Sunday, 16 July 2017

Looking on from a distance




Mark 15:40-16.8
There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

The Burial of Jesus
When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

The Resurrection of Jesus
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.


In the passage from Mark’s Gospel we get an insight into some of Jesus’ other followers; we’re all very familiar with the 12 disciples, but Mark mentions ‘women looking on from a distance’. It got me thinking about the nature of discipleship, about visibility and invisibility, about proximity and distance. Do you feel like one of God’s visible and close followers, or do you feel more hidden and further away? 

Sometimes we hide because we fear that we are not acceptable. It can take enormous courage to present ourselves to God, to ask for something. I think of the courage of the woman who dared to touch Jesus’ cloak and was healed. The prominent disciples often tried to shoo the crowds away, but Jesus commended this woman for her faith: ‘But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague. Mark 5:33-34.

Sometimes we stay in the shadows because of cultural norms and expectations. It is no accident that it is the women in Mark’s account ‘who look on from a distance’. The women stay in the shadows, loving and caring, providing and enabling, but drawing no attention to themselves (‘they used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee’). There are many people whose Christian discipleship looks just like that. Those who have served the church and God tirelessly for years and years: dusting, cleaning, washing, serving, tidying, caring, providing. The unnoticed army of disciples whose ministry is not blessed in awesome ordination services; whose love and devotion is not usually remarked upon in books of saints and martyrs. And yet, there they are, at the precise moment of God’s intersection with heaven and earth.

It was these women who were first to the tomb, these women who brought spices for the anointing of the body. And their patience, love and devotion is rewarded. They are there and they see. For once they are right at the centre, drawn into the extraordinary theo-drama: Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome.

And their response to being at the centre of this extraordinary moment? They could only run, run away from the extraordinary realisation that something had happened, something unexpected. And it had happened to them.

Despite their fear and dread, they must have spoken, eventually. And so, they provide an example for other disciples and followers of Jesus. There are so many: they walk softly into our church during the week; they would never dare attend a service, but they light and bring candles, they sit and pray, they bring an offering to God. Even if we try and stay on the margins, even if our discipleship is tentative, shy, in the shadows. Even if we only dare peek at what is happening, we may find ourselves at the centre of the God-drama. Just like the women who looked on from a distance. If you are one of those who look on from a distance you may be surprised to realise that God comes closer to you than you ever dared imagine. And that God empowers his silent army of followers to speak.





Sunday, 9 July 2017

Rest in Christ

Girl in Hammock, Winslow Homer, 1873, from Wikipedia 
This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

I am not normally someone who finds it easy to rest or relax; I have a sense that that is true for many people! However, my son received a hammock for his 6th birthday and it’s been enjoyed by the whole family. We are blessed by having some of the most fantastically beautiful trees in our garden, huge glorious trees, which at the moment, in their varying versions of green and burnt amber are an absolute delight to view from the hammock. Looking upwards from a horizontal position really enables you to breathe in their grandeur and awesomeness in an overwhelming way. Together with the gentle rocking, it really is an experience of paradise. It is a place where I can pray.

‘Come unto me that are heavy laden and I will give you rest’.

These words spoken by Jesus I find nonetheless, challenging and comforting in equal measure. I am challenged by my natural inclination to seek burdens to carry, to work hard, to push myself; and then in contrast, the idea that rest is something that God desires for his people. How can it be that Jesus’ yoke is easy, that the burden is light? Surely for those of us of faith who long to see the complete revelation of the kingdom of God among us, we have a lot to work for? We only have to pick up the newspapers, speak to a few people, look on Facebook to see the angst and despair that hovers around the world. How can these words be true? ‘Come unto me that are heavy laden and I will give you rest’. Surely if these words are true it’s because we have given in to quietism and spiritual self-satisfaction of the worst sort? Isn’t that why, when I am in the hammock, I know that underneath the enjoyment is a lingering guilt?

At our Tuesday Communion Service this week we looked together at the story of Jesus on the ship with his disciples when the great storm arises. Jesus, if you remember is asleep. The disciples awake him in great fear and ask him to save them – he rebukes the wind and the waves, and chastises the disciples for their lack of faith.

