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Oi God, all this harvest of yours – little help!?

‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few’ (Luke 10.2).

Now there’s a thought ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few’. That was certainly true for my apple trees this year. There were so many apples that we couldn’t eat, cook or freeze them all. Everyone seemed to have too many so we couldn’t even give them away! In desperation I discovered stewed apple in porridge for breakfast – I’ve not had porridge for breakfast since I was a kid but I couldn’t stand seeing so many apples go to waste and I’ve found I like it.

But back to, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few’ (Luke 10.2).

‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few’. I totally agree. This is such a famous verse and the emphasis is nearly always on ‘the workers are few’. So much so that it has become a bit of a moan and a whinge. I’ve used it myself, many times, and always because I could really do with more help. Of course that assumes that because I need more help then it must be God’s priority too. But there’s something missing here. A key point – the other part of the verse in fact – but why let that get in the way of a good whine!

But when I’ve stopped feeling sorry for myself I can step back and see a little better. From a little distance I can see that the harvest is plentiful. That’s the key; I have to see and really know that the harvest is plentiful. Do I really think that? I know I want it to be true but is it? With that thought I stopped and thought and prayed a little. The picture I got back from the Spirit was indeed of a massive, bumper harvest – a harvest with enough for all and plenty to spare. A harvest like my apple crop – completely over the top. I need to remember that. I need to see God’s amazing harvest in my mind’s eye – then I can claim that verse – then and only then have I any right to call to God, ‘Oi God, all this harvest of yours – little help!?’

Then I need to get back on with the picking and all the rest. That’s the next danger. The great harvest is seen, the call for help has gone out, but then I am tempted to sit back on my but and wait for the other workers. That’s not the way. I’ve been employed by my Lord to work now. So I need to get on with the work now. Then when the others arrive I’ll have help. But how will me being unfaithful help? – it won’t. So I need to give myself a kick up the but, get up and get working.

Once I start I love it. But it’s so easy to forget and sit and moan and whinge and whine about so much harvest and so few workers. I need to remember that it’s not my harvest; it’s God’s harvest. I call for workers then my job is to get on with the work. The harvest will be gathered. All will be well. Perhaps that’s the secret – if all of us see the harvest and start work, we’ll look up and see the fields full of workers!

‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few’ – Faith in the harvest first, then start work and the rest will fall into place. Amen.

The Tale of a Snail


A wonderful lesson from a snail…

Originally posted on Zen and the art of tightrope walking:

The Tale of a Snail

I like snails. Perhaps that makes me odd. Well, odder.

We used to have a giant African land snail that my brother gave my daughter as a birthday present; when fully grown, she (yes, I know, they’re hermaphrodites) had a shell about as big as my fist and her body was a good twelve inches when fully extended. Once you got past the ‘otherness’ of such a being, she was quite beautiful and strangely responsive. She would turn her antennae towards you if you called her name, and she had her likes and dislikes. Everything was slowed down, though, so I wonder what she actually heard.

Even garden snails appeal to me. There is a beauty and a perfection about their design that pleases me.

So when I saw one trundling across a path a week or two back, I was concerned for it. I…

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Lord grant me chastity…, but not yet!

I know people who are wary about becoming a Christian because they think that there’ll be too much to give up. It makes me think of the famous prayer of a teenage St. Augustine (of Hippo), “Lord grant me chastity…, but not yet!” The prudishness that I linked to Christians was certainly something that put me off. I wanted to enjoy life and Christianity seemed to make a virtue out of being miserable.

It’s strange but what I’ve actually found is that I’m happier and more fulfilled than I ever was before. I enjoy life more too. Like before, I can enjoy the fun bits of life like parties and bikes, but unlike before I have some form of inner contentment even in the bad times. With the Spirit the good times are better and I can be really happy with far less than I needed before. I don’t have to chase happiness. I don’t have to be a slave to happiness. There really is freedom in Christ.

