Dormancy stands firm on the crossed paths of winter, listening to those that reflect their brokenness, and loss into the chaos of perfection. Dormancy gives light to the fresh Green leaves that grow without flower or aroma, a seasonal nudge of green that awakens the path towards spring. The thirsty roots of dormancy give hope to the depressed soil muted into a waterlogged submission of seasonal weather and government restrictions. Dormancy is bare and vulnerable, bearing witness to the seasons, littering the landscape with a dependable mulch of wonder and love.
Lent is about love, a season in which we dwell in the soft mulch of dormancy and clear space in our lives to be deeply honest with God.We acknowledge our mortality, our frailty, failure, and limitations. Love humbly speaks a raw unvarnished truth and hears us.It is this listening that stirs our inner dormancy, awakens the thoughts and prayers that silently sit in our hearts. Lent requires us to wake up, to prepare for the season that awakens dormancy. Jesus went into the wilderness after God spoke these words to him: You are my beloved with whom I am well pleased.
As the tress in the woods awaken to spring, settle into Lent with this firm foundation that you are God’s beloved child. Instead of fighting this season, embrace it, go for a walk, hug a tree and listen to the diverse language of love. Listen to the love that speaks unvarnished truths into our dormant heart. Jesus calls us friends and invites us to humbly share our lives as we are.
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Sermon prepared for zoom – 31st January 2021.. Luke 2-25,35
Today the church celebrates the feast of the presentation of Christ; this day is also known as Candlemass day. It was the day of the year when all the candles that were used the coming year were brought into the church, and a blessing was said over them – it was the Festival Day (or ‘mass’) of the Candles.
I thought I would start by sharing with you this wonderful picture of snowdrops in the snow.
Snowdrops were often called Candlemas Lilies or Candlemas Bells in days gone by. The snowdrop’s flower looks delicate and fragile, yet it has the strength to stand the coldness of winter and push its way through the cold frosty ground to flower.
In the harshness of winter, these flowers bob in the wind, as if they were flickering candles. And close up, the white of the petal is entirely unblemished except for touches of green. Green being the colour of life.
The snowdrop is dependable; We know they flower from mid-January into February, even their name Candlemas lilies tell us this.
One of the things I find most challenging at the moment is the inability to plan. Things we once thought would always be dependable, change shape and form, often reappearing in a virtual way. Even preparing this sermon, there was a moment of wondering if we would be in the church building or on zoom. It’s frustrating; it is almost as if everything I am doing and planning is done in the darkness of the unknown. As if I am holding a small candle that will only light up a small area around it, just enough to take the next step forward, but most of the time, the next step is still unknown, waiting for the light to reach into the darkness.
I remember when I first visited trinity college for their open day to study there the following year. I was barraged with questions, most of which I couldn’t answer:
“Why do you want to study at trinity?”
“what course will you be studying.?
“ will you study full time?”
“ would you like a cup of coffee?”
That one I could answer, but most of them I couldn’t actually answer, most of the questions asked left me in tears, the words just could not or would not form. All I knew was as I was here for a reason, and that was more than enough to cope with. It was as if I had been gifted extreme short-sightedness. What I felt became more important to what I saw. So there I was full of thoughts, no words and lots of tears… not a great first impression.
I don’t know about you, but this feeling can create a feeling of vulnerability for me. It’s uncomfortable, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from living my life with Jesus, it’s that when life gets uncomfortable, that’s when I need to start paying attention, that’s when God speaks loudest.
Today we celebrate the presentation of Christ, this took place 40 days after Christmas, when Jesus, the Light of the world, was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem by his parents to fulfil the required ceremonies of the law.
We can see this story depicted in the window of St Peters Church. I would like to journey with you through todays gospel reading.
Try to Imagine Mary with Joseph at her side, working their way through the crowded temple, in Mary’s arms; she carries her new-born son. Mary was doing what every Jewish mother had been commanded to do by Jewish Law after her male child’s birth. Two overjoyed elders greet them, Anna and Simian, who immediately recognize that this six-week-old baby, is the salvation they have been waiting for.
