Richard III & Us

Posted: March 29, 2015 in Faith
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On Tuesday Kate’s Father and I drove up to Leicester to join the queue of people gradually shuffling around the city centre in a snaking chain to enter the cathedral and see the coffin of Richard III before his re-internment on Thursday. Considering the remains inside the small casket are of someone who none of us knew or have any real connection with, it was a strangely moving day. Benedict Cumberbatch caught it well I think when he expressed it as being an event when our history rose from the past to meet us before returning again. I may well reflect more on this before Holy Week is over.

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I was really impressed, however, not only with the dignity and sense of occasion, but also with the way the Cathedral took advantage of the opportunity to connect with those who came. The queue was when we joined it some two hours long. Not long after it looked as if it had reached the four hour length of the day before. That’s a lot of people hanging around. They could have easily been left to it by the church, or complained about by the regular worshippers who were being ‘put out’ for the week. But as far as I could see the church (by which I mean the people there) saw it not as a hindrance, but as a chance to share something of God’s love. We were regularly greeted by smiling church representatives alongside the official event guides. From time to time they would come down the line bringing free drinks and a massive basket of very welcome mints! A particularly cheerful clergyman stood in the middle of the first section of the queueing system chatting to everyone as they passed, and handing out leaflets entitled Richard III & Me. This not only had a section about Richard III and his legacy (the fact that we were here remembering him some 500 years on), but also pondering another King for whom the crowds came out on the first Palm Sunday and his legacy some 2000 years on – what does he have to say to us and how should we respond. Brilliantly written and professionally produced. Very effective and appropriate for the occasion.

The church was supposed to have been closed to the queue during service times, but they had obviously had a re-think and asked themselves both how would they get everyone through if they did that, but, and more importantly, what did it say to those in the queue about how the church saw them. They kept the doors open, and it was during this time period that we passed through, quietly walking through a running service and past the coffin of a king who died 500 years ago. More than a little surreal! Despite the fact the service was ongoing, we weren’t made to feel awkward or resented at all, in fact we were made to feel quite welcome and the preacher was clearly not just speaking to his regular congregation, but us flowing visitors as well, giving us a message to ponder on too.

I came away having been touched by the sense of occasion and by the warmness shown by God’s people there. I also came away challenged to think once more on how our conduct communicates our deepest held values to those around us.

Rainbow Coloured!

Posted: March 15, 2015 in Faith
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Differences are in the news again at the moment and will increasingly be so as the Election approaches. We’ve had the news about the Chelsea ‘fans’ forcing a black person off a train with racist chants and threatening behaviour. We’ve had the troubles around the so called ‘Islamic State’ and their treatment of those who are Westerners or of another religion, and we’ve had plenty of discussion around immigration with the rise of UKIP and euro-scepticism in general.

None of this has directly affected me, although from what I understand of my family history, my family were Huguenots who fled from religious persecution on the continent at some point in the past. It is easy for me to pronounce judgement on others as I have not had to tolerate it, not have I noticeably been threatened by changes caused by others. One who has, however, was Nelson Mandela, locked up because of his resistance to apartheid. It would have been all too easy for him to have emerged from prison with the desire to exact revenge on those whites who treated him and his fellow blacks the way they did. It would have been easy for him to desire to bring about a black South Africa as a response to the white dominated South Africa that there had been before. The astonishing thing was that he did not. With the likes of Desmond Tutu he talked instead of reconciliation and not a black or white nation, but a rainbow nation.

He was not the first. The Bible talks of God’s many coloured or varied grace (1 Peter 4:10, ‘Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms’ – the original Greek has the sense of multi-coloured grace), grace that is sufficient and open to all no matter what their background or race. It is only after the Fall and the Tower of Babel that we became a divided people, and the work of Christ is to bring reconciliation, to unite in himself all people with God. There are some wonderful glimpses of this future in Revelation where multitudes from all nations gather to worship as one. This picture of a united and yet different family or community is one I’m passionate about, and one I am really excited to see developing at Wormley with our increasingly multicultural, multigenerational, multibackground church. This is something we have to work on, it doesn’t come easily to us, but it is worth it, because this is how we were made to be. It is only in our unity that we gain a fuller understanding of God who himself is a community of different persons, united in will and relationship. Only together can we truly represent him and the Kingdom to our divided world!

Rediscovered this gem whilst doing some prep for tonight’s Bible Study on excuses. Priceless – had me giggling like a boy again just as I was first time I heard him do these. Brilliant!

