Bill's Blog

Hidden Life

Saturday, 06 January 2018

Hidden Life - January 2018

First, Happy New Year to all our readers!  I hope you’ve enjoyed the seasonal festivities and are even now putting your running shoes on and looking joyfully and determinedly to fulfil your New Year’s resolution.

Like most people, getting back into the swing of things in early January isn’t my idea of fun, but it has to be done. 

As a gardener, I’m inspired by the earliest spring flowers, like snowdrops and aconites, getting ready in a week or two to push up through the soil and display their brilliant whites and yellows to remind us that life goes on – out of sight or in plain view.

The fact is that many plants – including cyclamen, crocus and hyacinth – need a cold spell to press the starter button and get growing.

It’s the same with us. It may feel like the dead of winter when nothing much is happening in north Northumberland, but in fact God never stops working in us and through us.

For example, The URC, Glendale Crossing Places Trust, St Mary’s and St Ninian’s are starting Messy Church on 14th January. Thinking and planning has been going on since early last year, gathering people and enthusiasm and building hope.

It’s an experiment, of course, and it may fall flat, but there’s only one way to find out…

It’s another sign of life in the churches up here. Cooperation is vital – there’s no single church which could carry Messy Church on our own. The following week, we celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  Messy Church is just the latest tangible evidence of Christians working together across the denominations to proclaim the Kingdom of God and for the good of the community.

What is happening where you are? For many rural churches, struggling against decline, it’s tempting to think of this as winter.  But we need to remember that God calls the shots, not us. He is not finished with His creation or His church.  There is every reason to pray about your future and be hopeful. 

The early spring flowers have an early slot in the growing season before they get overshadowed by the larger plants later in the year. To everything there is a season (read Ecclesiastes 3) but the life that God has put in us and in our churches never stops. And where there’s life, there’s hope. 

Now have a walk round a garden this month and see how many signs of life you can spot!

At the Right Time (4)

Sunday, 24 December 2017

“At the right time…”  God’s Kingdom

Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.  Relent, Lord! How long will it be?  Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.  Ps 90:12-14

Advent reminds us of the “now-and-not-yet” nature of the Kingdom of God. We wait, sometimes with heartfelt longing, for the realisation of Jesus’ promise, “Look – I am coming soon!”  While we wait, God’s word reminds us of life in the kingdom, and that some aspects are visible today. We see lives healed, new schemes for bringing justice and peace out of conflict, hearts turned towards a loving God. But the work is far from finished. Those of us who are older may feel like the Wise Man in TS Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi”:

… All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

Or, as the old preacher, S.M. Lockridge, famously said, “It’s Friday… but Sunday’s coming!”

 

 

Lord, prepare us for your Advent coming.

In our prayers today we try to come to you,

sure that you will come the rest of the way.

Lord, prepare us for your coming – in the world.

Come, drive away despair from our politics;

revive our dreams of justice;

restore our passion for what is good, right and true.

Establish your just and gentle rule in places like Zimbabwe and Somalia

where peace has been powerless

and violent people have had their day.

Set a flame to the fuse of justice in places like Syria and Burma

where arrogant people have defied the moral order year after year.

Guard well the new springtime of hope in Egypt and Libya

where peace has come like a gift,

wrapped in reconciliation and gladness.

In particular, Lord, we long for a fairer distribution of food and land

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Lord, prepare us for your coming – in our community.

In the problems of our locality

help us never to forget the supremacy of love.

May love motivate our care for our neighbourhoods.

May love heal the social ills which drag us into despair.

May love inspire our citizenship to rise beyond mediocrity.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus

Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

 

Look forward in hope

to the coming of your Saviour,

prepare the way for Christ your Lord;

welcome him with love and faith

when he comes in glory.

And the blessing of God almighty,

the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

be among us and remain with us always. Amen.

At the Right Time (4)

Sunday, 24 December 2017

“At the right time…”  God’s Kingdom

Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.  Relent, Lord! How long will it be?  Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.  Ps 90:12-14

Advent reminds us of the “now-and-not-yet” nature of the Kingdom of God. We wait, sometimes with heartfelt longing, for the realisation of Jesus’ promise, “Look – I am coming soon!”  While we wait, God’s word reminds us of life in the kingdom, and that some aspects are visible today. We see lives healed, new schemes for bringing justice and peace out of conflict, hearts turned towards a loving God. But the work is far from finished. Those of us who are older may feel like the Wise Man in TS Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi”:

… All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

Or, as the old preacher, S.M. Lockridge, famously said, “It’s Friday… but Sunday’s coming!”

 

 

Lord, prepare us for your Advent coming.

In our prayers today we try to come to you,

sure that you will come the rest of the way.

Lord, prepare us for your coming – in the world.

Come, drive away despair from our politics;

revive our dreams of justice;

restore our passion for what is good, right and true.

Establish your just and gentle rule in places like Zimbabwe and Somalia

where peace has been powerless

and violent people have had their day.