I am always amazed that Simian and Anna recognised Jesus. Over their many years of hopeful waiting, hundreds of babies would have come to the Temple for these ceremonies.
So how did Simeon and Anna know that Mary’s baby was the promised Messiah?
Like us, Anna and Simeon lived in complex and worrying and yet hopeful times, with reasons to be fearful and faithful. Both were looking for salvation, trusting that even in the midst of being occupied by the Roman empire, God was still faithful to God’s promises. They were living in the kingdom of Caesar, seeing its impacts and the suffering around them, and yet they remained deeply faithful.
Simeon had heard messages from the Holy Spirit, and Anna was given to prophetic speech as well as fasting and ceaseless prayer. And they kept their eyes open, trusting that God would transform the world and bring about the justice that was so profoundly needed.
Our gospel for today told that Christ has come so that our inner thoughts will be revealed. With the birth of Christ, God began a new movement in the world. A movement of getting what’s in here out there. Of breaking down the wall between inside and outside. It is a movement where it is ok to show our vulnerability and share our tears, hopes and dreams with those that we find around us.
The words of Simeon and Anna’s witness revealed that Jesus has come to reveal what is hidden.
All that we try and keep separate even down to the very inner thoughts hidden deep within us. God comes to us in the midst of our brokenness in our faithfulness and vulnerability.
It is this faithfulness that brings us together, and it’s that faithfulness that led Simeon and Anna to be in the Temple at the very same time that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus arrive. Simeon is drawn there by the Holy Spirit’s prompting, so he’s there at just the right time. It is Simeon who recognizes the child first, and he is so excited he breaks into a prayer of thanksgiving,
His pray overturns all the values that have guided their lives and the people around them up to this point. Simeon holds in his arms the peace and grace of God’s Salvation. A fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy, “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.
Simeon tells us that salvation has come to all, to everyone. he says that Jesus is the one who will reveal our hidden thoughts because Jesus is the one who gives us the strength to share what’s in here with everyone else out there, that we are not alone that we no longer have to hide.
On this holy day, this day of Candlemas, perhaps reflect on the candles in your life. The times that they burn brightly and the times in which they have flickered. Ask God to give you the courage and faith to risk taking the next step and following Jesus on the way that leads to life. And when you next see a cluster of snowdrops, maybe spend a few moments to reflect on how they can be seen as a symbol of hope in the darkness of winter.
Hope in the wonderful love and faithfulness of the Lord while you trust that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Let us be glad and full of hope, like Simeon and Anna.
Sermon prepared for zoom – 31st January 2021.. Luke 2-25,35
The last few days I have been trying to bring some order into the chaos of my overloaded bookshelves. The trouble is the books themselves are distracting. Books full of memories and more importantly these books are part of my story. During this very unproductive sort out I rediscovered ‘The Divine Mentor ‘Written by Pastor Wayne Cordeiro. The opening paragraph of this book pulls you into the text, you just know this book will change how you read the Bible. As you near the end of Wayne Cordeiro’s book he outlines his method of Bible study S.O.A.P and it’s this method of Bible study that I’m going to share with you today as part of my blog.
WHAT DOES S.O.A.P. MEAN?
S. The S stands for Scripture. You physically write out (with pen and paper) the passage of scripture. You might be amazed by what God reveals to you just by taking the time to slow down and actually write out what you are reading!
O– The O stands for observation. What do you see in the verses that you’re reading?
A– The A stands for Application- this is when God’s Word becomes personal to you. What is God saying to me today? Is there an action that I need to take?
P– And finally P stands for Prayer. Pray God’s Word back to Him. If He has revealed something to you during this time in his Word, pray about it.
My personal example….
Genesis 15: 7,21 Scripture
After writing out the passage it was the words in verse 11 that drew me in. “And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away”.
I used to foster little boy and rightly or wrongly one of his favorite activity’s was chasing pigeons. He would giggle with great delight as the pigeons he chased flew away. Many of these pigeons where hungry, and in search of food, some were injured and missing limbs landing on the ground to rest.
In the passage Abraham cut all the animals and two but not the birds. For some reason the birds were different or special in some way. And yet when the birds of prey came down and fed on the carcasses of the sacrificed animals Abraham drove them away.