This story seems connected to Jesus’ teaching on rest. If, in the midst of a storm, Jesus is able to be at peace, asleep – then does that have something to do with how we as Christians are being taught to be? Is Jesus asking us to develop serenity of mind and soul amid our own struggles and sufferings?

Apatheia is an ancient Greek word and concept which found its way into early Christian spirituality- it means literally ‘without pathos – meaning without suffering or passion’. It was interpreted in the Christian tradition to mean developing a certain sort of spirituality that was about cultivating a sense of peacefulness whatever one was experiencing or undergoing. We can see how that sort of serenity, if we have just received a cancer diagnosis or if we are very frightened, or if someone we love has just died would require an extraordinary amount of faith.

Before I went into hospital to have my twins I might have fooled myself into thinking I had something of that faith- but the experience of fear in the face of illness (which I experienced after their birth) disabused me of that pious notion. The fact is that faith in the face of personal adversity is hard to have – it’s alright looking on from the outside – but as humans our emotional responses are deeply physical. We feel, literally, not just spiritually.

Maybe that is what St Paul was struggling with in his tortured passage about the spirit and the flesh and not wanting to do what he’s doing, and doing what he doesn’t want to do (Romans 7.15ff). Humans are bound by our flesh – its desires and needs, and it was this battle (between the flesh and the spirit) that led many early Christians to follow the spiritual path of asceticism. The stories of monks and nuns who would eat only the bread of Christ for a week etc. abound in early medieval hagiography. And the Rules which underpin monastic spirituality of chastity, poverty and obedience reflect that same desire to tame the appetites of the flesh.

But, Jesus’ words don’t suggest rigorous monastic discipline, ‘I am gentle and humble of heart…. my yoke is easy and my burden is light’.

What is the connection between rest and gentleness together with humility?

I must admit that I don’t know, but here are some thoughts: humility, for instance, is about self-emptying – which means freeing ourselves from the demands of the ego, and some of the way in which we work can be about satisfying the ego. Then, there is what we were discussing on Tuesday – the idea that what is important is to place all our experiences (both good and bad) at God’s feet so that we at least are willing to share them with him, if not abandon them totally to his prescience/ foresight/ will. So, there is the letting go of that which we do that just feeds our ego (must be a few burdens there); and there is the act of relying on God for everything and in everything (to a greater or lesser degree depending on what we can manage). If we rely on God perhaps we do become gentler, less at odds with ourselves and others and more at peace with what God has given and what God has taken away, i.e. the changes and chances of this fleeting world? Have we got any closer to how rest is connected to gentleness and humility? Perhaps we have…

St Paul places his struggle in the flesh in perspective by locating it within the work of Jesus Christ which transcends, literally, our earthly existence. God has made us beings of the flesh and yet we anticipate heaven through our spiritual selves. Life on earth is about, it seems to me, learning to live with that dialectic in a creative way, a creative tension, rather than a destructive one. Christian tradition has only at times seemed to manage that; the temptation is to descend into various forms of dualism born of Gnosticism. Today, we seem better placed than ever before to appreciate the human - scientifically, psychologically and so forth - and yet perhaps least able to appreciate the spiritual self. If we are to re-imagine ourselves today in the light of Jesus it will mean learning to anticipate heaven once again and learning therefore to receive and give thanks. Something that God seems to be offering me in the gentle peace of the hammock – how might God be inviting you to receive his peace and to give thanks?

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

Relevant Bible Passages:
Romans 7.15-25a
Matthew 11.16-19, 25-end

For online Bible access search here - http://bible.oremus.org/




Sunday, 2 July 2017

Identity, belonging and holiness

Sermon for 2nd July
Doubting Thomas - Ephesians 2:19-end, John 20:24-29




In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we see classic Pauline theology in action – Paul is explaining to the Ephesians (Gentiles) that they are fully accepted into the household of God and full members of it. The implication is that they are unsure about their place. Paul is clear that their tradition and history is rooted now not only in the Patriarchs, but also in the Apostles and with Jesus Christ as the corner stone. It is the Apostles in Jesus who invite them to full membership. No longer is holiness and worship centred on the Temple in Jerusalem but, rather, the individual believers are spiritual temples and the group of believers an ‘habitation of God’.