I can start to understand Paul saying that he considers everything that made him special rubbish compared to the joy of knowing Jesus (Philippines 3.7-11). That’s quite something from Paul. Paul was well educated and well off. He was well thought of too. He was probably a young Pharisee who was going places. Perhaps he would have been a Jewish teacher as famous as his teacher Gamaliel. He had a bright worldly future… before he met Jesus on that road to Damascus. Then he threw it all away, joined that strange radical sect that he had been trying to stamp out. He lost it all and had to be smuggled out of Damascus over the walls or he would have lost his life too.

Most of us don’t have so much to lose. Most of us can be a Christian and be respectable. I can be a Christian and have a good job, a family, a home. I can have parties and friends. Indeed Christ doesn’t insist that I give up anything. No, Christ accepts me and loves me. That said, I may find that I give up something prompted by the Holy Spirit. It may be that I take on something new all because of the Spirit.
God won’t insist on me, or anyone, giving anything up to be a Christian, He certainly accepted me as I was (quite a mess). But then I started to get to know Jesus, the Spirit started to work in me, showing me a new and wonderful world; then I wanted to change. I wanted to be the best person I could be. I wanted that not because I was being told to but because I could see and feel that it was the best way forward for me.

I married the woman who is my best friend. Before I knew Jesus I was too busy trying to taste the entire menu ever to see the riches of a single woman right in front of me.

When it comes to jobs, I’ve been a clerk for a city council, a chemist for a big chemical company, a student, a minister, a consultant working for national governments and the European Commission, and I’m now a minister again. Each has been fulfilling. Each could easily have been my lot for life, and happily so. But each has just been a step along the road with Jesus.

My life has changed. Not by force but through the Spirit opening my eyes to the truth of the choices around me. With the Holy Spirit opening my eyes I could see, feel and choose clearly, for the first time I truly could have the Free Will needed to make good choices for myself. I realise that I only became free to make choices after the Jesus set me free; only after the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see and feel clearly.

Christianity is not about giving things up. Christianity is about receiving God, and everything else comes along too.

Come, taste and see that the Lord is Good (Psalm 34.8)!

Harvest, happiness and bee stings

It’s Harvest Festival time again. The time to celebrate all the bounty of this earth, the Creation and the Creator.

Now I love this world. Its complex and beautiful and constantly changing. But one thing it is not is sweet, or soft. This world is beautiful and harsh all at the same time.

If I had any illusions about this they were shattered today. Some idiot planted Russian Vine behind the garage so this pretty but incredibly fast growing plant has shot up over the garage, and through the roof tiles. It happened so fast! So I got the trimmer and hacked it back. I was about 15-20 feet from my bee hives. This is usually enough for them to completely ignore me. But I forgot about their hatred of power tools. Why I don’t know, but they really hate the mower getting too close and, as I was about to find out, the hedge trimmer too. So picture the scene, me up a ladder with a sharp power tool, hacking away at what looked like a tropical jungle when the bees decided that they had had enough. The went for me, I struggled on. I got stung. I managed to finish but not without flailing about on a ladder, cutting the cord to the trimmer and getting badly stung. I just managed to keep them off my face but for the first time ever I was stung on the forehead. I’ve been stung many times and the ones on my hands are not much of a problem but my forehead hurts, it throbs and its giving me a headache. Yes, I know, I should have been wearing a bee suit or at least a veil, but it’s not so easy when those things are in the garage and you’re flapping around on the roof.

So I am only too aware that the world may indeed be flowing with milk and honey but that it is also quite capable of biting, or in my case stinging back.

This is the truth about creation. It is beautiful and it was created perfect. But now its a real mix of good and bad, soothing and painful.

Neonicotinomide pesticides have been banned due to risks to bees and other pollinators. My bees have done really well this year but I’ve no idea whether or not the ban had anything to do with that. What I do know is that many farmers are now having real problems with pests that would have been killed off before the ban: Life is messy, nature is messy.

I also know that most farmers have had an exceptionally good year this year. The weather seems to have been just right for almost everything that they’ve grown. A welcome change from more challenging years in the not too distant past. That is another thing about this world, it is not predictable.

