Last week I was watching a royal wedding. I was spell bound by it all. The spectacle, the drama and the excitement were infectious. It was so amazing that it didn’t really matter that it wasn’t my queen getting married. The whole occasion was very different from a British royal wedding but none the less for that.
This whole occasion was for me made even more wonderful by the fact that, apart from my wife, I was the only human being watching it all! I wasn’t watching a human wedding, I was watching the mating flight of a queen bee. The male bees (drones) were piling out of my hives to chase the new queen. Some of the worker bees carried on working but many buzzed around in circles, excitedly waiting to see the bride. It made me think of the people who gather to watch the bride arrive at a normal church wedding: Waiting for a glimpse of the bride and catch a little of the excitement. And the queen? Well, although she was the star of the show; well you have to be quick to see her at all. Perhaps, if you’re very lucky you’ll make her out at the head of a cloud of drones as they shoot off into the sky.
I think about that amazing natural wonder. A wonder happening right through late spring and early summer right across this country. I wonder how many people even know that it is happening, never mind have ever seen it? Not many but it all goes on anyway unconcerned by the lack of any human audience.
I think about that amazing natural wonder and praise God the creator of it all. I then remember all that is far from perfect in the natural world and the human world. Then I thank Jesus for coming to start the process that will free all of this good creation from all that fouls it. I thank Jesus for coming so that I can be an active part of God’s work of saving all that’s good in creation, including all that’s good in humanity, from all that is corrupting it.
I long for a world where all the beauty and wonder that I saw in that royal wedding is what this creation is all about. I long for a world where pain, and hatred and cruelty, and corruption and even death are gone for ever. I long for a world free suffering and evil. That is why I follow Jesus because he has started that clean up, a clean-up that is unstoppable now. I follow Jesus because he gives me the love and the patience to work with him to make this world a better place. He brings hope and joy and opens my eyes to the wonder of all that God has made. He opens my eyes to see as God sees, at least a little bit. I’m now more sensitive than ever to the joys of this world. I also feel something of God’s hurt when people and the natural world are hurt.
I now have hope for the future. Hope for myself and hope for all things. It’s that good news that gets me up on a morning knowing. This hope wasn’t always there but I can’t really say how it came to me. I spent many years arguing against faith and the existence of God. I won lots of arguments but in the end God won me. How it all happened remains a mystery but it’s a bit like the words of Jesus to Simon/Peter:
Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16.17)
Faith, like the ways of bees, is a wonderful mystery to me. But faith brings hope and energy to work with my maker for a better me and a better world. Faith like this is good news, and that same good news is free for everyone!
Have you ever felt like life was just too much? Too many things all crowding in at once. Everything needing doing not just now but yesterday?
Yes? Well join the club.
I find that once I get this feeling of being swamped by work and life and all its cares, then it just gets worse and worse. I find that once the panic starts, it makes it so much harder to deal with anything at all. If I’m not very careful then even the smallest tasks are too much to even contemplate – panic is everything, panic is all!
It reminds me of a story that a friend told me. He was at college training to be a farrier. Apparently it was an intense course that really pushed those who were training to their very limits. Unfortunately, it pushed one of those on the course too far, it pushed him well over the edge. The first anyone know about it was when one of the tutors came in to the office and found him. He hadn’t harmed himself. He had convinced himself that he was a hamster. He had emptied all of the filing cabinets, fed every bit of paper in the office into the shredder, and made himself a ‘nest’ under the desk. That is where he was found, curled up in a ball deep in shredded paper. It would be a funny image if it were not so tragic!
I don’t know what happened to that poor student – my friend never saw him again. Sadly, that event isn’t unique. Thankfully, we now recognise when soldiers can’t take it. We no longer shoot them for cowardice. Rather we seek to treat their PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Stress and worry can push anyone over the edge, and way down the other side, even Christians! We are certainly not immune.
