A Season of Invitation

Alan and I went on a training course today about “A Season of Invitation” – it was really interesting. Some questions for you:

Is your church welcoming or is it inviting? (choose only one!)

Why don’t people invite people to church?

Do these reasons form a toxic creed?

Are we paralysed by a fear of rejection?

What would Christ say about rejection?

What is wrong with “no”? What is wrong with feeling vulnerable?

We were challenged not to focus on success but instead focus on faithfulness.

We were also challenged not to worry about whether we get a “no” or a “yes” – we plant the seeds, it is God who does the rest.

People said that “no” can lead to a really interesting conversation if we are willing to ask the next question, “if you con’t mind me asking, why?”

 

Table Talk for Older Youth

We tried out Table Talk for Youth last night. I thought it was really good – we had a really interesting conversation for an hour about social media, cyber bullying, teenage issues and much more. I learned a huge amount about what teenagers face and all of us had the opportunity to talk freely about questions we were interested in.

I think this resource is a great way of getting to know each other. There was no spiritual discussion in this one but I can see that some of the other topics would lend themselves to this more easily.

If anyone wants to join us (aged about 14-18) then please let me know 🙂 The chocolate and grapes are of course a benefit too – thanks Stella 🙂

Can people read in church?

Did you know that older people need considerably more light to read than younger people? I’d never thought about it until my optician told me yesterday. He said it isn’t just the print size that is important, it is the lighting too. His claims about how much extra lighting is required seemed a little far-fetched and so I googled it and found this on the Diocese of Peterborough website:

Lighting levels for the congregation generally need to be of at least 150 lux. Elderly people need six times the lighting levels necessary for a teenager to be able to read comfortably.

There were other interesting tips on lighting there too, like it is boring to have the same level of light everywhere, and that the highest concentration of light should perhaps be at the altar where the action is happening…..

Anyway, the optician seemed to think that the congregation would be mostly elderly and hence need great lighting. He asked me what the average age is and I think he was expecting the answer 95! Cheek! The congregations have people of all ages in them including youngsters like me 🙂

By the way I am enjoying my new varifocal contact lenses 😉

 

Including those in church who have mental illnesses

We had a lovely Parish weekend away at Wychcroft and Dianna Gwilliams who is our Dean came to spend some time with us. One question that she asked was how we include people who have mental illnesses in our churches. It was a question that we pondered a little later on in the evening.

One person shared that prayers like the Prayer of Humble Access:

“Lord I am not worthy to gather up the crumbs from under your table”

and indeed the whole of the Lenten liturgies are difficult for those who already feel unworthy and hopeless, they come to church feeling bad and leave feeling worse.

Also, it is hard to do what everyone else is doing during the service when you are depressed, but even harder not to. An example was given that it may be hard to stand during the Eucharistic Prayer, so someone may choose to sit down, but of they are depressed then they may feel like everyone is judging them for being seated, and the internal dialogue in their head will be shrieking that they are drawing attention to themselves. The same person when they are well can either stand or sit and all is well.

I once experienced worship where there was a thin, dark curtain between the worship and the coffee area. I was feeling depressed but found I could sit in the coffee area and listen to the worship but felt free to leave without being seen, which paradoxically enabled me to stay. One conclusion we reached was it is always helpful if there is no compulsion.

I’m not sure what we can do about Lent though… any ideas?

Grief and the need to ‘do’ something

Our community is in grief at the moment, a teenage lad has died and everyone’s thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.

Grief is the price of love. It is the ‘cost of commitment’, is how Colin Murray Parkes entitles the opening chapter of his work Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life.

If we love, we grieve, but no one expects to grieve for someone so young.

I have found myself thinking about grief and how younger people react, and I guess the emotions are the same:

I feel so sad

I feel completely empty

I feel incredibly angry

I feel desperately lonely

I wish I hadn’t said those unkind things

I feel afraid, will this happen again?

Will I feel like this forever?

But children are often so good at intuitively knowing they need to ‘do’ something – light a candle, take some flowers, write a message…

I think we all need to ‘do’ something – we can’t think our way through because our minds are a mess – a tumult of thoughts and emotions that we can barely understand. But physically we can ‘do’ something, we can lay a wreath, we can write down a memory, we can sign a book of condolence, we can light a candle, we can attend a funeral. In all these things we find some way of expressing ourselves, even in the depths of the abyss of grief. Personally, I wouldn’t discourage people buying flowers for a funeral because it may help them.

At times of loss I find set prayers really helpful. I don’t really know why but I find such comfort in this prayer:

Support us, O Lord,

all the day long of this troublous life,

until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes,

the busy world is hushed,

the fever of life is over

and our work is done.

