Category Archives: Bulletin

Something for Sunday

Matthew 15: 10-28

Sometimes in our Bibles we have cross headings: Jesus walks on the sea last week, the five thousand fed a fortnight ago and so on. What heading might be given that would link the two parts of our gospel reading. In the first part there’s a discussion about what defiles someone and in the other Jesus encounters a foreign woman who importunes him for her daughter and earns Jesus’ praise for her great faith or perhaps for her sheer cheek. So what kind of cross-heading might we devise? Remember it’s got to unite both stories under one heading. How about this: The scandal of the gospel.

Scandal in the usage of the New Testament is something that is a difficulty-a stumbling block-an obstacle to belief or godly living. The old baptismal service used to say: Let no stumbling block be put in the way of this child. That doesn’t mean what I took it to mean when I was a child myself namely that a child can do what it likes-on the contrary it expresses the hope that the child will be well brought up and find no obstacle or difficulty in coming to faith in Jesus.  In this gospel Jesus says: “Blessed is he who is not scandalised by me”. In some modern translations this is rendered as “Blessed is he who takes no offence at me”. So in our gospel passage the Pharisees do take offence but the foreign woman does not take offence. And that’s a real surprise because Jesus calls her a dog. Well let’s not be mealy mouthed about it lets attempt a bit of paraphrase. She says; “Lord help me”. He says; “I’m not bothering with a foreign bitch like you”.

And she comes straight back at him with a disarming witty rejoinder. It’s as if she’s been on assertiveness training or attended a NHS course on how to handle difficult people. But the most important thing is that she’s not offended. The person and words of Jesus are no scandal to her.

The Pharisees are offended-scandalised by Jesus. The Pharisees have a point. Quite apart from considerations to do with e-coli covid 19 and mrsa it is good to wash ritually before meals. It reminds us as to who we are and what we are about. Besides it’s hallowed by tradition.

The disciples too are rather uncomfortable about this wholesale dismissal of a traditional religious practice. Almost offended.

But Jesus makes no concessions at all. He makes a joke, rather a dark one about blind guides. He insists that the central point is that we should live faithful and Godly lives and that questions of religious custom are secondary. No doubt the disciples continued to be somewhat sceptical. We’d be sceptical too!

Part of our trouble with all this is that we are aware that the cost of discipleship is a real cost. We’ve heard many sermons about that and no doubt we’ll hear more. Walking the way of the cross is the term that covers it all. The central symbol of the faith is the cross and the way of the cross is the way of suffering love. We all agree.

The difficulty is that the way of the cross is too easily confused with scrupulous religious observance. This is a confusion that religious professionals are always happy to indulge in.

It’s important not to misunderstand the Pharisees in these passages Easy to think of Jesus as confronting a worn out, failed religion which is about to be superseded by the gospel. Easy but dangerous. It’s unfair to the Pharisees historically and it also encourages anti-Semitic sentiments. Better by far to think of ourselves as the Pharisees and the debate as a debate within the first church. We all know from experience how often these debates are replicated in the modern church.

As for the Greek woman she is not offended. She has every reason to be offended but she is not offended. She won’t let Jesus go until he blesses her. Some have said that this is Jesus transcending the racism of his own background and that of the disciples.

In the end all I feel I want to express about this strange episode is surprise. Jesus is surprised and impressed. In Matthew he is surprised and impressed by her faith but in Mark’s version he is surprised and impressed by her wit and argumentation.

Rather than imposing an anachronistic meaning on these words let’s just be surprised, as Jesus was surprised. Perhaps the good news ought to surprise and perplex us more than it does. Be surprised. There’s a blessing in being surprised. And we are surprised. Why is Jesus so gratuitously offensive to this person? We know that the gospel with its radical demands will strike many as offensive but why is this?

Jesus says that those who are not scandalised by him are blessed just as the foreign woman was blessed. What might it mean for us to be blessed in this way? And what might it mean to be scandalised by Jesus and how do we suffer if we are.

You know there’s a great deal of the Pharisee in all of us and by us I don’t mean occasional visitors or outsiders. They are most welcome but they should be warned, they are in great danger-from the rest of us.  For we have a tendency to be offended by the radical freedom offered by Jesus, to reject the new wine and retreat into the old wineskins. To put in the place of the gospel a heavy religious superstructure devoted to the worship of a pitiless god who demands endless sacrifice. This god will really make you suffer. The good news of Jesus is that there is no such god.