That is when it is good to read passages of the Bible like the story of Jesus asleep in the storm (Mark 4.35-41). There the exhausted disciples set out to sea after a long day with Jesus. Jesus goes to sleep and leaves those who really know boats to get him safely to the other side. But on the way there is a huge storm and they are terrified that they will all drown. Whether their panic is made worse by their exhaustion isn’t mentioned, but panic they certainly do! This is where the first lesson comes in. In their panic they don’t throw themselves into the sea to just get it all over with. They don’t give up and sit down and die. They do the one thing that could really save them, they turn to Jesus. I then picture what happens next: Jesus calmly gets up from his sleep and tells the wind and waves to be still. All that the disciples had feared now looked small and insignificant next to the very special person they had in the boat.
That is the first lesson. When the waves are coming over me I need to find enough composure in my panic to reach out and shake Jesus awake. It sounds simple and obvious but believe me when panic and confusion descend then remembering your own name can be a struggle. So I call out. For me if it is going to come, the panic comes at about 3am. It comes once I’ve relaxed and my guard is down. I wake up being swamped by all the cares of ministry and family and bills and life in general. Then I need to stop and turn to Jesus. I do that and look to him saying, ‘This is your ministry, I am just your servant, I hand all this back to you’. Then Jesus laughs at my stupidity in trying to carry all this in the first place. I remember my place, smile back and settle back down to sleep. All those fears that were threatening to swamp me don’t seem so frightening any more. All is calm and sleep is possible once again.
Then I hear again Jesus words, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’. Why indeed? Then I drift back off to sleep with the repeated refrain from Psalm 42 gently comforting me, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.” (NIVUK).
Why are you afraid? Why indeed? … zzzzzz
I want to leave it here. But that would be far too dangerous. Sometimes life does break someone, Christian or not. Sometimes, calling to Jesus doesn’t make all calm and still. This is not a lack of faith nor is it that Jesus has abandoned me. That is when my weakness as a human being has to be faced. Then I can still call to Jesus and know he is there: This time he is holding me tight in his love, whether I feel that presence or not.
So again, why are you afraid? Why indeed?
Hi, I’m not preaching again tomorrow so I have dug out another offering from WordLive.org from some time ago. I have been thinking about sharing faith. That it seems so daunting but in reality is so simple. Sharing faith is unavoidable when the Spirit is working to affect my life. When I allow him to God does indeed make me more loving and caring. When I allow him the Spirit can naturally scatter seeds of faith out from me without me even knowing it. So here is a WordLive offering on Mark 4.26-29:
At the end of the great commission Jesus tells his disciples: ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20, NIV). Thank him that he is with us each day.
Mark 4:26-29 (The Parable of the Growing Seed)
26He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society
This parable returns to the theme of seeds (meaning the word of God) and Jesus is describing what the kingdom of God is like. As a child I remember trying to grow some sweet peas. I planted the seeds, watered them each day (well, when I remembered!) and waited. I had no idea what happened and how the seed grew into a plant, but with time the seeds grew into shoots and then eventually I had some lovely flowers. In a similar way when we share the gospel with others we are never sure how the seed is sown or how it grows. I could not cause the sweet peas to grow, all I could do was to help take care of them and be patient. It is God who causes the seeds to grow. We do not know how (v 27b), we do not know his timing, but he causes them to grow and makes them ready for harvest (v 29). Be encouraged! Our responsibility is not for the growing of the seeds, but with God’s help, with the gifts he gives us, he will use us to sow and to harvest the seeds of the kingdom.
What seeds are you sowing? Pray that God will give you opportunities and boldness to share his good news.
I am away today and so I’m sharing the WordLive offering for Friday. I have recently read this Old Testament story and great prayer in my own study time and it has certainly done me no harm to consider these lessons in prayer again. I cannot ever imagine having a dilema as terrifying as that faced by Hezekiah but I pray that I will be given the confidence in the will of God shown here – Enjoy!
The WordLive Bible study is copied below but you can also read this on the WordLive website here: https://www.wordlive.org/Session/Classic/2015-06-05 or listen to most of it being read to you here: http://www.wordlive.org/uploads/wordlight/resources/WORDLIVE%205.6.15.mp3
When was the last time your specific prayers were answered? Can’t remember? Think about this as you read today’s passage.
Bible passage: 2 Kings 19:1–19
2 Kings 19
Jerusalem’s Deliverance Foretold
1 When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD. 2 He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. 3 They told him, “This is what Hezekiah says: This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them. 4 It may be that the LORD your God will hear all the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words the LORD your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives.”
