Monday, 25 April 2011

Spring flowers

I love gardening, and it is a joy to watch what happens with each passing season. Of course, Spring is especially wonderful. I'm 'off' this week, so I thought I'd post some photos from around my garden.

For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that they are without excuse. Romans 1:20

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Do not be afraid - to choose life each day!

The scene at the tomb in Matthew’s gospel is the most dramatic of all the gospels – there is an earthquake, and the startling appearance of an Angel, who rolls back the stone. The guards were so shocked the text says they ‘became like dead men’ – perhaps they fainted. At hearing the words spoken by the Angel, Mary Magdalene & the ‘other Mary’ were ‘afraid yet filled with joy’.

Several members of the church were involved recently with New Brighton Primary School, telling the story of Easter from Palm Sunday and through the events of Holy Week and finishing with the story we heard this morning of the empty tomb. I asked the school children to describe to me in words how the women must have felt when the Angel told them Jesus wasn’t in the tomb but had risen, and was alive again: “surprised” “confused” “terrified” “excited” “gobsmacked” “flabbergasted” – yes, I’m sure they felt all of this and more. The Resurrection is a fascinating and miraculous event of God. It was the most important event in the life of Jesus. But the Resurrection is far more than just something that happened to Jesus or even something that will happen to people at the end of time.

The Resurrection is also something that happens for us today. God used the miracle of the Resurrection to make available God’s very life to us even now. And why did God do this? Because God so loves the world. God is love, and it’s God’s love that gives us true life. And through the Resurrection comes our call to be Christ-like people, to be life-givers and agents of resurrection to our families, our communities and our world. And so the challenge for us who believe in our hearts and minds in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is to work out what that means for us, each and every day.

In our reading from Romans 6, Paul says that we discover our true identity when we count ourselves ‘dead to sin’ and ‘alive to God’. When we’re consciously aware of God’s abundant grace and love, and God’s presence in all things, then we can no longer be slaves to sin. If we find we’re not really feeling ‘alive to God’, we may need to look inward; and if we search deeply enough we’ll probably find that we’ve distanced ourselves from a fully conscious awareness of God’s abundant grace and love; we’ll find that the master of our life has shifted away from Christ Jesus, and we’ll find we’re being mastered by something or someone else. The good news is that each time we recognise this, we then can be released from enslavement to sin; we become free to return to the source of our Resurrection life, and that is the choice that we face each day, for conscious awareness of God’s presence in all of creation, in the darkness and in the light.

When the disciples see the risen Lord, he commissions them to a new way of life. The resurrection announces God’s new way of being human. And we’re called to remember that as we receive Christ, this becomes our story too. We’re then challenged to open our lives to the Resurrected life of Christ, to allow the life of God to break in and free us from all else that seeks to control or master us. Then we’re sent to bring life to others, in all places where death is at work in the world.

Each generation faces the question of how Resurrection can be experienced in places of disaster and conflict, poverty, abuse, oppression & disease. And each of us also must face the death that is within us – the self-centredness, apathy, destructiveness & cynicism – that keeps us and others from life; and we must choose to allow these dead ends to be transformed into life through openness to God’s love, forgiveness, grace and creativity.

We should be prepared to bring life to others wherever we can through compassion, hospitality, giving, involvement and advocacy for justice and mercy. If our activities rob the planet of life, we would gratefully seek to be more responsible and careful. If our choice of products or our tendency to consume more than we need leaves others in poverty or exploitation, we will shop more compassionately.

Living the Resurrection Life is about attitude and behaviour in everyday life, modelled on the attitude and behaviour of Jesus, demonstrated through inclusivity, forgiveness, loving our enemies and standing up for the poor, consciously trusting God through life's trials and circumstances. This Easter morning and every new day let us not be afraid. Let us look for all that is joyful about the work Jesus did for us on the cross and the power that the Resurrection brings to our lives and to the whole of creation. And let us pray for freedom from the control of the wrong master and for strength to live in the true identity of the risen Christ. Amen.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Easterly things

Easter started for me last week when our church hosted the local primary school for 'Experience Easter', a great resource created by the Gloucester Diocese. Six 'stations': Palm Sunday, Washing the disciples feet, the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemene, the Cross, and the Empty Tomb. All the lovely volunteer station leaders were blessed by this interactive way of engaging the school children. We hope the children were blessed by it, too, and will remember at least some of it during Eastertime.

Palm Sunday itself was a wonderful day at church because we had a Confirmation service at the same time, with six people being confirmed including my darling 12-year-old son. The vicar taught the confirmation classes for the three adult candidates and I taught the three youngsters. It was a blessing and a privilege to teach them - so much fun, and a challenge, too, keeping them engaged with it all.

The week has been busy, but I had time last night to go to the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral to hear Rob Bell speak about his new book, 'Love Wins' (I recommend it highly). Tonight is the Agape Meal at church; tomorrow is Good Friday of course, and I'm going on the ecumenical Walk of Witness. There are Easter Crafts at church, at which my daughter is helping, and the 'three hours at the cross' devotions, and in the evening, Stainer's 'Crucifixion' from our excellent choir. Easter Sunday starts early for me with the 8:00am BCP Holy Communion service at one church followed by 9:45am Holy Communion at t'other.

A blessed and joyful Easter to all!

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Happy Mothering Sunday!

I'm one of those who think we should keep it as ‘Mothering’ Sunday rather than ‘Mother’s Day', because for me, it’s not just about mothers, it’s about mothering. ‘Mothering’ is inclusive; whether or not we’re mothers ourselves, ‘mothering’ is something we all experience and engage in, including men; it’s part of being made in the image of God. Much of the time the bible contains masculine imagery of God as Father, but it also contains feminine imagery of God where God has ‘mothering’ qualities like nurturing support, patient understanding and compassion. The Hebrew word for compassion is related to the word ‘womb’. In the book of Job, God asks Job ‘From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens?’ Well, the answer is God. And through the prophet Isaiah, God says to Jerusalem, ‘As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you’. So in both the creative sense and the spiritual sense, our God is both a fathering God, and a mothering God.