We are offended by the notion that God doesn’t fit into the scheme into which we think he ought to fit. We want to make burdens for ourselves and for others because freedom is just too much for us. The real good news comes quietly, kindly and slowly. Blessed are those says Jesus who can receive this and are not offended.

Jesus does not offend the foreign woman. She is prepared to risk being offended. She’s not trapped inside a system of religious and social obligation as the Pharisees are. She’s prepared to cross a boundary, speak out of turn, risk a snub all for a great reward. How many of us would be willing to do that. The prize is a blessing and the fulfillment of faith. The cost is the likelihood of hearing a word that takes us to the limit of what we can receive without offence.

Perhaps the message here is that we should all be a little bit bolder. Respond to those hard sayings. Give God a witty answer-express our faith in questions and arguments-not worry too much about the pieties.

Kierkegaard, the Danish writer, was not afraid of giving offense-indeed he made a career of it. Once he said this. Take away from Christianity the possibility of offense – or take away from the forgiveness of sin the battle of an anguished conscience. Then lock the churches, the sooner the better or turn them into places of amusement which stand open all day long. Yes Christianity can and should give offence sometimes. Blessed are those who are not offended said Jesus.

Kierkegaard also wrote parables. Here’s one he didn’t write. A close encounter with the Kingdom of God is like a visit to the circus. We are fascinated by the clown’s performance and yet we fear that we may be selected as the object of his next trick. So as he approaches our ringside we look away.  What a lot we miss!

Blessed is he, says Jesus, who is not scandalised by me!

Something for Sunday

Allow me to share with you the last time I visited the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was a warm day, we had a good lunch featuring fish from the same sea and thereafter people made their way to the water’s edge and waded in. Selfie sticks were drawn from back packs and then selfies were taken. “This is me in the Sea of galilee” I thought this was all rather odd at the time and somewhat contrary to the spirit of the gospel which discourages emphasis on the self. Still they were mostly Anglicans so what do you expect.

Our gospel reading today features God and the sea. Another anecdote now. In 1735 John Wesley was outward bound by sea from England to the American colonies. He wasn’t used to sea voyages. He wrote subsequently:

“At eleven at night I was waked by a great noise. I soon found that there was no danger. But the bare apprehension of it gave me a lively conviction of what manner of men those ought to be who are every moment on the brink of eternity.”

Ships were wooden in those days so it’s easy to imagine the sounds of groaning timbers and the noise of the wind amidst the sails and the rigging.

Among the other passengers were some German Moravians. Wesley was impressed by their faith and confidence and joined in their worship. Wesley had found himself on the brink of eternity, his faith had been tested and he had given way to fear. He probably remembered these verses from psalm 107:

They that go down to the sea in ships

And do business in great waters

These men see the works of the Lord;

And his wonders in the deep

They are carried up to the heaven, and down again to the deep

For at his word the stormy wind ariseth: which lifteth up the waves thereof

They are carried up to heaven and down again to the deep.

And so on.

Wonderful and often set to music.

So through the ministry of the Moravians and the witness of scripture Wesley’s faith is confirmed and strengthened. Not faith in the shipbuilders, the captain or the crew but in God.

Switching our attention now from Wesley’s ship to the boat on the lake what do we find? The wind is against them; the far shore is a long way ahead. This is a difficult and dangerous moment.

And then they see something extraordinary; Jesus himself walking on the water. This is truly an extraordinary sight and the text says that they were terrified.

Now all of us, you and I together have to answer a key question-who do we think Jesus is? Perhaps a moral teacher to be mentioned in the same breath as Socrates or Gandhi or to that famous professor, whose name I cannot remember who contributed so lucidly to Radio 4s moral maze, or of course a healer and if you remember last week’s gospel an organizer of pot luck suppers but someone who walked on water come now we are respectable godless people people don’t walk on water. It must be a ghost. So I can imagine the disciples in the boat. But we are wiser than they for we remember a few chapters back how Jesus stilled the storm eliciting the question: who is this that even the winds and waves obey him? Who indeed?

Peter, who is beginning to realise just who Jesus is leaves the boat and receiving Jesus invitation walks on the water until his faith gives way and he begins to sink. Then Jesus rescues him and they all worship Jesus. Remember only God is worthy of our worship.

So sisters and brothers what is all this to us. It’s a warning to us all to remember who Jesus is so that we don’t dismiss him from our minds with an easy verdict such as: It’s a ghost! Our calling is to bear witness to him and not to dismiss him because we are too fearful to take him seriously. Remember he commanded the disciples to leave the shore and push out into the deep.

