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.
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 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.
Back in the early 1990’s a Uk animal laboratory went into liquidation.
The beagles they used for their research needed to be rescued. This was to be a massive undertaking, with the beagles being transported to RSPCA animal shelters across the uk.
These dogs had never seen the outside world, never walked on a lead. They had spent all of their lives in living kennels. They where regarded as a product, one that produced puppies as part of a profitable business.
Although not badly treated the dogs lacked any life skills and had no idea what a dogs life was all about.
Some of these beagles both young and old came into my care ( I was working at a RSPCA animal shelter) .
The puppies took well to their new environment.
As with most puppies they responded to human interactions. They learnt quickly from each other, finding huge joy in playtime and meal times.
The older breeding bitches, many of which arrived in pup had a long difficult journey of adjustment ahead of them.
As time moved on they slowly allowed me to love them.
To be with them as they gave birth to their puppies . Very Slowly they started to trust me.
They learnt to bark and loved the sound of their own voices. Their individual cheeky personality’s started to shine.
With a lot of patience they leant to walk on a lead, Soon they where enjoying lunch time walks along the river bank.
The beagles that arrived cowering and petrified soon started to greet meet with excitement, tails wagging.
The time came when not only did they TRUST me but I started to trust them.
All but one. LIBBY.
Libby found all this trust thing hard, she refused to walk on the lead. She was deeply sad and traumatised . The stress of the move from the laboratory kennels to the animal shelter had caused her to loose the litter of puppies she was carrying .
I often wondered if Libby could / should be rehomed. I wondered if the world even had that special family for her.
Libby was liberated from the kennels that robbed her confidence and released her into a life she could not understand.
Reflecting on the word TRUST this morning I thought of Libby and her beagle friends. The image of her sad pale face came to mind.
Reminding me how trust transformed the lives of these traumatised beagles. How their confused and dull faces, become colourful expressions of playfulness.
Trust not only transforms, but it’s visible.
When we come to know the trust of living with Jesus the changes in us can also be visible. The trust we put in Jesus enables and equips us to get through the hard times.
In the midst of this pandemic. I find myself speaking to God full of worry. I’m worried for the families that have lost loved ones. Worried about going out in a world that is full of anxiety and fear.
I’m afraid of losing our friends and family , afraid that our business won’t survive.
The moment is fearful, but in this fear their is hope for the future. The world no longer seems safe, it’s drowning and struggling to breathe. I feel it’s been struggling long before the pandemic started. The world is confused insecure and frightened .
The breathless world is still to be trusted. God still loves us. This love liberates us to live as God’s gifts to others, bringing refreshment and relief to those who suffer. And we are freed to welcome others as God’s gifts to us, receiving all the richness they can bring into our lives.
It was magical moment when Libby trusted enough to hide behind me while I introduced her to a wonderful family that would love and care for her. Except her just the way she was.
Trust is visible, we experience a joy so great that our tails wag. As we overcome our fears we learn to live out our faith to draw on the strength that comes from trusting in Jesus.
Psalm 27:5 Good News Translation
In times of trouble he will shelter me;
he will keep me safe in his Temple
and make me secure on a high rock.
I’ve recently been reminded of the cycling adventures I had as a teenager.
Balancing conversations whilst cycling hands free and eyes closed.
I remember on one occasion my lovely friend combined hands free cycling with hair brushing. Simultaneously I combined hands free cycling with eyes closed cycling. I trusted my friend to guide me. She trusted me not to trust her when she needed to brush her hair.
Needless to say we lost our balance and wobbled into each other and we both ended up a tangled heap in the road.
I remember our laughter and tears. Both battered and bruised we picked ourselves up and continued our journeys home. Neither of us prepared to explain to our parents how we came off our bikes.
I still cycle hands free but with my eyes open. I still cycle with my eyes closed but keep two hands firmly on the handle bars.
The other evening I experienced worship which was “ hands free “.
No service sheets, all responses where said by one person on our behalf.