5 When King Hezekiah’s officials came to Isaiah, 6 Isaiah said to them, “Tell your master, ‘This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard—those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. 7 Listen! I am going to put such a spirit in him that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.’ ”
8 When the field commander heard that the king of Assyria had left Lachish, he withdrew and found the king fighting against Libnah.
9 Now Sennacherib received a report that Tirhakah, the Cushite king of Egypt , was marching out to fight against him. So he again sent messengers to Hezekiah with this word: 10 “Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.’ 11 Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? 12 Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my forefathers deliver them: the gods of Gozan, Haran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, or of Hena or Ivvah?”
14 Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD : “O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.
17 “It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. 18 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men’s hands. 19 Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.”
New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society
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Desperate and afraid
It seems that Hezekiah’s faith was tested (v 1). Desperate and afraid, as a last resort he consults Isaiah the prophet, hoping that God might intervene (vs 2–4). Hezekiah should have gone there first! Isaiah has the demeanour of one who knows exactly how this fight will end (vs 5–7). His calm words of prophecy still the panic-stricken Hezekiah.
Meanwhile, Sennacherib has a few problems of his own. Hoping for a quick and battle-free conquest, the news that another front is about to erupt (v 9) begins to make him desperate too. His personal threat to Hezekiah reminding him what happened to all the kings who stood in his way (v 13) is calculated to have Hezekiah throw open the gates.
This could have been the last straw for Hezekiah, already terrified and weary. But with new-found courage, he heads to the Temple and lays the whole blasphemous threat out before God (v 14).
Can you see the difference this action makes? I can imagine Hezekiah praying all the way through this event, probably without much hope; but his prayer this day is laden with conviction and authority. Hezekiah has recovered his trust in God, and that trust breeds expectant hope (v 19)!
It makes a massive difference if we approach God expectant and confident when faced with troubles. Think about challenges you face today and pray them through like Hezekiah did at the Temple.
Deeper Bible study
The clever speech of Sennacherib’s officials (2 Kings 18:28–35) goes too far in ridiculing and blaspheming Judah’s living God (v 22) and so the battle lines are clearly drawn. The result is the Assyrian king’s untimely death (vs 36, 37). In the meantime Hezekiah has every reason to worry. Does his worry show a lack of trust? No, because of what he does with it, spreading it out before the Lord (v 14) seeking his reply through the prophet (v 2). Unlike most previous kings, Hezekiah is choosing to rely on the Lord and he gets a response (v 20). God always delights in hearing his people pray.
At its simplest, prayer is the cry of children to their father. As maturing disciples there is much we can learn about how to pray. Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer to teach us (Matthew 6:9–13). Hezekiah’s prayer is another instructive example. First, the way he addresses God (v 15) – we do not presume to enter lightly into God’s holy presence. Next the request (vs 16–19a) – we should be specific but leave it to God to give us what is for our good. We need not be afraid about the outcome. Our trust is in his goodness, not in getting what we ask for. Finally, the result (v 19b) – ‘so that’ is an additional clarifying step. We are not trying to persuade a reluctant judge, but making sure in our own heart we are asking for the right reasons. God hears us whether or not we have all the arguments right, but examination of our motives in his presence is part of our relationship. Thankfully, ‘the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans’ (Romans 8:26).
Just as Hezekiah didn’t know in advance how God would answer his prayer and fulfil the prophecy, neither do we – but until he does we can rest in his love.
Rev Dr Jennifer Turner
Pray like Hezekiah
Hezekiah’s prayer (vs 14–19) is one of the great prayers of the Bible. It’s striking not just for its words, but for the physical actions that accompany them.
Hezekiah leaves his palace and goes to the temple, the place he associates with meeting God. Symbolically he places the Assyrian ultimatum in God’s presence, and only then does he speak to God.
Here are two ways we might pray as Hezekiah did. If you have a regular place for prayer, use it. If you don’t, now might be a time to think about where would be best. A simple symbolic gesture is to light a candle when you start to pray and blow it out when you finish as a way of marking the time as devoted to God.
1) If you face a particular worry or problem, spend some time writing it down, plus what the outcomes might be and how you’re feeling. This may start to clarify your thinking, and it should stop your thoughts from racing when you pray.
