Retelling an old story

We went to see the new Dad’s Army film last week. I’d heard good reviews and I was encouraged by the cast, but I love the original Dad’s Army programmes – could this live up to it? We have a tendency to remember what has gone before with a sense that it can never be bettered by the present or the future and to want things to be as they always were and so anything new has a lot to live up to.
We enjoyed Dad’s Army, you could see where the new cast were copying the old cast, you could see various nods to the past, and the story line was a bit silly – but then it always was. But as a stand alone film, it made for a pleasant afternoon, it has the usual components mixing slapstick with farce, a bit of adventure and a lot of misunderstanding and we soon forgot what had gone before, enjoyed the present and the way in which this ensemble told the story.
As we move through Lent to Easter there is a sense of going down old familiar routes. We remember this story ever year, so how can it retain it’s wonder, it’s freshness, its passion. How can we feel the pain of betrayal, isolation, loss when we know that Easter is coming? And how can we know the excitement of new life when it feels much the same as it did last year? One way is open our eyes to the present, to be aware of modern stories of betrayal, isolation, loss; to be aware of lives where the hopefulness of Easter can not be imagined. And then to open our eyes to all that is new, exciting, fresh, and celebrate each moment of resurrected new life that causes us to stop and wonder. Another is to be aware that Jesus continues to carry all our betrayal, isolation, loss – past, present and future to the cross and offer each of us the hope of a new future. That does not change, however blasé, or cynical we may be the Easter adventure continues and someone is going to catch it for the very first time – now that is exciting!
be blessed
Craig

Welcoming Ben

Ben 1601Ben 1601We have a new addition to our family. Today Ben arrived. He is a 3 year old Spaniel cross, with jet black hair and lovely sweet manner. I can see already that he is intelligent, a quick learner and will do anything for a food related bribe! He was found as a stray and there have been two previous attempts to re-home, both of which failed because he is boisterous, he will need attention – although as I type he seems quite happy lying in his bed under the stairs waiting for me to move out of the study. So we know we have taken on a challenge, it will not be fair on Ben for us to give up on him or for us not to give him the attention he needs. Already we are making adjustments to some of our plans and some of our routines, to take Ben into account and ensure that he feels welcome with us. It’s an enormous responsibility!

We are at that period in the Christian year where we hear about Jesus calling people to be with him, to become part of a new family, being made welcome in God’s kingdom. It calls for a change in routine, in expectations, in outlook. Jesus comes from God and is made welcome in some homes but not in others, is he made welcome in ours? Are we prepared to change our plans, our routines, because Jesus has come into our lives and calls us to think differently and follow faithfully? When we welcome a new follower of Jesus into our nice tight knit Christian Family are we prepared to make the adjustments that will make each person truly welcome for who they are – or are we expecting others to just fit into our nice comfortable routines?

I can hear Ben beginning to stir, perhaps he needs a bit of attention before I have some dinner. I can hear Jesus sniffing around our world, perhaps he needs a bit of attention as well.

Be blessed

Craig

The Well at Shibah

Do you remember the well at Shibah, (Genesis 26) where different communities are brought together, where dialogue happens, resources are shared and peace breaks out? I wrote about it last August and thought it was time to draw from there again.
Over the last month we have seen the consequences of those who will not create dialogue; share resources; let peace break out. A gunmen in a Charleston church; (less well reported) the burning of black majority churches across the United States; the shooting of holiday-makers in Tunisia; (less well reported) the bombing of a Mosque in Kuwait; the burden of austerity placed upon the poor; the tightening of border controls and continued demonisation of migrants. The wells of Esak and Sitnah continue to flourish, whilst Reheboth and Shibah grow quiet and fearful.
Yet these terrible actions have brought people together. In Tunisia, Moslem staff formed a human shield to protect their guests, in Charleston people have experienced a message of forgiveness and grace and all across the world musicians have added their verses to a song by Peter Mulvey called “Take Down Your Flag” Mulvey wrote three verses, He invited others to write and record their own second verse, sharing with all who would listen. Each version finishes with the same final verse,

It will take all of the love in all of our hearts,
but it will also take something more.

Take down your flag to half-staff. x3
And then take it down for good.

When across cultures, languages, communities we take down our flags and sing songs of hope, then the gospel of grace and mercy flourishes. In such moments, perhaps the well at Shibah still refreshes and we need to stay there awhile.

be blessed
Craig

Reconciling, Welcoming and Participating

During Holy Week we planted white and red poppy seeds in the grounds around St. Columba’s and Wyken. This is part of a national URC campaign to plant symbols of peace and remembrance with the hope that they will bloom on or around 4 August, the 100 year commemoration of the declaration of the First World War.