Paul, as we know, had been fully committed to his identity as a God-fearing Jew; his life and ritual practice confirmed his sense of superior identity before God. He was saved because of his birth right and due to his strict adherence to the Law. The encounter with Jesus fundamentally changed his understanding of what it meant to be chosen by God; what it meant to be saved; and also his understanding of exactly how salvation is enacted. Paul’s radical conversion convinced him that Jesus had radically exploded the prior categories that he had grown up with. Such was the dramatic impact of his conversion experience that Paul came to have a completely faith-based understanding of identity, belonging and holiness.


The classic story of Thomas’s doubt, presented as it is in John’s Gospel, affirms Paul’s insistence on the new functionality of faith. Faith, ‘belief’ in the resurrected Jesus has replaced the whole of the Jewish Law. Jesus of course said that he had not come to obliterate the Law but to fulfil it. Jesus for Christians becomes then the fulfilment of the Law – and believing in him becomes the entire work of faith.


What mattered to Paul was that the Law no longer defined:

1) who you are - identity

2) who is included - belonging

3) ritual purity - holiness


Firstly, Jesus now gave everyone a new identity, an identity derived from God through himself and the Holy Spirit; this was not confined to one group of people, nor enacted through particular behaviours (Sabbath) or actions (circumcision). This identity as a child of God was freely given and bestowed, not earned. It was enacted through faith in Jesus, the Resurrected one.

Secondly, Jesus enabled everyone to belong; through faith in him any individual could become one with him, part of his body, the church. It was the Apostles and Jesus himself that thee new communities were being built upon. Belonging becomes about personal transformation (spiritual temples) and drawing together in remembrance (the church and communion).

Thirdly, holiness was now redefined as friendship with God. It was not a matter of ritual purity, but grace through the eternal sacrifice of the Son. Jesus makes us holy, and it is participation in his life and death that draws us back into relationship with God the Father.  

These are teachings that we desperately need to hear afresh today. Those who wish to police the ritual purity of our church do well to remember that our holiness comes from Jesus and not from our own attempts to ‘be holy’. Holiness cannot be derived from our own attempts to be perfect, morally or otherwise.


Identity is at the core of much contested ground in the church today and also in our culture. The fault lines of how we used to think about identity are being thrashed about – a person whose personality is changed through dementia, for instance, or a person who decides they want to undergo gender re-assignment. Marriage is being redefined as between two people of the same gender. Where is God in these knotty and complicated areas that stretch our thinking and understanding? One thing we can say for sure is that God is able to give us a new identity through his Son – not one that takes away our other identities, but one that underpins and strengthens our experiences. Whatever happens to us, God is able to be there at the root of who we are. A person who cannot remember who they are is still a beloved child of God; a person who changes from a man to a woman, is still a beloved child of God. It is their common identity in Christ, to which they are grafted in by faith that confirms them.


We cannot take away that in Jesus we are made anew. Similarly, we belong – not by virtue of being good, nor by being respectable, nor because we ‘fit in’- but by virtue of the fact that Jesus has invited us. Jesus invites so many people to sit at his table – but often ‘we’ and the ‘church’ can get in the way of that invitation. But, the invitation remains Jesus’ to give, not ours; Jesus consistently invites those who are not worthy. He invites those whom others would neglect; he invites the lost, the forgotten, the judged, the condemned, the troubled and the broken.


So, listening today, you may need to hear anew that:

·        You are created and loved by God: whatever particular identity struggle you may be having, your identity is in Christ and that is what gives you dignity and self-worth. IDENTITY

·        You are invited to be part of God’s family through his Son – I have not invited you here, Jesus has and whoever you are you belong by virtue of his invitation. BELONGING

·        You are saved by the grace of Jesus, you are held in his hands and you are made holy through his saving love revealed most fully on the Cross. HOLINESS


This is how identity, belonging and holiness look in the kingdom of God – identity is given, you are included and Jesus has purified. 

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Civic Service 2017




Last year we gathered together in this church on Civic Sunday just after the results of the EU Referendum. That significant result has changed the course of British history. On the anniversary of that major, seemingly once in a generation event, there have been a series of tragic events which have been incredibly bruising and distressing for the whole country. The terrorist attacks and the appalling Grenfell Tower fire have shaken our country to the core. Not once but three times in so many weeks I found myself gathering on the forecourt with others to mark a minute’s silence for the victims of terror and of course of the fire. We are in a period of history that is proving itself to be particularly fluid, surprising and almost impossible to predict. We are all being tested, none more so than our elected representatives and public servants.