Then, hold the paper out to God, offering him all that’s written there without the need to repeat it to him aloud or in your mind. Ask him, as the God who in all things works for the good of those who love him (see Romans 8:28), to bring what is best in this situation.
When you’ve said all you need to say, wait in silence, and if you feel God is speaking back into your thoughts, write them down too.
2) Another way to use this is as a way of connecting God into our whole life. Simply write down all the areas of your life – family, job, church, home, finances and so on. Then, offer the paper to God, asking that his will be done in each area, again listening for his words to you.
I’ve been writing an article on things that families (or anyone) can do to appreciate the natural world more. My idea is that if people value this world more they are more likely to care about it and do things to look after it. This isn’t just a practical matter for me. I believe that caring for this planet is a central part of my showing my faith in a Creator God. It is also one way of living out our church’s 5th Mark of Mission, “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” For all 5 Marks of Mission see http://www.anglicancommunion.org/identity/marks-of-mission.aspx.
We are utterly dependent upon the ‘natural’ world for our food, air and water, but it is so easy to take it for granted. As a Christian I am also to see the earth as a gift from God, a world made ‘good’ in every way (see Genesis chapter 1). This world may no longer be good in every way but it is still precious to God. So much so that Jesus’ rescue mission is for the whole of creation not just for people. If you are unsure about this have a look at Romans 8:19-24:
Everything that God made is waiting with excitement for the time when he will show the world who his children are. The whole world wants very much for that to happen. 20 Everything God made was allowed to become like something that cannot fulfill its purpose. That was not its choice, but God made it happen with this hope in view: 21 That the creation would be made free from ruin—that everything God made would have the same freedom and glory that belong to God’s children.
22 We know that everything God made has been waiting until now in pain like a woman ready to give birth to a child. 23 Not only the world, but we also have been waiting with pain inside us. We have the Spirit as the first part of God’s promise. So we are waiting for God to finish making us his own children. I mean we are waiting for our bodies to be made free. 24 We were saved to have this hope. If we can see what we are waiting for, that is not really hope. People don’t hope for something they already have. (Easy-to-Read Version © 2006 by World Bible Translation Center)
So I encourage all of you to use this summer to appreciate God’s creation more, it can be fun and it’s worship too. For example, there are thousands of amazing colours all around us in parks and gardens. To prove it collect lots of the little cardboard paint colours. Cut these up and put them in a bag. Without looking, put your hand into the bag and pick a colour card. Then you have to find something, or a small part of something, that exactly matches the colour on the card. You will be amazed at the different colours there are. This is a great game for family walks and picnics. A good little leaflet with loads of ideas like this is available from here: http://www.heritagewoodsonline.co.uk/Environmental%20games%20and%20activities%20booklet.pdf. For wet days there are online nature games: http://www.dltk-kids.com/crafts/earth/games.html and craft activities: http://www.dltk-kids.com/crafts/earth/index.html too.
This summer, whether doing an activity like those above, sitting in your garden or just watching the birds, my challenge to you is to appreciate not only the nature but also the Creator.
What do you do on your birthday? I like spending time with those closest to me (family, close friends and God), with good food, wine or beer. I’m celebrating today. Today is my birthday – it’s the birthday of everyone who is part of the Church, part of Christ.
Today I celebrate our birthday as a Church. I celebrate the day when the Holy Spirit was given to Christ’s followers. But the Spirit came in power 2,000 years ago and we are still too like those disciples hiding in a locked room. We keep our faith in Jesus to ourselves, locked up inside us for fear, for fear of ridicule or of simply being thought of as a bit odd. But we’re English and for us religion is a private matter. Religion has caused too many divisions and wars in our country for us to want to make it anything other than a private matter. Put like this, even asking the question, “How do we bring ourselves to leave our locked room?” or “How do we manage to share our faith?” feels threatening, it makes most of us uncomfortable. It’s as though the Church has received an amazing birthday present but has decided to put it back in the box!
That is why our churches are so empty and the mosques are full. We don’t feel confident in our faith. We have received the Holy Spirit but some how we still don’t feel that we can really live for Christ. The Church doesn’t want to offend anyone – so we say nothing. We say nothing offensive. We say nothing of any great note. Nothing exciting. Nothing life changing. Nothing challenging. People say, “Good old Church of England”, they perhaps feel a warm sense of national nostalgia but that is all.