Of course seeking peace is not just about commemoration, it is about marking all that divides us today, and seeking reconciliation for a broken world. Fine words, but what does that mean in practice? It means welcoming strangers in our midst, especially those who have fled war ravaged countries. It means supporting the work of Christian Aid, who this year will tell the story of Anoon as she and her family returned to South Sudan to escape the growing tensions for South Sudanese in Khartoum. On her return all she found was bush and her son died from Pneumonia. With the help of CA’s partner Hope Agency for Relief and Development, Anoon was given the means to build a house and till the soil “giving her a sense of dignity and the chance of a life free from fear.”. Christian Aid Week is from 11-17 May and there will be opportunities to collect and donate.

At the end of the month there will be Council and European Elections. A chance to vote for the people who have an impact upon peace or divison within a community. Many of us do not know our MEP’s yet they make decisions that have an impact on human rights, migration, climate change, tax justice and the financial crisis. Closer to home our Councillors create the environment that can make a difference to creating work and homes within Coventry. We need to bring our faith into the political arena and use our vote and our voice to encourage policies that seek peace and reconciliation.

be blessed

Craig

All are welcome

18th January was an interesting day. In the morning we began a process of reviewing the Chapel of Unity’s vision. We were reminded that it began as a Christian Service Centre and we wondered what that meant for today, based in a building in which design took precedence over function.As part of the opening prayers we sang:

Let us build a house where love can dwell 
and all can safely live,

…… all are welcome in this place. 

In conclusion we remembered that the Chapel of Unity is not a building, but a community called into relationship with one another.

In the evening the Winter Night Shelter began. We drew together a  a collection of rough sleepers, of shift volunteers, of co-ordinator’s, of seamstresses, of gifters, of prayers, of faith and of no faith and created community, We welcomed people into a building, but most of all we were came into relationship with one another and with Christ.

Here the outcast and the stranger
bears the image of God’s face;

…… all are welcome in this place. 

The following Wednesday was a Christian Aid meeting, A reminder of our relationship with refugees in South Sudan, farmers in Columbia , corporate tax avoiders in the City of London and UK street collectors.

Built of tears and cries and laughter,
prayers of faith and songs of grace.

all are welcome in this place.*

The theme for Christian Aid is Fear Less and as we create houses of welcome, we do so drawing courage from our relationship with God and our communities of care.

be blessed, Craig

PS. Look out for a showing of “The UK Gold” a documentary on the UK tax avoidance industry made by Christian Aid in partnership with Oxfam and Action Aid. It is hoped to show it in Coventry at the end of February but the date hasn’t yet been fixed.

* Marty Haugen © Gregorian Institute of America GIA Publications Inc

Making investments

At a recent Tuesday morning Ministers’ prayers, we found ourselves taking about death. In our line of work that is not particularly unusual but as a group we had each been living amongst the dieing and grieving more than normal; deaths that were close to us or significant within our churches and we needed to offload our own emotions upon each other. It is such a joy to work, with such people.

As the conversation moved on we found ourselves talking about the shadow left by predecessors (we were in a jolly mood!). Sometimes that shade is good and positive, at other times it can feel like people are stuck in that past moment, incapable of imagining different futures. As we prayed we gave thanks for all who had gone before us and sought hope in the days to come.

The following morning I led prayers at the Chapel of Unity, reading from Ephesians 1, “so that, … you may know …the riches of his glorious inheritance amongst the saints.” We were reminded of the wealth we inherit – a legacy of love, of wisdom, of history, of purpose. It is often a debt that can not be repaid in person but can be reinvested through our own times, with a healing touch, encouraging words, generous spirits, open hearts, positive outlooks, gracious welcomes, hopeful partings and care-filled endowments.

I’m occasionally aware of predecessors. Some I know, others look down from rogues galleries. They rarely intimidate, occasionally I moan at them and perhaps they grumble back, but mostly I get a sense of being set free to re-imagine, to make fresh investments, to live for now, encouraged into tomorrow by that great communion of saints that has bestowed so much upon us and by God who brings blessing, wisdom, understanding throughout each faithful journey.

be blessed

Craig

I’ve stopped …

I’ve stopped walking. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just seemed to sneak up on me and next thing I know I haven’t walked in ages. It’s not just Monday morning which used to be blocked out in my diary for walking, it’s the regular shorter walk most mornings or taking the time to walk to work. The diary had other pressures, so Monday morning was needed for other things, I no longer had a demanding dog. I preferred an extra half-hour sleep or looked at the wind, rain snow and decided that my study looked more appealing. I’ve started looking outside thinking I should go for a walk, but having broken the habit, having discovered that I’m not as fit as I used to be, I make an excuse, squeeze in an extra distraction and jump in the car.

Of course when I walk, I pray, I create, I ponder, I become aware of my environment, of the world around me of the people who share my space, but most of all I pray. I haven’t totally stopped praying, or creating or looking at the world around me – but somehow the quality of such activities is diminished and I know it – but what’s to be done?

I’ve stopped church. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just seemed to sneak up on me and next thing I know I haven’t been in ages. It’s not just Sunday morning ……..Well “I” haven’t of course but my character has, and perhaps you have, or a friend of yours has and you know that somehow life is not quite as prayerful, as creative, as connected as it was but what is to be done? Some encouragement? A fresh purpose? Seeing old friends again? Meeting new folk? Taking that first step, and getting back in the habit?

