Candlemass and Snowdrops.

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?”

And

“ 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

Iris

Shadows nudge a whispered breath.
Danced deep into our souls.
Magical transformation
Awaken us.

A creative voice
An ingrained tattered prayer
Momentum stilled
Guide us.

Dry skin
Covering dry bones.
Barren times.
Dehydrated 
Undernourished
Feed us.

Quietly weeping
Scratched and bruised
Bleeding
suffocated
Hold us.

Listen to a new stirring
Flickering burning
United light
A global outcry
Unvalued 
Noticed
Flow though us.

Gitter in the Sand.

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.
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A salty unity.

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.
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Trust is visible.

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.

Songs From The Heart.

Soil and soul.

The circle is broken and I cannot raise a tune
The fairies have left and they will not return
When the fairies danced on the land the circle was whole
And then you could raise a tune.

Words from a Gaelic song translated into English and published in Alistair Mcintoshs book soil and soul.

There’s a deep well of love that connects the tunes of the heart to our souls.
Our hearts have the capacity to feel vision, to write poetry, to raise a tune so powerful that it must be sung.
When we sing these tunes we do so with an energetic unashamed joy.
It’s so natural that I do not doubt the acoustic rhythms of my soul.
I find this fusion of heart formed notes when I cycle. The rhythm of pedalling, infuses with the seasons of my life, until a tune overflows into fully formed words.
These songs are different to the tunes we sing in church, different to the music that is played on the radio.
A tune so unique that doesn’t conform to the rhythms of life.  The songs of the heart are so much more than musical notes.
You don’t sing these notes; you embrace them, you ride into them, you feel them in your hair. They give you balance, stability and freedom.

During this huge time of uncertainty and stress we must look for the songs that unite us. To the tunes that build communities, the melodies of Gods grace .
To equip our hearts and voices our first duty is to STOP and listen to the whispering earth.

Church is People.

Sitting in church with my mum trying to imagine what was church means for both of us.

A fertile field, an empty pew.
Ploughed, polished
Majestic oak rooted, harvested and carved.
Emerging growth, traditionally planted.

A muddy field, a quite pew
Scattering seeds, row upon row,
Self seeding, hybrid T’s.
Free-draining, managed soil.

An open gate, a heavy door.
Porous, water tight.
Weathering the seasons, heating on.
Exposed , sheltered
From the shared storm.

Coloured skies, painted roof.
Natures palette, hues of glass
Dog eared pages, carefully read.
Weathered cold and well feed.

Muddy footsteps, clicking  heals.
Boots and suits.
Kids that dig
Babies that scream.
Those that talk
Those that say nothing at all.

Flasks of coffee, teapots and cosies.
Picnics,  biscuits on china plate
A tree stump, a chair.
A shared conversation.
A friend.

We are all church
God’s  gathered people
Loved.
Growing.
In our own way.
Our own pace.
Same space.
Church is people.

 

A Hungry Heart.

What is poverty?

The common definition of poverty is:  the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor.
It seems that by lacking in desirable ingredients we are deficient in the qualities that make us socially acceptable.
Poverty is nearly always viewed as a negative, by admitting our own poverty we are admitting that we are failures.
So because of being on a low income the dictionary along with Government statistics would label many as poor.
But for some living in poverty is not a label they would give themselves .
As a child my father lost his job, many would have seen us as poor.
This was never obvious to me until I needed a new winter’s coat for school. The one I chose was beyond my parents means. I remember the teenage me in floods of tears as I was told I could not have a new school coat as it was not available to purchase with the school uniform vouchers supplied to my mum.
Poverty, in and of itself, is only a bad thing if it keeps someone from obtaining things that they truly need. For example, not having a winter coat.
Poverty forces us to prioritise what is necessary, desirable or luxurious. It forces the luxuries and desires to be appreciated for the luxury they truly are. In a very real way, it eliminates non-essential distractions and shows you to value the simple things in life.
You value the potato harvest from the allotment, the abundance of the apple harvest. All these gifts are seen as the gift they truly are.
It eliminates the non essential in our life, forcing us to live by what we need as a minimum rather than to live to what we want.
Of course this is not the way for many living in poverty and to some life has become so dark their is no joy in the harvest. Debt and poverty become a dark desperate way of living and seeing often with no hope of away out.

We are all called to live simply and in freedom with respect to the riches we have—whether they are in the form of material possessions, talents, time, or love.
Giving our time, sharing God’s love frees us from our own poverty. You become aware of the lack of value money can hold.

We become less captivated by the shinny things that delight the eye as we know in our hearts they are beyond our reach.
In poverty there is helplessness and dependence of our own lives in which we learn lean on Christ.
We reach to only what’s within our reach, we stretch out deep prayers that echo our deep sighs of hunger.
Each time we reach out to God theirs a reshaping a invisible prioritising of the true values of a hungry heart. We look to hidden parts of our lives, to those ordinary, ignored, forgotten and hidden parts of our lives. This is where we find God patiently for us to kneel, walk and journey with the richness of knowing “God is with us”.

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An unspoken Love.

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.
An unsaid.
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
Slept 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 ).

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