There can be feast then famine. Sunshine the rain or hail – possibly all in the same day.

Amongst all of this the one thing I know for certain is that the Creator is good, that the future is even better – A new heaven and a new earth, perfect and in harmony with itself and its Creator. But until Christ returns I just have to trust the Spirit to give me all that I need to celebrate the good times and get through the bad.

I’m still sore from my stings but today is a good day. Warm and sunny, the larder is full, the autumn colours are just beginning to show and the garden flowers are still in bloom.

It is two years today since I started as a minister in Harleston and I can honestly say that this is the right place, a good place, and God has big plans for our harvest to come.

Scotland says No

I woke up this morning with Scotland still part of my national family. It was a close thing but I was relieved. I also recognise that there will be many who are bitterly disappointed this morning. This is not a time for wild celebrations, but a time for sober reflection. This whole process was however a triumph for Scotland. A record 84.5% of Scottish voters turned out to vote showing their love of their country. For the first time 16 and 17 year olds were able to vote and they showed that they are old enough to have a genuine say in how their country is run. This is also likely to have huge implications across the other countries of the UK, particularly here in England. Interesting times lie ahead but I hope that this vote in Scotland marks the beginning of a new period of cooperation and celebration of our differences, within the Union.

I hope that my church, The Church of England, can learn from this too. Maybe even the churches across the UK can give a lead for once. I hope and pray that we who claim to be one body in Christ can learn to behave as such. This means that we need to support and love one another, even though we are as different from one another as an eye is different from a foot (1 Corinthians 12). What a witness to Jesus we could give if we could really live this message from the Spirit through Paul.

I pray that the Church of England, and our sister churches, can move forward as a loving family rather than as competing authoritarian structures. Again I pray that we really take our Bible seriously and listen to Paul in Ephesians 4.1-6, “…I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

As children of God, if we truly believe this how can we do anything but celebrate our differences as we live together, love together, learn from one another and show the love of Christ to the world. I pray that Spirit filled we can show out country that it is possible to disagree and still work together as one.

The Holy Cross – Do you want a plain one or one with a little man on?

The cross is a symbol that is everywhere but has it lost its meaning? For me, and most Christians, it is the symbol of the lengths to which God would go to save me, my fellow human beings, and to save this world. A world which is groaning for God to put it right (Romans 8.22). The cross is The sign of hope but so few see that.

A friend over heard a conversation in a jewellers: A young woman asked the assistant for a cross pendent and the assistant replied – “do you want a plain one or one with a little man on?” That was a few years ago and the level of knowledge about Christianity has only gone down since then. Many people in England do not even know who Jesus is. I don’t mean that they can’t remember much about him, no, I mean that they have never heard that name before.

It should be different in the area I now live in, at least for anyone who went to school here. But many who have moved in from other areas may well never have heard the name of Jesus.

So when I’m talking about my faith I can’t assume any common ground. I can’t assume that the person I’m talking to knows anything about religion. Everything needs to be explained without Christian jargon. So words like ‘sin’, ‘God’, and ‘Jesus’ need using with care. ‘Religion’ is a risky word to use too. So many people have no experience of a lived religion so that the word ‘religion’ just means scary fanatics wanting to kill people.

It is so hard, but if I do use the words of religion I might feel good and safe; I feel good but at best I’m just speaking to myself – at worst I’m saying to someone that I’m a dangerous lunatic out to kill people.

That is why at a baptism service I take the time to explain what even the simplest things mean, like the 3 questions right at the beginning:

  1. Do you turn to Christ?
  2. Do you repent of your sins?
  3. Do you renounce evil?

The parents know what I mean because we’ve talked and prayed about it long before they came to the baptism service itself. But it’s quite normal for most of their family and friends not to have a clue what I’m on about. I have to use simple words and concepts and usually use the analogy of good parents bringing up a child. That allows me to bring in a heavenly Father. Bringing up a child involves teaching them the difference between right and wrong – so turning to God’s son (Jesus) is turning to what is right – renouncing evil is turning away from all that’s wrong.