I wonder metaphorically speaking who are the birds of prey in our communities? Is it right to deny them nourishment, to drive them away?
One thing that struck me when I read the passage again was that the sacrifice must have been a messy and noisy process. Slaughtering a 3-year-old cow, goat, ram, sheep and birds could not have been be done quietly within a community of people. The sacrifice must have been observed by others. The animals that had been sacrificed would have been unblemished, even an animal with a limp (disability) would not have been consider worthy of Sacrifice.
It opened many questions to me.
Did Abraham prepare the sacrifice by himself?
Does Sarah his wife watch the sacrifice?
What does it mean to us with disabilities to be seen as imperfect by the communities in which we belong?
Why is Sarah Abrahams wife not mentioned in this passage?
The sacrifice is at the Centre of the passage, the Centre of Gods mission to the world. I personally read the sacrifice as a quiet private event between Abraham and God. An intimate special time where Gods promise is fulfilled. Yet the woman (Sarah Abraham’s wife) who will carry and deliver that promise is not mentioned.
My thoughts are drawn to our church buildings and the eucharist. How churches are often built in the Centre of our community’s. How today they have lost their voice and seem unnoticed to the wider communities. I was also drawn to the people inside our churches receiving the eucharist (the promise fulfilled).
Today our church communities are a body of people. The broken. the tired, the happy and the sad. Abrahams community would have included the people which traveled with him: his family, his slaves and his wife Sarah, who carries and gives birth to the son they both longed for.
Members of our church families and those on the edges of faith and in our church, communities can be and feel invisible, feel as if they are not welcome. That their disabilities need to be cured. Finding spaces to listen to hear the stories of the people is just once small thing we can do.
Listening a place of love, listening to what the scripture tells us. Listening is than the gift that echo’s love and value’s the persons worth and identity. It affirms and shows people they are real, and more importantly their stories are important.
God graciously invites us human beings to be his partners, not for our sakes, but in order to fulfil his greater purpose for the entire world.
Generous and compassionate God. May we live life in a way that reflects your love and generosity to all. May we know your power moving through us. So that your Kingdom will come in the world in which we live.
New International Version
7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi[a] of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
Let me explain where the pioneer allotment came from and why. To understand why, I think it might be helpful if you knew a little bit about me. I am a pioneer in the Bath and Wells diocese. My faith has come from a deep spiritual connection with creation. I think in pictures, came to faith early one morning in my garden.
As a picture thinker I find it helpful to draw the words that I am reading. It’s a translation from the written word into a language that I understand. The pioneer allotment is just my personal translation.
Allotments are at their heart a community that shares an individualistic communal environment. Each allotted plot holder (allotment owner) is working within the guidelines set down by their allotment association. Each plot holder translating what these guidelines means to them. Theirs flexibility, and unity in this unique place where people grow together. It’s a place that you grow what’s relevant to you. In a method that’s of your choosing.
Growing seasonal local food means you become more in tune with the land. Plot holders naturally nurture new members. Wanting to share knowledge, share the joy of the harvest, wanting others to feel that joy too.
The allotment holds onto and works with the traditions of the past. It’s an earthy visible process that openly shares its highs and lows with its community. It’s a place open to all, regardless of wealth or knowledge.
Allotments are a place of doing.
As I wander around my allotment, I see a patchwork of creative planting; pumpkins, runner-beans, potatoes, cabbages. My drawn pioneer spectrum comes to life. The rich blended landscape of our differences, from the traditional to boldly different. The pioneer allotment starts with the traditional church plant. Replicating traditional methods and planting.
As we move further along spectrum we find the planting slowly changing. As we change the planting and the methods, so we push against traditional boundaries. Moving further along the spectrum our work becomes more unknown and vulnerable. Working with seeds that have yet to germinate. The harvest is not guaranteed.
It may look muddled. The soil is often poor, requiring a lot of organic matter (manure) to be added. Here success cannot be measured by the fruits of our harvest. My own allotment is very nontraditional. I’m constantly told by other plot holders that my methods are incorrect.