Set a flame to the fuse of justice in places like Syria and Burma

where arrogant people have defied the moral order year after year.

Guard well the new springtime of hope in Egypt and Libya

where peace has come like a gift,

wrapped in reconciliation and gladness.

In particular, Lord, we long for a fairer distribution of food and land

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Lord, prepare us for your coming – in our community.

In the problems of our locality

help us never to forget the supremacy of love.

May love motivate our care for our neighbourhoods.

May love heal the social ills which drag us into despair.

May love inspire our citizenship to rise beyond mediocrity.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus

Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

 

Look forward in hope

to the coming of your Saviour,

prepare the way for Christ your Lord;

welcome him with love and faith

when he comes in glory.

And the blessing of God almighty,

the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

be among us and remain with us always. Amen.

At the Right Time (3)

Friday, 22 December 2017

“At the right time…”  God’s Light   (Advent Week 3)

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”… Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”  Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”  Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.         As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.   So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor.  As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. (John 13:22-30)

Jesus later leads the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane: the Light of the world, the bringer of light to creation walking with his followers into a darkness deeper than night.

In a short while, mortal fear will drive a wedge between them and their Lord. At the threat of arrest, they will forsake him and feel that precious relationship is shattered.  But Jesus will not leave them there.

The meal they have shared, and which we share, is the point at which his disciples are invited to take and eat, to make him part of them in a new way.  And we still do today.

All my songs are timid and all my steps are small;

You skip prism oceans and swab the cattle stall.

 

All my strength is fissile and all my play lacks glee;

You spin jokes with atoms, and skittish chemistry.

 

All my tasks are twilight and all my efforts dusk;

You yield ancient riddles and hide the mammoth’s tusk.

 

All my breaths are driftwood and all my blood impure;

You left perfect fluid on earth’s vindictive shore.

 

And all my seesaw yearnings and all my famished trust

Are fed in Your last banquet of wine and wounded crust.                 Stuart Henderson

 

 

Let us give thanks for

The touch of God’s hand in the darkness, reminding us we are not alone

God’s trustworthiness: he will not leave us – even though we may leave him

God’s glory, seen on Sinai at the giving of the Law, on the Mount of Transfiguration and wherever people meet God together in their need.

Let us pray for

Those who are blind or who live with other impairments; and their carers and loved ones

Those blinded by grief, greed or anger

All who bring people the light of hope, that together they may step into God’s light and know him.                                                                                 

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.     John 1:4-9

John dies in prison, the disciples run away, the tomb is sealed.

But the end of the Sabbath marks the first day of God’s new creation. With the dawn comes the promise of the new age of the Kingdom reign of God on earth.  Nothing can frustrate God’s plans. 

The prayers of God’s people down the ages are answered.

We pray:

God of love and truth,

We pray for local churches and areas and groupings of churches

that they might be responsive to the leading of your Spirit,

able to discern the gifts of ministry and the signs of your call.

God of grace, you call us and you equip us for our calling.

Open our ears to hear your call.

Open our eyes to read your word

and to see your world as Christ sees it.

Open our hands to give what we have and what we are

back to you for your service.

Open our hearts to the wonder and the glory of your love,

that we might all minister in the way of Christ;

in whose name we pray. Amen.

God our deliverer,

whose approaching birth

still shakes the foundations of our world:

may we so wait for your coming

with eagerness and hope

that we embrace without terror

the labour pangs of the new age,

through Jesus Christ. Amen.

At the right time... (2)

Friday, 15 December 2017

At the right time…”  (2) God’s Absence

When (John’s disciples) came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’” Luke 7:20

John the Baptist, forerunner of the messiah – the God who comes – so convinced and yet, when utterly alone and facing death in prison, wondered if he’d got it all wrong.  “Are the one who is to come?

The first shout in the Bible was not, “God, where are you?” but “Adam, where are you?” He is the seeking God, the God who comes to us because we cannot, or will not, come to him.   He is the Father, waiting for the prodigal son.

Yet for so many who feel only his absence in grief, fear or need – a God-shaped hole in the universe. He seems too often the God who is not here, or like a blank pixilated face in TV reports. How can we see him, meet him, put our trust in him?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?  O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel.  In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed… From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God.   Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no-one to help. Ps.22:1-11

To pray like this takes courage, and at least accepts the possibility of his presence.     

                     

 

Advent God, we worship you: the God who comes.

You are not remote from the world you have made,

but each day you come to us, blessing us with your presence.

You came in creation itself, as your Spirit moved over the waters of chaos.

You came in Jesus Christ, made flesh in our world of weakness and need.

You came in power to raise him from death, a mighty promise for all creation.

 

Each day you come, by your Spirit, gently and powerfully working

in the lives of men and women.

At the end of time you will come, in power and righteousness,

in mercy and redeeming love.

Grant us the grace to welcome your coming.

Inflame our love to yearn for your presence.

Enlarge our vision to recognize your coming day by day.