When I was in theological college one of our tutors preached on the theme of walking on water. That’s what presbyters have to do he suggested-walk on water. What did he mean?

Clearly all Christians have to be sustained by faith, have confidence in Jesus and not succumb to doubt as Peter does in the passage. So far so straightforward but is there more to it than that.

To walk on water is clearly impossible within the normal frame of expectations and customary possibilities. But surely that’s the point. To be a Christian is to believe in a better world than this one, with different frames of expectation in which the impossible becomes possible. The shorthand word for this is the “Kingdom of God” an economy not of scarcity but of grace. I’ve been around long enough now to experience how expectations and customary ideas of what is practical and possible have changed. I have been reminded that in the end Christianity is no religion for this world but is instead revolutionary in the sense that it offers you and me a better world than this one.

As a dominant establishment Christianity fades away in our time the call of Jesus to walk on water seems ever more relevant. A this worldly creed seems ever more absurd and inadequate to meet our deepest needs. So the call that I think I heard from my tutor could be summed up like this: stop splashing about in the shallow end taking selfies and prepare to step out into the deep-and above all think differently.

Pivot Points.

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I have spent my entire ministry believing that disruption can be a good thing. Maybe that’s hard to accept in the midst of a pandemic. But when things are disrupted, something new can break in. I recently read an article about how the bush in Australia is springing back to life after the devastating fires last year. In fact there are some seeds which will not germinate until they have been through the fire.

My ministry was born out of a frustration that too often we perpetuate models of church that no longer apply to the world in which we live, excluding and leaving people behind. To me, that is the antithesis of the hope of the gospel. While we may can discuss and plan for change sadly it isn’t until a crisis that change really happens.

Often in business and in life these are called pivot points, where there is a sudden change in direction. For the ‘pivot’ to be successful there needs to be five stages.

1. Recognition
Recognition is often the hardest stage in the process. You have to see that something isn’t working.

Human nature predisposes us to retell a narrative suggesting that something is working when really it isn’t. We are afraid of admitting when things start to go wrong. To recognise that something isn’t working does not mean that nothing good has come of it — rather, that the good is fading and we are putting more and more resources into something that is declining.

I believe the pandemic and the lock down has held a mirror up to us and we have to look hard at what we see. Is our church really as wonderful and successful as we like to tell ourselves? Are we now at a ‘come-to-Jesus moment’? Does the church have to change?

We can extend this to the COVID-19 world around us as well. Can’t we recognise that there is something broken in our ecclesiology and in our economics? Can’t we see that our churches’ economic models are failing when the church looks as busy and stressed out as the business world?

It is time to recognize that we’ve been totally out of control and the way we’ve been living hasn’t been good for people or the planet.

2. Grief
 Once you recognize that things have to change, you feel loss — and with it, a deep fear because of the uncertainty of what will replace it.

Christians are a people that believe in a gospel of death and resurrection. But too often, we rush from death to resurrection and don’t acknowledge the pain and the loss. The challenge here is not to rush or move on too quickly. We need to acknowledge the loss and make space for our feelings.

With the current pandemic crisis, we’ve lost some of our sense of security. We are separated from others. Our economy is crumbling around us. And one of the hardest things is that we aren’t comfortable with grief. If we cannot acknowledge what is being lost, it is impossible to move forward in a healthy way. Grief needs a way to commemorate and memorialise.

3. Learning
 You don’t want to sit in grief forever. In this step, we start to see the things we want to take with us and the things we need to leave behind. We need to find a way to sift through the rubble and pull out the essential and meaningful parts from the past, but we also need to identify the assumptions that were problematic.

In our new COVID-19 world, we are still learning, but some lessons are becoming clear: how fragile our economic and civil systems are, as well as our models of church.

If we really have the courage to be honest, people on the margins have been telling us this all along. The church has been measuring success by the number of people in the pews and the amount of money in the offering plate — as if that reflected authentic discipleship or the existence of beloved community.

Surely, we are realizing that individualism only gets us so far. We are interconnected. The opportunity here is to ask, What, then, is our path toward mutuality and interdependence, toward mercy and justice?

4. Renewed vision
 There has been a lot of talk in recent years about “knowing your why.” Why are you here? Not just why is this building here in this place, but why are you in this community? Why are you running these groups? Why are you involved in this mission? If you cannot come up with some serious answers then you have lost your ‘why’ To what end are we working? What is our desired impact? What transformation do we want see in people, places, policies or systems? When you think through the lens of impact and purpose — the why — then you can more easily redesign the how and the what.