‘Repenting of sins’ is about a positive way of life for people who aren’t perfect. I’m not perfect so like any child I’m naughty, I need to say sorry and I know that my Father will forgive me because he loves me. I’m forgiven and with God try to be better. Then when I fail again, I say sorry again … and so on. This is God’s way of helping me to be the best I can be – This is also the way a good parent helps any child to be the best they can be.

If their eyes haven’t completely glazed over by that point I may say a little more, but even those simple explanations can easily be too much. I’m not having a dig at these people. Why should they know, if no one has ever bothered to explain things before? All that I’m trying to say is that I need to remember not to assume that the people that I meet, even those coming to special church events, know very much about Jesus.

I consider it a huge success if at the end of a baptism service the vast majority of guests at least have some understanding of what has just happened and that they leave with a sense of God’s love for them shown through the warmth of the Christians there to pray for the child, parents and godparents. Then a tiny seed of God’s love has been sown.

This is a huge challenge to me and all Christians in England. We have assumed that we are in a Christian country but we are not: We are actually in a country that has a Christian history and heritage, but a secular present. I for one need to remember this all of the time. I need to be ready at all times to explain the hope I have and to explain that hope in words that can be understood to the person I’m speaking to. But the right words are not enough. I need to be changed inside so that all that is not loving dies, making room for the person God is making me into. I need to remember my own baptism, turn to Christ every moment of every day, say sorry for my mistakes and allow the Spirit to heal me. Then perhaps, with the constant work of the Spirit, my life can say all that my words cannot.

Be miserable for Jesus!

“Do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” Romans 13.14 – In other words, “Be miserable for Jesus!”

But I like the desires of the flesh – I don’t want to be miserable! I like good food, nice wine or good beer. I like films and entertainment. I like being married to my wife and all that that means. I like so much about this life, and relish all the good things that come my way – I’ve always seen these as gifts from God.

Each time I read these sorts of passages I remember someone I used to know; someone who seemed to hate the good things of life – I’ll call him John (not his real name). John saw it as his Christian duty to be miserable and to hate everything physical, everything ‘of the flesh’. John was very much the puritan. John didn’t smile, or at least I can’t remember him doing so. He made a virtue out of being miserable, and encouraging others to be miserable too. I like being happy, not miserable so I tried to avoid him. I would see John preaching on the street corner and would make sure that he didn’t see me.

I tried to persuade him that life with Jesus could be good, but he wouldn’t have it. Each time he would turn to passages like the second half of Romans 13.14: “do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh”.

Each time I hear Bible passages like these I feel uncomfortable, and despite myself I feel a little guilty. I picture John with a miserable face, turning away from all the pleasures of this world, all because of passages like this. I don’t like that image, but I have to ask, ‘Am I wrong?’. I don’t want that sort of life, but is this what Jesus wants for me?

I question and pray, and I go back to the passage, and read the whole of verse 14 this time; it begins with “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ,” before going on to say, “and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”

Clothing myself with Jesus does mean surrendering everything to him, allowing him to direct my life as he wills and to let him make me more and more like him. So perhaps, I am supposed to be miserable. But then I think of the Jesus shown in the Gospels. So clothing myself with Jesus must also mean enjoying meals and company, the good things of life, when given by God.

Looking again at Romans 13.14 I find far more balanced advice: “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh”. The meaning of this verse now changes. It no longer says, ‘avoid all the good things of this world and be miserable for Christ’. No, this passage now tells me to do all that I can to be like Jesus, even to the point of being utterly ‘clothed’ with him. This passage tells me that, when clothed with Christ, I should naturally shun all that would corrupt me, all that is not loving.