Time for a Service

Posted: March 8, 2015 in Faith
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I had an interview at Spurgeon’s for my college course on Monday and so after our weekly pastoral meeting I cycled into Cheshunt and took the opportunity to drop my bike in at the cycle shop at the Pond to have it serviced. The bike is a bit of a hybrid; the frame is a Trek frame, a fantastically light frame which I was given by my Dad and the rest of the kit came from my previous road bike, transferred across over a few weeks effort with a book from the library, whatever tools I could lay my hand on and literally blood, sweat and tears! I’ve been really pleased with it expect the brakes didn’t really fit properly, they sufficed for a start but weren’t a long term answer, and the gears were a little crunchy. I’d been told the shop in Cheshunt and their sister store in Waltham Cross were very good and cheap and so I thought I’d get them to give it a once over and fit some new brakes – just as most people would put their car in for an annual service. I’m looking forward to getting it back and taking it for a whirl.

Regular servicing can be a bit of a pain and expense, but as we’ve learn from our car, it is important. Our car as some of you may remember from past sermon illustrations, has a habit of clogging up over time, and if this isn’t dealt with regularly the performance suffers, sometimes, as we found out on fateful Christmas, quite dramatically! (I’ll never forget the sight of black smoke in the wing mirrors…) It isn’t just vehicles that can benefit from a service, however, we can too, and this is what the current season of Lent is all about. At its heart it is not about giving up chocolate, alcohol or social media, or whatever you feel your vice is, but is a time to strip back some of the junk we pile on our lives and get back to basics, to step back for a while and examine ourselves and refocus our hearts and minds on God. We might not follow the Church calendar in the same way that more formal parts of the church do, but the season of Lent is a very helpful annual reminder to do this like a service warning light that might flash up on your dashboard from time to time. Similarly, like a service it can be painful, maybe not on the wallet but on our pride as we realise that there are areas where we need to confess our failings or seek God’s renewal, but this is constructive pain as we will run all the better for it.

Make space to be with God this week and let the master mechanic do his work in and through you!

Rowan’s been at home unwell this week and so I’ve been working in the living room to keep him company when I’ve not had meetings and activities elsewhere. This has meant that I’ve had a backdrop of TV as I’ve ploughed through emails and prepared services. Alongside computer games and some daytime TV (TopGear on Dave) I’ve had to try and concentrate whilst various classic films have played in the background; the highlights being the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie and one of my all-time favourites, The Blues Brothers.

Displaying I’m guessing most of you are familiar with Pirates of the Caribbean with Johnny Depp’s iconic portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow, the slightly deranged, selfish yet loveable rogue. It’s pure high seas silliness with drama and plot-twists aplenty. If you haven’t seen the films, especially the first, I recommend it. You may not be so familiar, however, with The Blues Brothers, a cult classic from the Eighties. The film stars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as “Joliet” Jake and Elwood Blues. Freshly released from Joliet Prison, Jake is picked up by his brother Elwood and they visit the orphanage where they were brought up. They discover that the nuns that run the place are faced with closure as they can’t afford the tax bill that they’ve run up. The Blues Brothers decide to get the band back together, and seek to raise sufficient ticket proceeds to pay off the debt. Forget the plot though, that is secondary to great musical numbers featuring the likes of Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Ray Charles, one of the largest car chases of all time, and a series of wonderful one liners and quotes such as ‘Are you the police?’ ‘No, ma’am. We’re musicians.’ and ‘It’s a hundred and six miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.’ Possibly the most famous quote comes towards the start of the film when Jake Elwood has an epiphany in church ‘I have seen the light!’ realising that in order to raise the cash he needs to get the old band back together again. Soon they get in trouble and are pursued by the cops. Jake fears that he’ll be heading back to prison, but Elwood proclaims that they’ll never be caught, ‘We’re on a mission from God!’

‘On a mission from God.’ It is the certainty of their calling that enables Jake and Elwood to face the challenges ahead of them and keep going despite the ridiculous odds against their succeeding. This is similar to one of the themes that emerged out of our discussions around Luke 10 at the Bible Study on Wednesday (like the Blues Brothers, this is highly recommended and increasingly popular!) It was the idea that our worth is found not in our work, in what we succeed in for God, but in our relationship with him. This doesn’t mean that we stop working for him, no, instead it liberates us to work without being fearful of the outcome. Knowing that we are valued by him because of who we are, his children through Christ, we are freed to reach out with his love despite any struggles or odds, knowing that whether people accept or reject this, it doesn’t change how God sees us, we are secure in him.

So don your shades, skinny tie, black suit and fedora, ‘cause we’re on a mission from God!