This is the step where hope can break back in. It’s where we can be more aware of both the opportunities and the challenges. We understand the reason we exist, and we can acknowledge our false assumptions.

I don’t know the why for the UK or the world in this time of crisis. But for Christians, surely our why takes us back to the fact that we are not meant to serve ourselves but the Lord. We are called to love God and love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Maybe that seems simplistic. But it is the answer Jesus gave when asked what is the heart of the gospel.

5. Re-imagined practice
 Once you get clearer on your why and the impact you want to have, then you can re-imagine the how. This is where new practice can be developed.

In stage five, we hit the place where it is time to be brave again. But as we start, we do it with our eyes wide open. Rather than holding on to the complexity we once cherished, this restructuring allows each church to focus on its mission and landscape and live out its prophetic imagination. It should be a new peared down more responsive church not always wondering how can we keep this group or that particular piece of work going a bit longer but where does God want us to be now, where does he want us to be in 5, 10 even 20 years time.
The world needs us to show up as a hopeful people and to be good news people. And this current crisis gives us the perfect opportunity to turn the world upside down with the gospel. 

God bless and stay safe,

Alan.

Something for Sunday

Today our passage from Romans comes from the beginning of a long section in which Paul addresses his “sorrow and unceasing anguish” about relationships between Jews and Christians. Has Christianity superseded Judaism and how do we understand the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament or as I would prefer to say the scriptures and the apostolic testimony? These remain questions of great importance especially when anti-Semitism seems to be on the rise again. In our time Christians have had to examine their consciences, re-read the texts and consider how flawed understandings of God’s purposes with his people led to such horrors as the holocaust.

These re-considerations and re readings have been fruitful for Christians. We have come to new understandings of both Jesus and Paul in their Jewish context. Particular titles that spring to mind are, “Jesus the Jew” by Geza Vermes and “The Misunderstood Jew” by Amy-Jill Levine. Amy-Jill’s book is a very accessible text and can be strongly recommended to all preachers. For those who are looking for a more academic approach I can also recommend; “The God of Israel and Christian Theology” by R K Soulen. Soulen is an American Methodist Minister and academic theologian. His book is discussed over several pages by John Barton in his recent prize winning and bestselling book: “A History of the Bible-the book and its faiths”. Well that’s enough book recommendations for now.

Turning back to Paul we should note that he asks himself; “has God rejected his people?” He replies; “by no means” and then asks again; “have they stumbled so as to fall” again he insists; “by no means”.( Romans 11v 1 and 11 ) Paul then proposes a scheme whereby in the purposes of God all will be brought to salvation. He further insists that the gifts and call of God are irrecoverable that is to say God never goes back on his promises. In Galatians 3 v 29 he insists that if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. Or as Pope Pius X1 remarked in 1938: anti-Semitism is inadmissible. Spiritually we are all Semites.

It’s also important to remember how deeply the world of the “Old Testament” is embedded in what we call the New Testament. Throughout the gospel record the echoes of Israel’s scripture are continually to be heard so it is important that we use this scripture in our worship and prayerful reflection. Jesus declares in the Sermon on the Mount; “think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Matthew 5 v 17). To the travellers on the Emmaus Road Jesus, at this point in the story incognito, “interprets to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself”. Paul when he proclaims the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 v 4 declares that “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.” He means what we call the Old Testament because the gospels had not then been written. Perhaps Psalm 16 is in his mind. Some of these texts are challenging to thoroughly modern Methodists but for me at least that is why they are of great value.

To conclude on a personal note. I come from North London where Jewish people were and are a much loved and respected part of the community. When the synagogue in Palmers Green was bombed in the war a temporary synagogue was established in our largest Sunday school hall-it was a big Church. We were taught in Sunday school to take pride in this aspect of our Churches history. At about the same time the Council for Christians and Jews was established and I have been a member for some years. The CCJ has a branch in Birmingham and arranges interesting meetings from time to time.

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”.

Psalm 118 v 26 and Luke 13 v 35.

The Cheerful Unrepentant Weeds*

Weed Soil Types - What Weeds Say About The Landscape

Dear Friends one of the businesses that has bucked the trend of lockdown have been garden centres and nurseries, perhaps the thought of spending your summer holiday in the back garden has prompted many people to make the most of it.