This interpretation fits with the context. Before this verse Paul has just reminded the Romans of Jesus’ one commandment – to LOVE; to love like Jesus. So, if I am ‘clothed with Christ’ I will not wish to harm my neighbour, those closest to me, or myself. I will not want to commit adultery or murder or covet, because these would not be loving to the people concerned. How can I love my wife and also betray her? Paul reminds me that all of these non-loving things are the things that my ‘flesh’ can lead me to. Paul is using ‘flesh’ to mean my fallen, imperfect human nature. This is what I shouldn’t give in to, I should turn away from hate and corruption, and turn to Christ and love and peace and contentment… and HAPPINESS.

It’s all there in the text, if only I’d bothered to read it properly: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.” Romans 13.8-10

“Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.” – Phew! I don’t have to be miserable for Christ – I have to be loving, and accept whatever living in love may bring.

I’m glad, after all I just can’t see “Be miserable for Jesus!” taking off as a bumper sticker!

A Wedding Address for Phil and Catherine

I had the privileged today of taking part or officiating at two weddings. Both were expressions of hope and joy, but I want to focus on just one of them here. I preached at the wedding of our Christian Pastoral Support Worker at Archbishop Sancroft High School. Catherine does a wonderful job. She is an inspiration and has a real gift at being able to draw along side young people who do not give their trust easily.

Both Catherine and her new husband have a living faith and so I want to share the notes I prepared for their Wedding Address in the hope that it might say something to others too:

A Wedding Address for Phil and Catherine

You all know about the fairy-story version of marriage. A beautiful princess goes into a forest and sees a frog. She kisses the frog. He turns into a prince. They get married, and all live happily ever after. But we’re not here to consider fairy stories. We’re here to celebrate Phil and Catherine’s wedding day.

Our Bible reading (1 Corinthians 13) made it clear that all relationships but especially marriage are based on the foundation of Love. Real, practical love. And our standard for Love is God’s love. Firstly God’s love is unconditional and limitless – ideals to strive for even if we never achieve them. But God doesn’t ask us to achieve a perfect standard before He accepts us. He loves his people as they are. I’m so grateful that my relationship to Jesus is not dependent on my feelings which vary from day to day, but on God’s commitment to love me unconditionally.

By getting married today, Phil and Catherine are saying, in front of all those people: “I am making a commitment to unconditionally love this person in the way that Christ loves me.”

I suspect that unconditional love has always been unpopular, but in our society, conditional love has become acceptable. I was saddened by watching a television programme about a couple undergoing treatment for fertility. The husband said on screen that if the programme was unsuccessful, he would have to consider whether he would stay in the relationship because he wanted children. Imagine how that made his wife feel? Where was the commitment to love unconditionally?

So, Phil and Catherine, you are about to commit yourselves to try to love each other unconditionally for the rest of your lives. That should be a thrill. It will also be hard work as I’m sure you know. But keep reading 1 Corinthians 13.

Read St. Paul’s advice. Let the Holy Spirit work in you to give you a love that is patient, and kind without envy. A love that leads you away from being boastful or proud. A love that does not dishonour others, is not self-seeking, not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs.

Finally, Catherine and Phil, live your love, and through your love let your God steadily transform you both into the new person he created you to be.

Bartholomew: On being a forgotten saint

Bartholomew is one of the 12 apostles that isn’t mentioned that much. We do not hear much about him in the Gospels and he as no letters recorded in our New Testament. We remember Peter, Andrew and John, and even Paul who was not one of the 12. But poor old Bartholomew so easily gets forgotten.

Christians may forget Bartholomew but God has not. This reminds me of a very important spiritual lesson: fame on earth does not equate to eternal fame. Which, in turn, reminds me of another saint who did not die quite so long ago but is now with Bartholomew in heaven. It reminds me of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez.

The poetry lovers may know of him from Gerard Manly Hopkins’ poem, “In Honour of St. Alphonsus Rodriquez” – a poem that I’ve quoted once before on this blog but it’s such a wonderful poem that here it is again:

In Honour Of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
(Laybrother of the Society of Jesus)

Honour is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.
On Christ they do and on the martyr may;
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.

Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.