For public figures and leaders in our communities, the need for humility, wisdom, and courage has never been greater. Our country needs leaders who are able to unite us. The words of Jo Cox MP, cruelly murdered by an extremist just over a year ago, sound even more prophetic and powerful one year on:  ‘We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us’. But, they also challenge us to live that reality.

The reading that we’ve heard today from the New Testament comes from a letter written by one of the earliest teachers of Christianity. St Paul went around the gentile, i.e. non-Jew, Greek speaking world, spreading the good news about Jesus Christ. He had a very strong sense of call that his role was to teach the nascent non-Jewish Christian communities. The extract from the letter we have heard was from a letter written to a Christian community in Corinth, Greece (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

There seems to have been particular problems in Corinth and these problems were to do with rivalry and disunity in the community. St Paul uses the metaphor of the human body to show how a human community is similarly constructed. He describes the way in which each part of the body needs the other parts: ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet ‘I have no need of you’.

St Paul’s metaphor asks us to consider how we enable all the different parts of the body to flourish in the communities that we serve. It may be we think that we can ignore certain parts, or that at least such parts are irrelevant.  The terrible fire at Grenfell reminds us that we can’t. Neglect of the poorer or more vulnerable members of our body – as St Paul calls them – the inferior members – will lead to each part of the body suffering. We cannot ignore each other and think that our neighbours are irrelevant to our well-being. If we do, over a period of time we will start to experience that neglect: ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it, if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it’.

Human communities are difficult to manage and control; we live today more than ever in complex ways and so the task is getting harder. Globalisation and technology are bringing with them ever new ways for humans to connect and interact, but they also reveal underlying currents of division, hatred and anger. Leaders today need to be extremely robust – but they also need to become much more adept at linking people together, at facilitating reconciliation within communities and at upholding our common goals and aspirations. What we need now from our public leaders is a new vision of how we can build consensus, develop connections, link people together, and bring reconciliation.

This town of Rugby has an eminent tradition of being a place where people work together, of where community is valued highly, and where we are able to be compassionate with one another. The Mayor this year has chosen the theme of ‘working together’ as her theme and it seems to me that there could not be a more fitting team in this period of our history. Team-work, common goals and shared aspirations are essential for the mutual flourishing of our town of Rugby.

I am a great believer in the need for communities to have representative people who symbolise our unity – through their symbolic roles we have a locus for our unity. The Mayor is such a civic representative figure. The presence of her Majesty the Queen and other members of the Royal Family in Manchester and London after the terror attacks and the fire were hugely comforting. I’m trusting that our new Mayor will not be needed in such tragic circumstances, but nonetheless Madam Mayor you will play an incredibly significant role in representing the unity of our common life as residents in the borough of Rugby. Your role will be to remind us all that we are deeply connected and mutually dependent on each other. You will have the great privilege of getting an insight into the lives and work of so many different people in Rugby and I know that like past Mayors before you, you will be changed by the experience. But, more importantly we pray that this community will be changed by your presence. May you steadfastly seek to bring unity and through it team-work - your honourable theme for this year – into and through our communities. May you work to enable different sections of our society to understand each other better and encourage different parts of our communities to work together for our mutual benefit, so that we may truly know the truth of living so that our grief and our joy are one. 

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

#ThyKingdomCome


In the Easter Season we are reminded by Jesus’ words and actions that we have been blessed by God’s Holy Spirit. The Advocate/Comforter or Spirit of Truth as it is also called has been sent by the Father to enable us in our Christian prayer and discipleship. Jesus’ resurrection appearances can only ever be fleeting and temporary – but in them we are promised and given the Holy Spirit. Jesus breathes on the disciples as he brings peace and reconciliation; he returns after his death as a promise and sign of God’s power and victory over death and to empower us with God’s Spirit. 

This Thursday is Ascension Day (25th May) the first day of 9 which have been marked out as a time of prayer for the holy spirit. It is a tradition that comes from the Roman Catholic Church and it has been taken up very enthusiastically by our Archbishops as an international movement and encouragement to pray. Last year was the first year that the Archbishops launched #thykingdomcome and promoted the 9 days as a period of prayer for evangelism, encouraging people to pray for their family and friends.