Kicking It Forward

Posted: February 15, 2015 in Faith
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So often it is only the dark side of the internet that we hear about in the news; I woke this morning to hear that it was going to become illegal to post inappropriate pictures of ex-partners online, earlier in the week I woke to hear it was internet safety day with talk of trolls and cyber-bullies. Like all aspects of human life, the internet has been affected by our fallen human nature. Today, however, I want to bring some balance into this portrayal, not to dismiss this side of the story, but to show that God’s image as placed in human beings, can still be seen here too.

There are some Christians I know who find the internet to be a worrying creation, the work of the evil one no less (a bit like the M25 on a bad day?) and avoid it like the plague, but I must confess that I don’t see it that way. Yes, I have a definite geeky side to my make up that revels in such things, but isn’t it such an amazing creation? It has revolutionised our lives in so many ways. We can communicate across the globe instantly through email, we can find almost any piece of information we want on the web and it is so much easier to find relationships with likeminded people than ever before, be that in niche hobbies or internet dating. Yes this can be abused, but it can also be wonderful. The work of the Sierra Leone Mission was transformed by email – no longer did we have to wait a month to hear back on every question that we asked but we would have news in a couple of days. Doing my recent studies I was able to have access to all sorts of information online that would have taken me months of digging around in libraries (still something I love) to find, and I have friends who have found marriage partners online and I have formed all sorts of friendships around the world through it. The creativity behind its invention and the myriad ways in which it has improved our lives is surely points to God’s image and handiwork through people.

Two other phenomena come to mind as well. Did you hear the story of the Katie Cutler who set out to raise £500 when she heard about disabled mugging victim Alan Barnes. She’d heard his story and put out an appeal online and was overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers her total in the end reaching more than £300,000. Millions upon millions of pounds are raised online each year for good causes. This is worth celebrating. Then there is Kickstarter, the online platform for raising money to fund various creative projects – a bit like artists having patrons in the past. A quite common phenomena on Kickstarter is the concept of kicking it forward; when the target that someone is seeking is reached and overtaking, quite often they pledge to plough back into other artists’ kickstarters some of the profit rather than keeping it for themselves.

This last concept, kicking it forward, is one that especially relates to scripture I feel where we are told again and again as recipients of God’s grace and forgiveness and love and provision to take what we have been given and kick it forward, passing it on to others in our lives whether they be friend or strangers. Sometimes the wider world can challenge us by its example as it demonstrates God’s image to us. How can we kick forward for God this week?

Church Newsletter Article

In my ‘former-life’ before I became a minister I spent my life thinking about the life from a different angle, that of a scientist. My interest in the natural sciences hasn’t waned since becoming a minister, finding science and theology as complementary approaches to thinking about what makes life tick and why we are like we are. Two stories from the animal world caught my attention this week featuring chimps and birds.

The first story is about nine chimpanzees who were moved from the Netherlands to Edinburgh. It had been noted before that Chimps in the Dutch safari park they came from used a high pitched call to request apples, but the Scottish chimps used a contrasting low grunt. After three years being with the Scottish chimps, the chimps from the Netherlands had swapped to using the same low noises. It seems that they changed their accent to imitate those around them in order to fit in and be accepted. It’s not just chimps that do this is it. As a child I lived for a number of years in Suffolk, just a mile or so from Belsey Bridge where we’ve had weekends away as a church not so long ago. At that time I spoke in a broad Suffolk accent. When we moved back to near Ely my accent gradually changed so that it matched the Fen accent of my peers, if maybe not quite as marked. No doubt it has changed again and now has a touch of London to it. It’s not just our language that we adapt is it, our behaviour, thinking and values gradually adapt to mirror those around us don’t they – a challenge to those of us who follow Jesus who believe that we’re called to follow his ways and values which often contrast with the world we’re part of. In the chimps perhaps we have a lesson to be alert to how the culture around us shapes us without us noticing for better and for worse.

The second story came from a study of fourteen northern bald ibises who fly, like geese, in a distinctive V-formation. Why do they do this? As a cyclist I know why. By flying in a group like this the ones behind the front can save significant amounts of energy. Good perhaps for those at the rear, but not so good for the one at the front who has to work harder! Studies have shown what has always been suspected; like cyclists in a train, the ibisis take it in turns, working in changing pairs, to fly at the front of the formation and drive the flock along. By working in changing pairs, something called reciprocal altruism, the flock make sure that no one cheats and everyone gets a fair time in the body of the V and spends the same amount of time at the front. This cooperation enables them to fly faster and for longer. Again a lesson in mutual care that we can learn from. If as a family we all look out for everyone else, then as individuals we have a large number of people looking out for us! This is far more beneficial and effective than everyone looking out for themselves. An illustration of the reasoning behind Jesus’ teaching that we should love one another.

Church Newsletter 8.2.15