They even take matters into their own hands. Removing the stinging nettles from my plot. They see them as weeds while I see them as habitats for butterflies.
The strange round cucumbers that grow in my chaotic allotment taste no different to the straight green cucumbers grown on the more traditional allotment. As pioneers we see the possibilities a space can offer. We work to Create different holy spaces; spaces that grow round cucumbers and orange carrots, Spaces where God is at work, spaces to meet Jesus. Spaces where the Holy Spirit is active.
It’s in these holy traditional and chaotic spaces that we come together as family. We share memories and a shared hope for the future.
The beautiful words of Pslam 23 have at times prettified me and given me hope on some of my darkest days.
I wrote this poem just to reflect on the pslam and how important it is to me.
As I wander through the green uncut grass
the stories of the garden unfold.
Imprinted into the soil, deep dark tunnels of despair,
My burdens glistened into the dewy footprints of life
I know that I am the gardener, listening to the creator.
With every seed thats sown, I learn more of him.
When I doubt, he lifts me up, reminds me that I can grow.
He leads me through valleys that I never knew existed,
waters my soul with life giving streams, which hydrate me.
Growing in a new place, Where its safe to sit and stay.
With him I am at peace to say no words,
as he knows my every thought,
even the secrets deeply hidden in my heart.
His blessings ignites my reasons, fills my toughest day with hope.
With His spirit I know I am safe.
Humbled by the constant calling of his Creation.
His arms outstretched, always ready to listen to me.
I feel his presence through the earth. vibrating whispers of a calming voice.
Leading me tough the turbulent waters.
To a place of stillness and inner peace.
On my Grandmothers mantle piece sat a glass bottle containing layers of multi coloured sand. This little bottle was a souvenir gift from the Isle of wight (Alum bay). The sands are made of three minerals – quartz, felspar and mica. In their pure state these minerals are white with other colours being produced through contamination by other minerals.
As a child I would repeatedly ask my grandmother if I could remove the cork from the bottle of layered sand. I wanted to mix the coloured layers, to move them from order into a place of multicoloured chaos.
To pour the layered colours into a shallow bowl. Creating and uncovering unsymmetrical patterns in the coloured sand. To run the textured colours of history through my hands.
Somewhere in my loft wrapped in newspaper this little glass bottle of coloured sand is waiting to be rediscovered.
A static hour glass sitting out time. The separated colours never changing. The sand holds firmly to the stories of the past, tells of traditions and cultures of our ancestors.
We look to the past to discover lessons for the present.
What happens when we change the lens which we see the sand. When we see it’s true uncontaminated colours.
I don’t feel any desire to rummage into the depths of my loft to find the bottle of sand and mix it.
I am learning to see beyond the coloured layers to look at the individual grains, to the true colours/ true self.
During this past year I have started to learn how to see these true colours. To see the sparkle and glitter in each treasured grain ( person ). I’ve learnt the remarkable power of story. The value of spending time just listening. Discerning the gifts of the spirit working in each of us .
I’ve come to realise and acknowledge that I have gifts too. To not underestimate the gift of being myself. The importance understanding my true colours . I’ve discovered how these gifts are working within me, how they relate to my context .
The gifts of the Spirit are being poured out upon us . I’m beginning to understand that these gifts don’t come in coloured uniformed patterns. We don’t have to comprehend them, but we do need to see them as actual, making them real.
I’m learning to see that it takes bravely and courage to mix the coloured grains of sand. Learning how essential it is to hold onto my true colours. I’m becoming more robust in my thinking and actions. Discovering how exhausting life can be when the landscape try’s to fade and erode my colours.
The colourful bottle of sand holds thousands of years of heritage and history. Its colours and traditions alone are not enough to hold the our future foundations.
God pours out the gift of the Spirit upon us, not as the historic re-enactment of static sand trapped in a bottle, but as the lived reality of the revelation of God, who is ever present and ever new.
It is our joy and privilege, not simply to share in those gifts, but to realise them, to see them sparkle, making them real in our lives, and for our time.
They were all excited, because all of them heard the believers talking in their own languages. When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. When that sound came, a crowd quickly gathered, startled because each one heard the disciples speaking in his own language.