 However there is a down side to having the perfect border or a well manicured lawn. The Department of Agriculture once produced a report that said that over 50% of our native wildflowers were seen as weeds by the public. Weeds –  undesirable, without purpose, unwanted by some. Weeds that have to be uprooted or poisoned with weedkiller.

Yet Jesus seemed very fond of weeds, “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.” (Luke 12:27) 

Jesus always sought out the company of the undesirable and the unwanted – lepers, Samaritans, women, children, the blind, the deaf, the lame – his severest criticism was for the religious snobs of his day with their watering cans of theological weedkiller. 

Sadly in the life of our church we too have been too eager to uproot what we perceive to be ‘weeds’. It is sometimes argued that Christianity with its emphasis on the gospel and conversion is guilty of ‘othering’ – defining different expressions of Christian faith incorrect or not really for us. 

As a teenager my youth group took part in a Sunday service where the youth group leader accompanied the singing on his guitar. Before final Amen had stopped reverberating in the rafters, a steward stormed to the front of church and very loudly told us it was the most disgraceful act of worship he had ever seen. The fact that it was his son who was the youth club leader made no difference.

Sadly the youth club ceased to meet a little later and a few years after that the church closed. But the one thing that still annoys me is that  out of our small youth group I am the only one left who is active in the life of the church. 

We need to let some ‘weeds’ flourish in our little patch, allow others to bring their vibrancy and uniqueness to the life of the Church and give our churches a future to grow into. 

God bless,

Alan. 

*The title of a poem by Jan Sutch Pickard in ‘Dandelions and Thistles’ – Wild Goose Publications, 1999.

Something for Sunday

The Bright Field

What’s the point of it all? Why come Sunday by Sunday. To sing the old hymns-to hear the old words and sit on hard pews. Many other things that one could be doing-cooking the lunch-cleaning the car, watching the Test match and taking the family out and most people are doing these things. Some might say that it was your duty to come and indeed I would say so myself but it would take more time than I have to justify such an unpopular line.

The parables in to-days gospel were not taught in order to raise the flagging morale of elderly Methodists. Nevertheless the first hearers of this gospel were like us in these respects. They too had been raised in an old religion and were now being called to embrace something new. For them and for us the new thing is faith in Jesus. The old thing for them was the synagogue and the old thing for us is the religion of consumerism which is so powerful and all embracing that we don’t notice how it determines all our thoughts and feelings. Sadly for us the old thing is also the old form of Christianity-the old bottle that seems increasingly unable to contain the new wine. Yet inside the old form is the seed of something new, a tiny seed perhaps like the mustard seed, the hidden treasure-the good fish amongst the stinking fish and the priceless pearl amongst the dross.

And these parables teach their hearers to be hopeful. Your hopes will be fulfilled-the Kingdom of Heaven is there. But its hidden-and you’ll need judgement in order to find it-and finding it will cost you something. Now that is the message we all need to hear. There’s a hymn which begins:- Give to me Lord a thankful heart and a discerning mind. And a discerning mind. Yes indeed! Judgement. That’s what we need. We need to be able to discriminate between the false pearls and the priceless ones-the good fish from the stinking fish. We need to be able to find the hidden treasure. We belong to the church in order to learn how to recognise the treasure. Such skills are not easily acquired. I remember once walking around a church in Portugal with a friend of mine. I can’t remember why we had gone in. Perhaps it was hot and the bar was closed. My friend is a complete atheist. As we walked around the church I appreciated the statuary, the furnishings and the peace of the place. This was the place where the treasure was hidden. Not for him though-to him it was a monument to ignorance and superstition. Both of us were committed to our particular ways of seeing and I don’t suppose that either of us had come easily to our commitment.

These parables each stress the cost of commitment. “He went and sold all that he had and bought that field.” He sold all that he had to buy the pearl of great price. The net had to take in all manner of fish. Only by focussing heart, mind and spirit will you find the treasure. You know you won’t find the secret of the treasure without commitment. Following Christ is not like watching breakfast television. Listening to the word of God is not like watching a chat show. It demands something of you. And it’s hidden. Why is it hidden? Why can’t the gospel be as accessible as  the Big Breakfast. Answer because the struggle to find the treasure is part of the treasure. It’s the quest for the Holy Grail that makes it holy.

Judgement-Commitment-Concealment.

Concealment: The Kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. It’s like the one pearl that’s of great price amongst all the others such that one should sell all that one has to possess it. It’s like the yeast, the leaven-hidden in the measures of wheat till one sees its effect when the bread rises. As Isaiah says of God himself: Truly thou art a God who hides himself.