When the Holy Spirit first touched and filled me with power, it was like all the lights went on at once. The world was suddenly a different place. It was a little like that first Pentecost. Christianity may have been many things to me then but it certainly wasn’t warm and cosy! I suddenly realised that I was indeed worshipping the God who created heaven and earth. I felt alive with that divine power. I was filled with the one who gives life or death – The source of love, joy, peace, kindness, self-control and so much more – The one who made sense of my pretty mixed up life.
In that moment I realised that Christianity is not a faith of half measures. Christ demands everything and in a miracle gives even more back.
I know that people often need time and space to explore what God is doing in them – Time to come to their own conclusions about who Jesus is. That is people coming to faith, not me, nor anyone who professes to be a Christian. We have no such luxury. We have signed up to Christ’s army and need to be ready for duty. We are called to march and learn all that we need on the way.
I’ll stop saying ‘we’ and speak for myself.
I know that I don’t have the luxury of pretending that Jesus isn’t lord of my life. Jesus is lord, so I need to follow where he commands or stop calling him lord. I must trust everything to him and obey. Or at least I try to. The amazing thing is that even when I fail, I’m not court-martialled as I deserve. When I fall my lord becomes my loving brother, he helps me up and cares for me. Each time I fall I learn again that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
The problem is that I am too often ready to fall when the Spirit has given me the strength to stand. I trust the loving safety net when I should be bold. I’m learning now to strive more for Jesus and use that safety net as it was meant to be – as a last resort.
I am learning that if I am not committed to Christ, how can I expect to invite anyone else to commitment. I have learned too that in trusting the Spirit in me I find meaning and contentment – I find healing and strength – I find love and joy too. In short I am finding the more I give, the more I receive. The more I receive the more I can live a godly life. The more I live a godly life the more I find myself sharing and giving. Then the more I give…
There are plenty of other creeds and faiths shouting to be heard. This Pentecost I need to open my birthday present, not leave it in it’s box. I need to remember the power of God, stand up, be counted and let the love and power of the Spirit flow.
Some years ago I was very active politically. I was a proud member of a political party and active in promoting its message. When I started I wasn’t a Christian but I did still want a better world. I knocked on doors encouraging people to vote for my party. I gave out leaflets. I spoke at meetings. Then I became a Christian and everything changed. Not my political ideals, no now there was even more reason to be involved. Now it wasn’t just my concern, it was God’s concern for a better world that I was fighting for.
Looking back I was a little blinkered. I couldn’t see how any Christian could not be a member of the same political party as me. I was sure that God was!
Now, well I still have the same political convictions, but I have found that there are good people in other political parties. I have found that no human organisation has all of the answers. Perhaps I’ve learned a little humility. I hope that’s the case. I hope that age hasn’t brought with it apathy! If it has, then Lord wake me up!
I pray that the Spirit will keep me striving to bring something of God’s kingdom into focus for people. I can’t say that it is bringing God’s kingdom to earth, because this is already God’s kingdom, just as much as heaven is. That is clear. Jesus has ascended and is now at the right hand of the Father, reigning over heaven and earth. I want to see real kingdom values here for all people, for no other reason than I know that they are the only values that can bring life, and healing, and contentment. That kingdom values are the only answer to wars and hatred and all evil.
I want to see justice for all, for the rich and powerful as well as for the poor, sick and helpless. I want to see people here with jobs and prosperity. I want to see the young grow up healthy, in body, mind and spirit. I want to see the sick (physical and mental) treated with care and dignity. I want to see a whole and united country. I want to see a country with kingdom values for itself but that also means showing those values in the way that we deal with other countries and peoples.
Then I hear myself and I realise that it all must seem like a utopian fantasy. A nice dream and fairytale. It could seem like that. I am under no illusions that human beings can create a perfect world. I have no illusions that I could run a perfect country, or even a perfect church for that matter. No, I am tainted with the evil corrupting this world, just like everyone else, and everything else.
I am under no illusions that I can make this world good: But I know someone who can. I have no illusions that I can make myself good: But I know someone who can.