Imagine the excitement of being one of the crowd that day, to be included in the conversations that surrounded you.
It’s easy to presume when we read this well-known passage ( Acts 2:6) that the language they all heard was spoken.
For some adults and children, the spoken / written language is not their own language.
For those of us that are wired slightly differently ( neurodiverse ) our first language is not always written / spoken. Some of us are picture thinkers. A picture thinker is someone who thinks primarily in pictures instead of the sound of words . Those with dyslexia, auditory processing, attentions issues like ADD/ADHD are people who might be picture thinkers
For those of us that think in pictures we live in a world that rarely speaks our language. Daily we can feel isolated, excluded and ashamed of our inability to communicate with others. We find ourselves exhausted as we struggle to read, write and function in a world that often perceives us as weird or even stupid.
Being neurodiverse means that we think and learn in a different way to other people. We often have particular strengths such as thinking outside the box, seeing the bigger picture and creative thinking.
When my dyslexic mind walks through what happened on that day of Pentecost.
I wonder how many of those stood in the crowd that day heard pictures being spoken from Peter’s words.
Peter explained to the crowd that everything had been written in the Scriptures about Jesus long before he had ever been born. He told the people that God sent Jesus to save them.
Some of the crowd that day might have seen the story of the messiah. They might have an image that represented their own sorrow and visualised their own forgiveness.
For the first time in their lives they may have felt truly understood. A way that would have seemed impossible only hours before.
The Spirit comes as an companion, a teacher, a Guide, to be with us – to remind us who we are and to whom we belong. To strengthen us for the task of living as God’s people in the world. It is the spirit that transforms us and weaves the gospel into our own language. That gives us a place of peace to go out into in a world that we cannot understand. It is only because we are understood and loved by God that we can be encouraged to let go of our fears and anxieties and walk into a world that scares us.
It’s the miracle of language. God showed himself willing to step into our individual space and verbalize a message in a language that we could understand. God showing his love to us. And maybe the greatest miracle, and the best explanation, of God happens when we take that love, given freely to us, and share it without reservation with each other.
Simone Weil was a French Jew who died of hunger during World War Two.
Simone was extremely well educated and came from a wealthy family.
She worked in the factories and lived on tinned rations. Simone was so affected by what was happening to others she decided to live as they lived.
Simone was drawn strongly to the sacramental life of the church . Her desire to be baptised became overwhelming to her.
Yet she declined, and spent the rest of her short life regarding the bread and wine of holy communion without ever eating them.
Regarding them was enough for her, determination to stay hungry gave her strength.
During this time of lockdown I’ve been hungry too.
Experiencing those familiar unsettled feelings often felt during the first few weeks of a new diet. The longing to find chocolate and cheese in the fridge . Only to find precooked jacket potatoes and a withered salad .
After a while you start to understand the answer to satisfying your hunger cannot be found in the fridge.
It’s about a change of attitude.
As the world endures the worst imaginable suffering . The hunger I feel pierces a bright light in this dark storm.
It’s from these pains of hunger that I take a new fresh bearing. Discovering worship in a different timeless dimension. Worship that does not start at 9.15 on a Sunday morning. Nor does it end after 45 minutes.
Worship is barren of rules, no dress code, no words. A sacred intimate place of mystery. Time stands still as struggle with the pain and sorrow . Tears roll uncontrollably as I find joy in this creative hunger.
An empty glass move my thoughts from hunger to freedom. I become more aware of my own personal rhythms of prayer. Awareness of the frailness and pain of the earth.
It’s taken me back to the story of Simone Weil. I am reminded that is important and ok to be deeply affected by what’s happening around us.
To weep each day does little to ease the pain. The tears have an energy of their own. A salty unity that partners with a overflowing love for each other.
During lockdown we have literately fed each other. Prepared meals for neighbours and friends.
Our combined hunger is woven and twisted into a strong soft blanket. A blanket that hugs me into Gods waiting arms, sharing sorrows of the world.
The alters maybe naked, the candles extinguished and the church doors locked. My spiritual diet has changed.
I’m hungry; the hunger pains are real essential and fruitful.