No words to read, or misread, no responses to stumble over. It really was a place of freedom full of love and possibilities.
This paper free service took me right back to my teenager years of hand free cycling.
It reawaken a crafted space that in its simple creation allows myself to go deeper with God.
To step back on the path of discovery, to ponder the words that echo around me drifting to a place of awareness.
A place of wordless, imageless prayer.
It’s this place that I seek when I pray. That draws me inwards to God. This place might be cycling hands free, digging the garden, or just simply sitting in my own home.
I used to believe that prayer was words. That all prayer had an audible sound, a solid firm shape. A pattern of compulsory words. Yet the more I journey the more I learn that prayer is more than words. It can be the thin places that God has gifted us. My thin place will differ to another’s. A place from which I feel the radiant transparency of love, infused with a deep moment of silence from which all unspoken words and concepts are tidal.
It’s a place I Instinctively and habitually return to. My own personal place that protects my extraordinary. Opens the doors to the most
inaccessible places on earth, weirdly these places can almost be the most accessible places of my mind.
The spirited wind that ruffled my hair as I cycled hand free as a teenager was the early beginnings of a transformative spiritual practice that would sustain me .
Two risk taking teenage girls cycling hands free, have guided each other, supporting each other into adult life.
I have realised this friendship has prepared me and helped open myself to Jesus. It opened for me a path of adventure to follow my my deepest desire.
To understand that our risk taking may end up not as planned. I think back to myself and my friend in a tangled mess of bike and bruises. The gap of silence in which our tears turned to laughter. The unspoken words from our parents when we returned home battered and bruised. Those inner words of love that are parents never spoke.
I’ve come back as a adult to the thin places that feed the gentle gap between thoughts and words, a place to rest with God.
An inner silence, a stillness reinforced by a familiar habit of searching for a deeper stillness.
The places that taste and smell of creation. A conscious return to a unconscious place. Where my imagination traces pictures that have yet formed words.
A precious rediscovered energy, a gathered moment in time that held my breath and ruffled my hair.
A physical reminder of the breath of God that breaths within me. A tactile sensation of the wind blown Spirit. A mysterious force that guides my heart to prayer. That generates a core of outwardly focused energy.
When I stop focusing on what’s expected of me. When I follow my heart I bring myself to God. Letting go of the patterns of life that dampen my imagination, the words that confuse me, letting go of the handle bars that balance and guide me.
Closing my eyes I Listen to a silent love that prepares my soul ready for a purposeful action. A risk that’s so empowering it’s wrapped in love. A love that in which ordinary people can do ordinary things.
In the beginning
Love met flesh
Love is patient, love is kind.
Love was unspoken word.
A nameless unspoken feeling of connection.
Love was a muted rhythm of life.
A unseen connection
Love dwelled deeply in flesh.
One day flesh was squeezed and squashed.
Pain held her so tightly .
That she screamed to word.
Flesh met Word
Word collided with loves feelings.
Feelings collided with loves word.
Love and word held flesh.
Flesh became present to light.
They held her tears.
They comforted her day and night.
They walked together
Held her in their arms,
They counted her tears.
They cried with her.
Love helped flesh understand word.
Love and word are patient and kind.
They grew flesh gently.
They watched her cry.
They become her rock.
They nurtured her unsaid words.
Love and word protected flesh.
They gave her hope
An a light to live by.
Flesh stayed safe in her garden.
She was still to afraid to tell of words existence.
The unnamed love was patient and kind.
Love dwelled deeply in flesh’s heart.
Everything was ready.
Waiting for flesh to speak loves name.
To give voice to the word .
To breathe the spirited light of action.
A deep wobbly breath of trinity.
The father son and the Holy Spirit
Dwelled deeply in her heart together.
They showed her their people.
Showed her one light of a love.
She saw her created self, her true self.
They walked with her as she left the safety of her garden
They walked with her as she moved into her neighbourhood.
Love action and word are generous and kind.
Love never fails.
The story is just beginning.
Love ( Jesus ) Word ( God) action ( Holy Spirit ).