Time I went for a walk, want to join me?

be blessed

Craig

Looking at Elijah

The Old Testament readings in June focus on the prophet Elijah. Elijah is the great prophet of Israel’s story, his name means “My God is Yahweh” and he lives at a time when the kingdom was divided and the rulers no longer provide moral or religious leadership. The Kings are failures in every regard and into the story, without warning or preamble comes a larger than life character who knows that Yahweh is life-giving and powerful, who confronts religious and political power, who would know the despair of loneliness and fear the power of a vengeful queen and yet emerge as the leader of a community of prophets speaking the truth into a suspicious world.

In 1 Kings 17 the land is suffering a famine, Elijah seems to be an outsider who begins to collaborate with Yahweh, he looks for life outside Israel and brings life to a widow and her son who declares “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth”.

In 1 Kings 19 Elijah is on the run. He has had a great victory over the prophets of Baal, he has witnessed Yahweh’s power over the forces of death (see 1 Kings 18) but in doing so he has fallen foul of the wicked Queen Jezebel and he is running deep into the desert – where God finds him, feeds him, questions him, encourages him and in the utter silence send him on a new mission, with a new disciple to pave the way for a return to Israel’s true faith.

In 1 Kings 21 we see the revitalised Elijah stand up to the power of Ahab and Jezebel (Sadly the lectionary will reverse the order of 19 & 21). It is a story about the greed of absolute power and the need to challenge those who abuse power, who steal land from the poor and who live by Ivana Trump’s maxim, “Remember girls, don’t get mad, get everything.”*

Elijah leaves the stage (at least until the Transfiguration) in 2 Kings 2. His mantle is handed over to his disciple Elisha and whilst the deeds of Elisha will be greater it will be Elijah who lives on as the greatest of the prophets, the one who will return to herald the coming of the Messiah. It is a story that mixes “the mysterious among the natural – the transcendent in the ugly history of Israel.”*

As we follow these stories through on Sundays and at the (almost) weekly Bible studies we will find many themes that will seem familiar to our world – how do we respond? What will we hear amongst the words and the silence? Where will we see God’s Kingdom at work? When do we run and when do we stand? and might we like Elijah have to answer the question, “What are you doing here?”

Be Blessed

Craig

* With thanks to Roots bible notes for some of the background and the quotes.

Looking at Acts

Over the next few weeks the lectionary readings take us through various stories of the early Church as told in the Book of Acts.

The story of Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43) highlighted the importance of disciples (those who follow and learn from Jesus) who engage in good works and acts of charity – they experience and bring life from death.

The story of Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10 and 11) highlights the way in which the Holy Spirit challenges our pre-conceptions about who belongs and who does not belong and then provides the means to put our new theory into practice. What a shock it must have been for Peter to be confronted with a dream in which he learns that all of God’s creation is “clean” and then be invited to stay in the home of Gentile worshippers – a few days before he just couldn’t have done it for he would have regarded them as “unclean”. God prepares us for a new idea and then helps us to work through such new ideas in our lives.

The story of Lydia (Acts 16:9-15) – the first European convert is a woman, a gentile, a wealthy businesswoman and highlights God’s disregard for human boundaries. Perhaps her story will challenge those who still the doubt the place of women in church leadership, for Lydia was the first church leader in Europe. Perhaps it will challenge those who believe their wealth is for themselves rather than for the benefit of a wider community.

The story of a slave girl released from a demonic spirit and the jailer liberated from his own fear (Acts 16:16-34) shows the way in which God brings good out of difficult circumstances and entrusts us to speak out so that people hear about the gift of freedom.

And then we go back to first Pentecost (Acts 2) and see the powerful creative spirit sweep through that first church, changing their horizons, expectations and outlook. setting them on a path that would take the gospel message to the ends of the earth and through time and culture.

There is so much to learn, so much that we can relate to our own lives and our own church situation. Inevitably we will only touch on a fraction of it each Sunday so please take time to read the bible passages for yourself and to read around the subjects for yourselves. But you might also want to look at joining in the various bible studies that meet around the Pastorate. It’s my ambition to have one running every week, reflecting on the previous Sunday and looking ahead to the following week. As a preacher it helps me to see what questions need to be explored, but experience says that those who have looked ahead get more from the sermon as they have already had the opportunity to explore some of the ideas.

During this month we will celebrate Pentecost, so happy birthday to the whole church, may we continue to know the excitement of God’s blessings and find new ways to learn and to worship.

Be Blessed

Craig


Changing Worship Times

From 13 September Wyken and Stoke are going to be changing their Sunday morning worship times so as to enable the Minister to lead worship with each congregation twice a month.

Wyken will begin at 10.00 am and Stoke at 11.15am, with Coffee and chat BEFORE the service from about 10.45am. In addition Wyken’s Communion service on the 4th Sunday of each month will be an All Age Service – aiming to be contemporary and relevant to everyone.

We will review this arrangement at our January Church Meetings but will continue to at least Easter 2010.