Dealing with issues like these is the ‘stuff’ of leadership and it can be a lonely and tough call.  So I’m glad the New Testament urges us to pray for those in authority over us.

You don’t have to agree with everything our Prime Minister says to see that over recent months she has kept her cool and filled the office of ‘First Lord of the Treasury’ with exemplary dignity.

She and her colleagues, I believe, deserve our heartfelt prayers at this difficult and challenging times.

Friday, 11 January 2019

The Past is a Foreign Country

I love L.P.Hartley’s well known quote: The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.

This week we went, as a family, to watch the film about Freddie Mercury and Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody.  It both starts and ends with that July day thirty-three years ago in 1985 when Wembley hosted Live Aid.  The film had a terrific re-creation of Queen’s performance on stage in front of one hundred thousand people.  Afterwards our boys quizzed us about Live Aid and couldn’t really take it in that we watched it the first-time round – we are that old!!!  For us 13th July 1985 seems like yesterday, to them it’s up there with the Saxons and Romans!

Does the past, I wonder, teach us anything?  Or does each succeeding generation have to encounter every tricky situation for themselves and find their own way through? 

This week a Radio 4 reporter has returned to South Africa for the first time in twenty-five years.  His reports about continuing repression and corruption, but this time administered by black rather than white officials, was deeply depressing.

So much in the Judaeo-Christian tradition is about remembering and learning from yesterday.  The Jewish scriptures often proclaim: Israel, remember this…. And of course, feasts such as Passover and Communion have rememberance at their very heart.

It’s understandable when we lose patience with either ourselves or those around us who continue to make the same mistakes because they are deaf to the lessons from yesterday.

In his great poem about love and its ethical consequences St Paul wisely says: Love keeps no record of wrongs.

God treats us like this in his mercy and grace so surely we have to be open to such a generous and forgiving spirit too.

However many times the Prodigal comes round the corner, returning home seeking a new beginning…however many times, I believe The Father always runs to greet him with open, welcoming arms.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Alpha and Omega

The only symbols in chapel when I was at theological college in London were the first and final letters in the Greek alphabet: alpha and omega.  I have to confess they constantly reminded me of the inadequacy of my New Testament Greek!

Although the college chapel didn’t have a cross, those who designed it in the 1950’s did want us worshippers to have that sense of a God who is mysteriously, yet wonderfully, present in every part of life; that he can be understood in those terms, used in the book of Revelation, as the ‘first and the last’, the alpha and omega.

Islam also calls God by this name and when our Jewish cousins call God ‘Truth’ they make up that word using the first, middle and final letters from their Hebrew alphabet.

So, it seems to be a common longing amongst people of faith that we both sense and appreciate the presence and activity of God in every aspect of our living. ‘Expressions of God’ constantly bless our everyday lives. Sometimes that’s obvious, yet in those tougher moments it might take some purposeful looking for.

As we begin this final ‘teen’ year of the century I find it hopeful to think that whatever happens in the twists and turns of the next twelve months, God – the alpha and omega, beginning and end – will make the journey alongside us.

One small step...

Exactly a month from now, on 20 th July 2019, we shall be commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the first moon landing. Apollo 11 ...