We greet you, Advent God.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.  Amen.

At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.  So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Luke 7:21-23

We pray:

for those in need – without jobs, proper housing, food or hope;

for those who suffer because of health or abuse;

for those who have stopped looking for God            

 

Paul calls us to be ambassadors for Christ.  We follow Jesus who, like his people Israel, went into the desert, into exile, into temptation, so that we need not be banished there.  We can learn on that desert road that God calls others out of that far country, to return to the waiting Father. It is we, who know and are shaped by the Father’s love, who must show them the way.

 

Lord Jesus Christ your world awaits you.

In the longing of the persecuted for justice;

in the longing of the poor for prosperity;

in the longing of the privileged

for riches greater than wealth;

in the longing of our hearts for a better life;

and in the song of your Church,

expectation is ever present.

 

O come, Lord, desire behind our greatest needs.

O come, Lord, Liberator of humanity.

O come, Lord, O come, Immanuel.

 

May the Father of the prodigals, the Son and Brother of grace, and the Spirit who brings us into God’s presence be our companions tonight and always. 

$40million - but free to you!

Friday, 17 November 2017

Leonardo da Vinci's painting "Salvator Mundi" (Saviour of the World) recently sold for $40million. It's now arguably the second most famous painting in the world after the same artist's "Mona Lisa".  The image is of Jesus Christ, a crystal globe in his left hand and his right hand raised in blessing.  The viewer is held by the calm gaze of the eyes, marked with the results of crucifixion and resurrection.

$40m is a world record price (at time of writing) for an artwork.  Strangely, it was auctioned at the same time as a range of modern and contemporary art, even though they are the best part of 5 centuries apart. What made someone want to pay that price?

Religious devotion? The satisfaction that you own one of only 16 known works by da Vinci? Investment? Most likely the last reason. The title, however, makes us pause for thought.

"Saviour"? What are we supposed to be saved from?  The concept of sin has largely been replaced by a dread of being shamed - witness the recent scandals about sexual harassment in the corridors of power and entertainment. Guilt is easier to deal with - sue someone for defamation, pay them off, do community service if you have to, but never admit that you were wrong. You didn't lie, you "misspoke". You were young and foolish, now you know better, so the victim had just better get over it.  That was then, this is now.

And yet, given the rise in cases of recorded depression diagnoses and suicide rates, we can't seem to shake off the feelings that something is not right deep within both the individual and our society. What's to be done?  

How about instead of looking for a scapegoat, we look for a hero? Not one of our creating, of course.  The news media create and then destroy such figures in rapid succession. "Salvator Mundi" portrays someone who came to bring hope, healing and blessing from God, and precisely because we can't stomach that kind of grace, we label him "holier than thou" and put him on a cross.

In the end, da Vinci painted Christ and called the work "Salvator Mundi" because the story of Jesus didn't end in a tomb.  In fact it hasn't ended. The surprise for the viewer of the painting is that we are not only held in the calm gaze, as da Vinci intended, we are held in the love that is God's nature.  

In the end, such love, such grace, is both priceless and free.

On the Record or Off Message?

Thursday, 14 September 2017

This year has seen celebrations all over the western world of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. This was a split from the Roman Catholic Church initiated by Martin Luther and continued by John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, and other early Protestant Reformers in 16th century Europe.

It was a revolt against the way the Church seemed to many to be "going off-message" with the way faith in God was being manipulated and made into almost a mechaical "system" which guaranteed salvation, so long as obedience to the Church's teaching, paying for forgiveness for the deceased and other ways of "earning" God's approval through keeping your nose clean or payments.

It revolutionused not only the global Christian faith, but also our western culture - in both good and bad ways (upside: development of social work; downside: the"white protestant work ethic").

I've been a Jesus-follower since 1961 and in all these years, I've seen all kinds of movements and trends inside and outside the church. From the strait-laced to the plain wacky,there have always been new slants on the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Some are just flashes in the pan, while others change our understanding of what Jesus calls us to be and do in lasting, helpful ways.

Rarely has anyone stopped to ask, "What exactly is our message?" Or even more dangerously, "How does Jesus want us to live?"

Yet it is becoming a serious and relevant question in these days when the Church of England declares that less than half the UK population say they are religious - and that includes more than 71% of people between 18-24 years. Is it just about packaging the message more relevantly, or does it go deeper than that?

How would you describe the message of Jesus today? Be more religious? Go to church mor often? Believe more things about God? Be nicer to your neighbour?

Jesus once said "I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly." (John 10:10). One way of translating that might be, "...that they might become fully human".

And yet many people I meet tell me they don't believe in "all that Christian stuff" because they think the message is only "God dislikes you because you're a sinner*, so repent* and start getting religious* or you'll go to hell" *words which usually are incomprehensible to them.

So let me ask you that question again - How would you describe the message of Jesus today?

I'll be back in a week or two to suggest an answer.

Bye for now.

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