I must admit that last year if was the first I had heard about this specific practice of praying for the Holy Spirit from Ascension to Pentecost. The practice, I have later discovered emanates from 19th century Blessed Elena Guerra founder of the Sisters of the Holy Spirit. She dedicated herself to the education of girls and was particularly concerned about a renewal of prayer for the Holy Spirit. Her prayer led the Pope at the time People Leo the 13th to write an encyclical on the Holy Spirit.

Divinum illud munus (English title: On the Holy Spirit) is an encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII on May 15, 1897.

In it the Pope wrote that:

‘We ought to pray to and invoke the Holy Spirit, for each one of us greatly needs His protection and His help. The more a man is deficient in wisdom, weak in strength, borne down with trouble, prone to sin, so ought he the more to fly to Him who is the never-ceasing fount of light, strength, consolation, and holiness.”

In our time the Spirit has worked enabling Anglican and Protestants to join together in prayer from Ascension to Pentecost uniting with the Roman Catholic Church. Revive in Rugby has enthusiastically taken up the call to prayer and on Pentecost Sunday at 6.30pm there will be a unity service at St Peter John Church hosted by Sheila.

During this 9 days, called a novena, we all have an opportunity to renew our prayer and specifically to pray for the Holy Spirit. We will mark the period at St Andrew’s Church with silent prayer at 6.30pm on Thursday until 7.15pm followed by a service of Holy Communion. Prayer resources will be available from Thursday for anyone to pick up from church and we’ll be giving away free copies of St John’s Gospel. They’ll also be a Peace and Reconciliation textile exhibition in church.

Last weekend 10 of us went away together to pray. The early days of the church remind us that Christian discipleship above all else is about being in fellowship with one another – drawn together through the words and actions of Jesus- and enabled through the continuing outpouring of his Holy Spirit. It is very hard to develop that fellowship just through worshipping together on Sunday mornings as it doesn’t give us enough opportunity to really get to know one another. Deepening our relationships with friends at church isn’t necessarily easy – like any form of friendship it involves risk. However, as Christians we seek to frame our commitment to one another within the gracious forgiving love of Jesus.

As a town centre church in which people don’t necessarily live close to one another – we have an extra hurdle to jump over to develop the sorts of friendships which Christian discipleship requires of us. The fellowship Sunday meals, the home groups, the retreats, helping in the cafĂ©, joining the choir or bell ringers, being on the pastoral team are all ways for us to deepen our commitment to God’s commandments. As a busy church with lots going on we can sometimes too forget that God also requires of us that we sit in stillness as his feet.

If you never pop into church in the week, maybe during the novena you’ll take the opportunity. Perhaps you’ll bump into someone and have a longer chat than Sunday morning allows. Perhaps you’ll have 10 minutes of silence to pray. Or light a candle, or meet someone here who needs someone to listen to them. Whatever way we choose to engage in prayer this week, I do hope and pray that all of us in our own way will commit to praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit and the transformation of our lives.

This week then provides us with a real opportunity to re-commit ourselves to prayer on Ascension Day. Without prayer, our life together here is empty and Godless. With prayer, everything that we do together can be transformed. Enabling prayer to infuse our daily life is a practice that takes time, but one it is necessary to persist in.


AMEN 

Monday, 17 April 2017

Extravagant God- Easter Day 2017

During Holy Week the Gospel readings for the day are taken from John’s Gospel, and one of those is always the story of Mary (Martha’s sister) anointing Jesus’ feet.  She shows her great thanks and appreciation that Jesus has raised her brother Lazarus from the dead by taking a pound of pure costly nard (the fragrance filling the room) and anoints Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair. It is an act of extravagant thankfulness and generosity. It was extravagance that caused offence. It’s hard to know how much the nard would cost in today’s terms, but a days’ wages is 1 denarii – so 300 denarii is 300 day’s wages. So we’re looking at somewhere near an average salary for the year. In each of the Gospel accounts a different set of people are outraged at the extravagance (in John’s it’s Judas who says the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor.  But Jesus is not. He welcomes it – and accepts the spirit in which it was given.

I had my own encounter with extravagance this week - I asked a member of our congregation if she could get some greenery for our Garden of Gethsemane – I was expecting a few bunches. Instead she turned up with a van full of trees and shrubs. You can see the extravagant garden that she made in the Lady Chapel.