The thing that made Alfonsus special was his devotion to his simple duty, as a Jesuit lay brother and doorman for their house in Majorca. Alphonsus represents all of the ordinary, devoted Christians who, by the world’s standards have done nothing noteworthy. But who are nevertheless great in the eyes of God.

Getting back to Bartholomew, we know little of his life. We have traditions that say he became a missionary in India and Turkey. But, we know so little about him and the earthly things that he did. I know so little, but I do know the most important thing of all – that he is great in God’s eyes.

So what does all this mean for me?

Well I’m unlikely to be great or famous. But that doesn’t mean that I cannot be great – that I cannot be a saint.

It is my devotion to the little things, often the mundane things, that may be my road to fulfilling God’s purpose for me and I need to hold that in mind. No matter what the world might think of the things that I do – I too can be great in God’s eyes. I know that God has a purpose for me; just as much as God had a purpose for St. Bartholomew, St. Alphonsus, St. Peter, St. Paul and all the rest.

The Father lavishes no less attention on you than on me, or than he did on the great saints like Bartholomew. It’s amazing: God loves me and cares for me, as though I were his only child, because Jesus has brought me into God’s family. That’s enough for me.

‘Theotokos’ just dropped into my mind, uninvited

Friday was the feast of Mary, Jesus’ mother. Which made me think, why does the mention of Mary make so many protestants uneasy? Should it make me uneasy too? I started to ponder these things in my heart and the word ‘theotokos’ just dropped into my mind, uninvited. I don’t know about you but theotokos is not the sort of word that I use every day. I’ve never used it in casual conversation. I can just imagine the strange looks I’d get if I used it in the pub or petrol station. I even think I’d get a few puzzled looks if I used it in Church.

Theotokos came into my mind for one obvious reason – Mary is theotokos. Mary is theotokos which is Greek for ‘God bearer’, or as in the Hail Mary prayer, ‘mother of God’. Many non-Catholic Christians find this phrase difficult but we need to get used to it. It’s almost a test of how Catholic you are: how comfortable do you feel about saying ‘Mary mother of God’?

Many non-Catholic Christians find this phrase difficult but we need to get used to it. Either that or stop calling Jesus ‘God’. Either Mary carried and gave birth to Jesus, God incarnate, or she did not – we can’t have it both ways! So let’s get used to saying ‘Mary mother of God’.

I for one am happy to call Mary any of these names because by doing this I shout out that God became Incarnate – God become flesh (and blood) like me, to show me and everyone what God would be like as a human.

Mary is special in so many ways but she is uniquely special for being the means by which God chose to become part of his own creation. The concept alone is mind-blowing – How can God who is timeless and creator of all things enter time and become a tiny part of all that he had made? I don’t know how, I just know that he did it.

By entering into creation God in Jesus made all of creation holy, or at least started that process. A small chain reaction was started in 1st Century Palestine that is still spreading out in every direction through time and space. God has acted to restore and make right his creation. Thinking of Gaza, Syria and Iraq and so many other places of pain and horror – Thinking of these places there is a real need for creation to be put right so it is good to know that this process has already started.

In a small way the incarnation started earlier (or spread back in time from the incarnation of Jesus – mind blowing again!). Each time an Old Testament prophet received a prophesy or worked a miracle through God’s Spirit, God had become flesh in this world. These isolated events pre-shadowed what was to happen later when Jesus would be born as God and human, God’s own son. Now that Jesus has returned to the Father the incarnation has carried on – God now becomes incarnate through the work of the Holy Spirit.

That is a scary thought. I have the Holy Spirit in me, so God is incarnate in me too. Through the Spirit living in me, in a tiny, secondary way Christ (God and human) is living in me – in and through my flesh and blood. This is the wonder of what all Christians are. We are not just followers of Jesus Christ – we, through the Spirit, are Christ incarnate today.

A scary thought but before I get too big headed about it, I need to remember that it is through the Spirit alone that this is possible. God only becomes incarnate in me when I let go and let the Spirit work in me, only then. Like Mary I need to say ‘Yes’ to God first – then anything is possible.


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