Then, Lord, in your mercy grant us a safe lodging,

a holy rest, and peace at the last;

through Christ our Lord.

Amen

The Good Shepherd or the Hired Hand?

I really loved Pray As You Go today – worth a listen.

The part that challenged me particularly was this:

Jesus talks about the differences between the good shepherd and the hired hand – in the degree of commitment and responsibility, the depth of relationship, the time and care, and even love, that is given – differences that set Jesus apart from false prophets, but that might also prompt me to question myself.  What does the image of the good shepherd and the hired hand say about my commitment, the depth of my relationships, the time and care and love that I give?

It reminded me of something that the Diocesan Youth Adviser said on a recent training course that here in Surrey we are used to paying for things. We don’t want to do our cleaning so we hire someone to do it for us. We don’t want to do youth work so we hire someone to do that too. But how does it make the youth feel? They can see right through it. He then went on to say that youth groups that have 5 or more members of the congregation helping out keep 80% of the youth into adulthood. Those that have just the youth leader or vicar and one other keep 10%. It is all about the quality of the love that is shown, and it is shown in commitment.

 

John 10:10 – Life in all its fullness

So if you were to choose a favourite bible quote it might be this one from Jesus – “I have come that they might have life and life in abundance”…or it can be translated life in all its fullness.

I had a wonderful spiritual experience yesterday and it made me rejoice, made me thank God for the abundant life that God gives us. Do you want to know what the wonderful spiritual experience was? Well I went to a church service that I didn’t lead – it was fantastic – I heartily recommend it to you.

It was, of course the celebration of 20 years of Women’s Ordained Ministry and I didn’t really want to go. I was tired. I had other things to do. I didn’t see the point of it. I would have got out of it if I could. But I couldn’t because I had RSVP-ed, and thank God for that. It was a celebration of all ministry, men and women’s ministry, lay and ordained ministry. I was on the verge of tears throughout the whole service, it was so affirming of all, so liberating and so healing. I could sense God’s grace as if God was as close as my next heartbeat, I sensed God’s Spirit within me and without. And I heard stories, from men and women of God’s incredible grace and joy even in the midst of pain and suffering.

It struck me that if we want to know about Life in All its fullness we need look no further than the person sitting next to us, we need to share our stories of grace. I was humbled and challenged.

All through the service my own story, my own testimony, washed over me, reminding me of the immense grace God has showered on me and how rich God has made my life, indeed how God has given me life in all its fullness and yet I so often forget, I forget to be thankful. I’d like to share some snippets of that experience with you if I may.

First of all I remembered how I came to faith, I didn’t want to be a Christian, I didn’t want to believe in God and yet God became real to me. It transformed me from someone who desperately hoped that they would die each day to someone who believed that God had a plan for them. And that is one of the immense graces that God bestows upon us – life in all its fullness means that God has a plan for us.

Then I remembered how after I became a Christian I found myself wanting to share this amazing gift of God’s love with others. They were down and outs, criminals, in and out of jail. They were outcasts from society and yet I was convinced that they weren’t outcasts from God’s love. God increases our love for others because we know how loved we are by God. This is life in all its fullness that we love others because God has loved us.

Fast forward and I am terrified that I think God is calling me to the priesthood. Not me. That’s impossible. For a start I have a terrible past, secondly I’m not sure I believe in women priests and thirdly I have three small children and my vocation is to look after them. “No” I say to God, for a year I say “No” but eventually God’s calling is so heavy upon me that I put out a fleece. “God, if you can send someone who I trust and respect to tell me to think about a calling to the priesthood then I will consider it, but only then.” The sense of calling and the heaviness of God’s hand upon me disappeared. I forgot all about it. It was lovely. A week later, by some remarkable set of weird happenings I have a woman priest drinking coffee in my lounge and out of the blue she turns to me and says the very words, “Lesley, you should think about a calling to the priesthood.” Life in all its fullness takes us out of our comfort zone and makes what we think is impossible, possible.

After my curacy I applied for a job as a vicar, convinced that it was the right one for me. I loved the interview process and hoped that the job would be mine. The phone call told me that I was the best candidate and that I had performed brilliantly at interview but they didn’t want a woman. Rejection and fear overwhelmed me. This job had been a perfect match. What if no one would employ me because I was a woman? All the many painful moments of having my ministry rejected because of my gender became a sort of depression. But then God called Alan and me here and it has been a wonderful place of healing. Looking at my six years of ordained ministry makes me realise that it is like being poured out completely and yet in that service of others come the most amazing blessings. Life in all its fullness is not always easy – sometimes we are like Paul, listing the beatings, the abuse, the shipwrecks and yet we are still in the centre of God’s grace if we can only see it.