That hidden quality so difficult to discern and to describe yet it gives life and beauty to everything else.

Perhaps at this stage of the history of your chapel you feel discouraged-so many hymns sung, so many sermons preached, so many meetings attended and for what! Hope denied. Apparently yes. Hope is in a way always being denied by experience but hope abandoned I think not. For amidst the fake pearls and the stinking fish there is always the promise of real treasure. Yes that was worthwhile, that person, that visit, that insight-yes that was it-the real thing-amidst all the religious claptrap and the sentimental dross-it was there-perhaps when we least expected to find it. Yes the struggle and the quest is worthwhile. Hope that is grounded on human aspirations and schemes will always disappoint. Hope needs to be grounded on sterner stuff. On the promise of the resurrection-on the assurances of God’s mercy upon fallible-hopeless creatures like us. So in the end the point of being here is to be reminded. There is treasure hidden here-there is the pearl of great price here-plenty of fakes-Oh yes!-but there’s the real thing as well. Do you know where to look for it? I hope so. And don’t tell anyone else about it. Keep it to yourself. It’s your thing-your bit of the truth-perhaps the only real thing you’ll ever have-don’t let anyone knock it because it’s yours-the bit that was just for you. And you bought it with a price. But if it’s just for me what about the rest of them. Well aren’t they a means to find the treasure-some of them are treasures themselves. Would you really wish to deny them the struggle? Strange how the gospel can seem to be a secret vouchsafed just for me and at the same time a message for the whole world.

Well that’s how the Kingdom is-the one special thing and at the same time everything.

A poem by R S Thomas:

The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through to illuminate a small field for a while, and gone my way and forgotten it. But that was the pearl of great price, the one field that had the treasure in it.

 I realize now that I must give all that I have to possess it.

Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past.

It is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Interrupted by Angels.

One of the great ‘lost’ poems of English literature is Kubla Khan by Samuel Coleridge Taylor. Coleridge claimed to have perceived the entire course of the poem in a dream (probably aided by opium!) but was interrupted by an un-named visitor from Porlock while in the process of writing it. Only the first 54 lines were written down and the poem was never completed. Now it may not be a work of romantic poetry but we have all had the experience of being interrupted in the middle of a task and then struggled to remember what we were doing.

In Genesis we read of Jacob having a similar experience, (Genesis 28:1-22). Jacob’s father, Isaac, sent him to Paddan Aram to find a wife. This may seem extraordinary in our culture where marriage is often entered into without direction from anyone but Jacob obeys his father and sets out on a journey not realising that his journey will be interrupted by angels.

Jacob camps for the night and in this ordinary setting he dreams of a stairway going from earth to heaven.  Angels are on the staircase and if that were not enough, the God of Abraham is just above the stairway with a message for our traveler. After identifying himself, the Lord promises Jacob that his family will multiply and they in turn will bless many other people. 

As if the promise is not enough, God reassured Jacob that he would be with him and never leave him. One would think Jacob’s worries were behind him. Yet when he awakens he is afraid. His fear may have been based on a sense of God’s Holiness or perhaps he was insecure and wondered what to do next.

Our lives have been interrupted not by a visitor, nor by angels but by a virus. Our plans have been turned upside-down, tasks remain unfinished and like Samuel Coleridge Taylor we are angry and upset. Like Jacob we are fearful.

Throughout this time I keep coming back to the words of Julian of Norwich ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ Wonderful reassuring words, but at times I am not reassured. Like Jacob I wake in a morning and am fearful and concerned.

Jacob erects a crude structure dedicated to the God he has encountered and he promises that this is the beginning of a house for God. Then he makes a vow to God promising to follow him. God has already promised care, but Jacob needs reassurance. He can’t be satisfied with the free gift of God’s grace. He must add to it.

Like Jacob we have difficulty taking God at his word, or even the words of Julian of Norwich.  We insist on adding to the gift of grace when God has already assured us he loves us. Much of our religious work may be more for our benefit rather than the Creators. God had already promised to be with Jacob. His faith story included a gift of grace as does ours. God has unconditionally promised us that he will be with us no matter what, yet we want to prove we are worthy of God. We no longer see grace as a gift but as a reward for good behaviour or faithful service. Yet grace, God’s wonderful grace, will always remain a gift. And no matter how hard we try to please God our efforts are no more than a crude pile of rocks like Jacob’s altar.

So take a deep breath, stop what you are doing, forget what you want to achieve today and allow you life to be interrupted by angels.

God bless,

Alan.

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