It reminds me of some of the extravagant actions of God in the Bible. Jesus started his ministry with a sign of extravagance – he turned large jugs of water in to wine at the Wedding of Cana – a sign that God had saved the best to the last.

How many times should I forgive someone says Peter to Jesus, up to 7? Thinking that already was generous – 77 times comes Jesus’ reply. Forgiveness is something that you can’t ration.

Then there is the feeding of the 5,000 with the loaves and fishes, from which 12 baskets of food left over. A sign that tells us that the food which comes down from heaven does not run out.

Then the miraculous catch of fish – a resurrection story – in which Jesus tells the disciples to cast their nets the other side, and they draw in so many fish that the nets start to break.

We should be getting the point by now – the kingdom of heaven is a place where love and forgiveness is not metered out according to our worthiness. There isn’t a limited amount of what God’s got to give – God’s love is generous and over-flowing, extravagant and likely to cause offence.

It’s linked to the offence of the Cross – God literally pours himself out for us in love – and through this great act of self-sacrifice he feeds his people for ever – through his flesh and his blood. The last act of crazy extravagance – of overflowing, abundant generosity – to give himself to us in this way.

You can’t manufacture abundant generosity – or extravagant thanksgiving- it’s not something a preacher can draw from her people. It comes from the abundance of the heart – Mary gave to Jesus in love and gratitude for what he had done – she had to respond in the way that she did – it came from deep inside her.  The preacher’s role is simply to remind you that you are invited to encounter anew the Risen Lord : - the Lord of the Bible who comes to each of us individually – standing with us as a reminder that we are invited into a kingdom where the normal rules of 1 + 1 do not apply. God does maths by breaking the rule book – of throwing away the calculator and reminding us we cannot place a price on redemption, resurrection or eternal life. Our extravagance depends on how deeply we realise what Jesus has really done for us.










Saturday, 4 March 2017

Sitting Comfortably?

The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains’. Jonah 2.5-6

During Lent this year at St Andrew's, Rugby, we will be looking in-depth at the story of Jonah and the whale (or rather, big fish). Our reading of the whole book (it is short) during our 10.30am Sunday communion services in Lent will be complemented by a textile exhibition. The exhibition is called Rivers of Life and is brought to us by the Deo Gloria Trust; the work is produced by textile artist Jacqui Frost. In the work Jacqui explores the way in which water is used in the Bible as a metaphor and illustration of our spiritual lives. Of course Lent itself is about entering into the desert. It is in the desert that we encounter real thirst and, it is hoped, our longing and desire for God is purified by such an experience, but of course that is not inevitable. Our Christian journey begins with abundance of water (baptism) but as Jesus experienced, sooner or later the Holy Spirit will lead us into more testing landscapes. It is important that we prepare ourselves for the task. What happens to Jonah when he finds himself in the large fish? He has been saved but also captured – he is stuck, and that probably sums up his attitude toward God. He is stuck in his relationship with God – God won’t let him go but he has to work out whether he will co-operate; if he can't, he will remain stuck – in God’s hands, but nowhere to go. Have you ever felt like that? You know that you are somehow in God’s hands but you are frustrated and confused. Jonah finds that God continues to upset his notions of how things should work out and therefore his story is a very helpful one for those of us who similarly find life with God frustrating and challenging, and yet, we can’t let go. The image of Jonah at the end of the story sitting under the bush cursing God encourages us to reflect on how we approach God’s ways and actions in the world. How often do we understand what God is doing? How often is our anger at God at odds with his sense of justice?

An honest Christian journey seems to me to be one that is fraught with questions, frustrations and confusion.  There is no easy way in Christianity to tie up all the loose ends, to reconcile the problems. It is a religion that requires us to get stuck in, to make it up as we go along, to rile against the injustices and to pray for mercy. But, mercy directed towards others (as Jonah found out) can often feel like an absence of justice. And there is the rub – God’s rule doesn’t often feel right to us. Perhaps therefore sitting uncomfortably is what it’s all about and so my prayer for you (and us) this Lent, is that, it is uncomfortable for you, in all the ways that God would want it to be! (notwithstanding the new pew cushions).

River of Life Exhibition St Andrew’s Church, Ash Wed 1st March – Tuesday 28th March (free entry).