I know that there is massive opposition to all that is good and Godly. Honesty and generosity for example seem to challenge the very foundation of a consumer society: A society which only values people for their ability to consume, and then to consume more. I am not a consumer, I am a man created by God, rescued from myself by Jesus, and filled with a love and power that can never be taken away. That is God’s kingdom here and now in me.
Working for The Kingdom is about offering hope to people and organisations and even countries; hope that there is a better way. I have experienced something of that hope and meaning myself, and put simply, I want others to get a share too. I want all people to claim their birthright as children of God. Then with more and more of us filled with the Spirit there will be more and more people who are being transformed into the person they were created to be. People who are more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled (see Galatians 5.22-23).
I keep working to show God’s kingdom by what I do and say but I know it’s not going to be easy. I know there is a real fight to come. So I hold tight to Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, for all Christians and for me:
Make them ready for your service through your truth. Your teaching is truth. I have sent them into the world, just as you sent me into the world. I am making myself completely ready to serve you. I do this for them, so that they also might be fully qualified for your service (John 17.17-19 ERV).
I pray that I will be fully qualified to share love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. That is what I long for myself, my family, my town, my country, my world. I know I’m not up to it but I know someone who is…
I remember the first time that I headed off into the wilderness on my own. I was a scout at the time. I remember my leader driving me off into a remote part of the North York Moors. I was dropped off in the middle of the moors and I had two days walking to get back to camp. I had been looking forward to the challenge but once that Landrover drove away it was scary. Suddenly I was really on my own. No adults, no houses just my rucksack, map and compass and a footpath heading off across the moors. It was scary, but it would have been far scarier and riskier if I hadn’t had plenty of time to prepare; to get my mind and my kit ready; not to mention the guidance and advice of my leader.
Reading John 15.9-17 I hear Jesus to helping to prepare his disciples for the time when they will be on their own. He will soon leave them and Jesus wants them to be ready.
Now jumping forward two thousand years again, and I am here without Jesus to sit down with and talk to. I can’t even just phone Him up to ask a question! So, what does Jesus say to get me ready? Well, firstly that I am Jesus’ friends. Yes, he is the almighty Lord, but he has decided to call me his friend. Why? Because I follow his commandments, or at least I am committed to doing all I can to follow his commandments. And what are these commandments, well one commandment really – love. Like all Christians I am to love my neighbour as myself. I are to love God, the Father, I am to love Jesus who brought hope and I am to love the Holy Spirit who links me always to the Holy Trinity.
What could be easier than that, all I have to do is love. All I have to do is love – How I wish that it was that simple!
If Jesus wanted me to love my neighbour so much, why didn’t he ask his Father to make sure that my neighbour was always loveable! Why couldn’t God make it easy, or at least a little easier? But no, He makes my neighbour irritating, or greedy or grumpy or worse. It seems at times that what God really wants is for me to fail. But then I suspect I’m no better as a neighbour. I bet others find me irritating or grumpy, or greedy or worse. If they are Christians, I imagine them turning to God in prayer and asking why him? Couldn’t you give me someone easier to love? Lord make it easy – make people loveable!
The one thing that reassures me is that I may not be very good at loving, but God is. He is love. The Trinity is love in action, Father loving Son loving the Spirit loving… and so on. And that love goes out from God to all creation, to all people, and even to me! I may fail to love God, I may fail to love my neighbour, but God never fails to love me. It’s a very humbling thought, and if you’re like me, a very comforting truth.
But I don’t have to fail all of the time. When Jesus physically left this world, the Father sent the Spirit, to teach his people how to love. The Spirit does far more, but I will have plenty of time to explore that during Pentecost. But, for now at least, I’ll celebrate that fact that Jesus can guide me, and all his friends, in the way of love; just as he guided this friends when he was standing on this earth.
There is so much that is confusing about the life of faith. What should I do about the problems in the world? I don’t know the specifics but I do know that if I try to do the most loving thing possible I can be sure that I’m doing the Godly thing.
Then I come to all the difficult doctrinal matters. Again, we, as brothers and sisters can disagree, we can even argue, but in the end we are to love one another. It is right that we should seek to find the Truth and argue together to find what the Truth may look like today. But I must never think of the other person as my enemy to be defeated. They are my brother or sister, to be listened to, to perhaps disagree with, but always to love and care for.