‘Mothering’ is risky; it involves the risk of suffering, pain and loss. Our Old Testament reading (Exodus 2:1-10)about baby Moses adrift in the bulrushes tugs at our emotions in many ways. We can hardly imagine what Moses’ mother went through, when, out of circumstances that were beyond her control, she was forced to give up her baby.

The beginning of the book of Exodus tells us that ‘the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous’. The Israelites, also called Hebrews, had been living in Egypt from the time when Joseph ruled Egypt. In the present story, however, Joseph is long dead and a new king is in power in Egypt. This Pharaoh decided that the Hebrews were posing a threat to Egypt’s security, so he forced them into slavery and oppressed them. Pharaoh was so worried about their population growth, he told the Hebrew midwives to kill all newborn boys, but this didn’t work – the midwives couldn’t do it because they ‘feared God’ – so Pharaoh decreed to all his people: ‘every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.’

Into this terrible situation, baby Moses was born. We don’t know his Hebrew name – he was named Moses after he was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter; our text tells us that the name Moses means ‘to draw out’, as Pharaoh’s daughter ‘drew him out of the water’ – and it also fits with Moses later being the one who draws Israel out Egypt through the Sea of Reeds.

There are three moving acts of ‘mothering’ here. First, in the birth-mother of Moses; this was a mother who was determined that her boy would live in spite of the death sentence from Pharaoh. She hid him for three months. When she realised she couldn’t keep him secret any longer, she was forced to do the unthinkable: to place him in the river Nile. But she gave him the chance to survive – she made him a little waterproof basket to lie in - his very own little ark. We know from the book of Numbers, chapter 26, that this woman’s name was Jochebed. It’s impossible to know exactly how Jochebed felt when she had to give up her child, but we can imagine after 9 months carrying this baby in her womb and three months of caring for his every need, it would have been terrible.

The baby’s sister, whom we later know as Miriam, stays near the Moses basket watching to see what might happen to him – Miriam’s watchful eye and her courage is our second example of ‘mothering’ action. She sees the baby being drawn from the water by Pharaoh’s daughter, so she quickly and shrewdly asks, ‘Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?’ This allows Jochebed to continue for a while to nurse her baby. Wonderful for them both, but this also leads to a second heart-break, for after he is weaned, the babe is returned to Pharaoh’s daughter, as we assume they agreed. The bible says, ‘he became her son’ – in other words, he was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, and she is our third ‘mothering’ figure from this passage.

Our Bible doesn’t give us the name of Pharaoh’s daughter, but the Midrash, which contains the traditional teachings of Rabbi’s, identifies her as Bithiah - the same Bithiah mentioned in 1 Chronicles 4:18 in the Bible. The Midrash says that Pharaoh actually exiled Bithiah for bringing Moses into his household. You can imagine the scenario, the ultimate act of teenage rebellion: Pharaoh decrees all Hebrew babies should be killed, and then his own daughter brings one home! Whereas today’s teenager might get off lightly, maybe getting grounded for a week or two, eviction was Pharaoh’s choice of punishment. Bithiah and Moses were probably both lucky to escape with their lives. The Midrash says that when the Israelites left Egypt in the mass Exodus, Bithiah left with them. It was because of her compassion and pity in rescuing the baby Moses, she received her name Bithiah, which means ‘daughter of the Lord’.

So Moses went on to lead his people out of the bondage of slavery and towards the Promised Land. Not only was a boy spared, but a whole people; the salvation of Moses was the salvation of Israel. Not only did Moses owe his life to Jochebed, Miriam and Bithiah, but the Israelites owed their liberation to them as well, placed as they were by God’s providence.

The Israelites have told this story for generations because the boy was Moses, their liberator and Law giver. They also tell it because regardless of how bleak things might look, it gives hope that God is able to bring salvation out of despair. This was the story of the Israelite’s deliverance. And in our Gospel reading (Luke 2:33-35), when we hear Simeon’s prophetic words to Mary, the deliverance of the whole world through Jesus is foretold.

Simeon said, ‘this child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ At the time, Mary must have wondered what that meant. She didn’t yet know the pain that would come from watching her son die on the cross. She didn’t understand that God would bring deliverance to the whole world through his death and resurrection. But while Jesus was still a small child, we read in Matthew’s gospel of a kind of reversal of the journey that Moses and the Israelites took, as Mary and Joseph have to flee with baby Jesus to Egypt to escape King Herod’s death decree for all boys under the age of two.

Throughout his life, the mission and ministry of Jesus and the opposition that he stirred up must have been worrying for Mary. We see in John’s gospel the love Jesus had for his mother when he was dying on the cross and he worried about leaving her behind so he asks his closest disciple John to look after her. They became family. Jesus said, ‘whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’ - Matthew 12:50. Mothering Sunday is family time. In the church, we are the family of God: brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers – let us serve one another with love, compassion, kindness, patience and forgiveness, through the times and seasons of joy and of sorrow as we see this journey through. Amen.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Time to read

We had a second-hand book sale in the parish today, in aid of choir musical resources, and I decided to buy some classics - I could do with broadening my reading. Here's what I found:

Jane Austin: Emma

D.H. Lawrence: Lady Chatterley's Lover

Thomas Hardy: Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Charles Dickens: Great Expectations

Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White

Harriet Beecher Stowe: Uncle Tom's Cabin

Shakespeare: The Tempest

All these for just £2! A bargain. Now to find the time to read them...