The service reminded me that I have been lay and ordained, paid and unpaid in the service of God, and the call to service is the same. It is a call we all must answer, for to be a disciple means to be poured out for others, to reflect the grace and love that we have been given. Sometimes people say to me “I’m just a lay person.” This phrase should be banished, each of us has a calling and all are equal, there is no “just” about it. Sometime people say to me “I’m just a volunteer.” But there is no mention of volunteers in the New Testament – there are only disciples, disciples who were called to make Christ known, we aren’t volunteers, we are commissioned by God, we are living stones, we are an army, we are a brotherhood, we are a family, we are a body.

Finally, the service reminded me that to have life in all its fullness we need to breathe in God’s love and God’s grace so that we can breathe out in ministry and mission. I am the worst culprit for not doing this but I imagine that many of us suffer from this trait. God loves you deeply and God wishes you to have life and life in abundance. That isn’t an easy life, but it is one where you will know the riches of God’s grace. I pray that you may know this reality today and every day. Amen.

On the road to Emmaus

This morning’s sermon…

Luke 24.13-35

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles* from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad.* 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth,* who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.* Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah* should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us* while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Have you ever walked in the wrong direction? Perhaps for a long distance or for a long time? In this story the disciples, who incidentally had been told by some women that the body was missing and that there were some angels telling them that Jesus was alive, they left Jerusalem and walked to Emmaus. Presumably because they couldn’t believe that Jesus was alive. Presumably they were giving up on being part of the fellowship and going to go home to resume their normal lives. They were sad, dejected, depressed, perhaps. This is a story of repentance, they walk 7 miles in the wrong direction and then they turn around and walk the seven miles back to Jerusalem. Repentance is simply this, it is turning around and walking in the right direction.
I’m writing a book at the moment. It is not very loosely based on my life story. In it, the main character Ashley spends all her time trying to sort her life out and walk in the right direction but despite these sometimes noble efforts she is often walking in the wrong direction. I belong to a writer’s group and each time that I submit a chapter the others in the group are saying “Oh No, Poor Ashley, what now!” I’m afraid the story of my life is a series of face palms. I relate to the disciples walking in the wrong direction. I am with them on the road. And fortunately so is Jesus. You’ll notice that Jesus is also walking in the wrong direction, walking alongside them, walking alongside us when we get it wrong. In fact you might find it weird that the journey where Jesus is closely walking with them is when they have it wrong, he doesn’t bother accompanying them on the journey when they have it right!
And the story is full of irony – they say to Jesus ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ Well actually Jesus knows quite a lot about the things that have happened, but responds, ‘What things?’ And they say to Jesus, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth.’ You can almost see Jesus sniggering at this point. Or perhaps imagine the disciples telling the story later – hamming it up – “So then we said to Jesus – JESUS – we said to him ‘do you know nothing of the things that have happened’…. And you’ll never guess what Jesus said….” And then there is the irony that they tell Jesus that it has been three days since these things happened – and what did Jesus say would happen on the third day?
Times of transition are immensely fruitful in our spiritual lives. These disciples had presumably been with Jesus for three years and not really understood what Jesus was on about. They wouldn’t have chosen it but the trauma and loss that they experienced enabled them to hear Jesus for the first time. They were in an abyss and that is the place where we can find faith in a new way, a deeper way…. Of course not if we are bitter and closed, but if we have open hearts and allow God into our places of fear and anger then transition can be immensely fruitful. And look at the disciples – they are open and candid even with a stranger.
There is a story of a Zen master who had a visitor come and ask for wisdom, and the visitor didn’t stop talking, talking about his problems, talking about all that he had tried. Eventually the Zen master started pouring tea into his cup and he kept pouring even though the cup was overflowing. The Zen master said “Stop you can’t fit any more in, the cup is overflowing.” “And so it is with you,” replied the Zen master.
The disciple’s cups had been emptied. Only now could they take in what Jesus was saying, and their hearts burned within them. It reminds me of when I first became a Christian – I didn’t want to believe in God, but I showed up to church each week, wanting to disprove it, and my heart burned within me when I hear the truth, however weird and freaky it was, I couldn’t help myself.
In the breaking of the bread they meet Jesus. I wonder whether that is because the see his wounds, one of the only things we know about Jesus’ resurrection body is that he retains his wounds. Our wounds are clearly nothing to be ashamed of.
So the disciples travel back to Jerusalem, they rejoin the church and they proclaim the familiar Easter greeting “Christ is Risen” to which the rest proclaim, “He is Risen indeed.” This is our calling – to be part of a church which travels towards the Holy City, the place where we can know God, and along the journey we proclaim the risen Christ. Amen.