Disagreement isn’t evil, but hatred and division is. I have seen so much caricaturing of those on both sides of the debate about women priests and women bishops, about abortion and a women’s right to chose, about evangelical and catholic, or …. well the list could go on almost for ever. I have views on all of those things and some of you will agree with me and some of you will not. Some of you I know have strong feelings on those matters, as do I. But if I stop loving all of my brothers and sisters, each and every one of them, I have stopped loving God. How can I say that I love the God that I cannot see when I fail to love my neighbour that I can see, and hurt.
I pray that this simple truth will effect every debate in every synod. Every word and every action of any Christian, anywhere.
I have experienced much love here in this little corner of England. I pray that that love may continue to grow. I pray that here where I live and everywhere, we can love each other through our grumps, our failings, the things that irritate. I join my prayer with that of Jesus: I pray for the Holy Spirit to so fill each of us, that love will grow in our hearts, and that love will flow out naturally to every one that we meet.
Reading the story of the gardener and the true vine (John 15.1-8) made me think of pruning I’ve done. I quite like pruning but tend to get carried away and what started out as a light trim quickly becomes major tree surgery. That happened this year with the apple trees at the back of the house – thankfully they seem to be doing fine despite my brutality. It’s become a bit of a joke at home that I’m not allowed to play with the loppers or secateurs unsupervised! I’d really like a chainsaw but I hate to think of the devastation that would follow – I can see it now – the 8” hedge and fences would quickly end up waist height, and the trees stumps.
I may well get carried away but everything does tend to come back strong and healthy afterwards. Even so I’m glad that God is far more careful about his pruning than I am. Unlike me, I’m sure he is a master gardener. He knows just what needs trimming and what should be left to get the very best crop.
Even knowing the skill of God the gardener, the thought of him trimming away branches from the living vine scares me. It always brings me up short. It makes me want to skip on to the next passage, to hear Jesus say, “As the father has loved me, so I love you”. I am so tempted to skip over this and just enjoy the warm glow of being loved. Sometimes I’m tired and drained and that is exactly what I should do. At those times the Spirit can let me skip more challenge (for now at least) so that I can rest and be refreshed by Jesus the loving vine.
That is fine. But the danger comes when I always skip over the challenge. I need to be reminded of where all my strength and courage and sense of purpose come from – living in Jesus. I need to remember that without Jesus, I am nothing, I have nothing of real, eternal value for myself or anyone else. I can feel spiritually healthy and strong. I can start to take it all for granted. Worse still, I can start to act (and think) as though it is down to me, that I’m a bit special and so deserve God’s special treatment. I can get so wrapped up in this fantasy that I don’t even hear the Devil laughing at me shrivelling more and more on the vine that is my only source of spiritual life. Do you hear the laughter. To change the metaphor, he is laughing (and salivating) as a sheep like me wanders dangerously far from the protection of the Shepherd. Do you hear it yet? I do!
I know that nothing can truly separate me from the love of God in Jesus – Paul makes that absolutely clear (Romans 8.38-39). But I can still get cold and frightened or even badly mauled for my stupidity. With that in mind I need to let myself read the challenge of the gardener pruning the vine. If I want to really know the power of His love I need to heed the warning and stay firmly attached. That may well mean that I need pruning to be as fruitful as I can be. I need to trust God to prune me just enough with no snip unneeded. I need to get past my fear to remember all that I know of God: To remember that he loves me more than I love my self.
I am away today and have not prepared a piece of my own for this blog, but I have been considering what sort of society God wants for my country. With that in mind I share some reflections from the daily study ‘WordLive’ for 22nd April. WordLive is produced daily by Scripture Union.
History shows that a selfish society will usually behave badly towards the poor. This was not God’s vision for the Israelites, about to put down their roots in the Promised Land. As you prepare to read, think about the ways in which your own society matches up (or not) to this blueprint.
The study is called, “A Generous Society” and can be found here: https://www.wordlive.org/Session/Classic/2015-04-22/A-generous-society.
If you want to listen to this study the podcast is available here: http://www.wordlive.org/Uploads/audio/WORDLIVE%2022.4.15.mp3