Going where it hurts……

Being compassionate is going where it hurts. OK that doesn’t sound that inviting or attractive!  –  Jesus though, in Luke’s gospel, says: ‘Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.’ However difficult it is our calling.

I have come to believe that if God were a computer program he would default to tender compassion. God can’t help himself. As it says in Psalm 103, ‘The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.’ To be compassionate means ‘to suffer with’. Frederick Buechner, a pastor and writer, says: “Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin.” In Jesus we see the compassion of God. Jesus is ‘God with us’, God with skin. A God who enters into our sufferings as well as our joys.

Henri Nouwen writes beautifully as well as challengingly on this subject, “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish… Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” All true, and as we dare to respond compassionately we also bring something into the situation that may have been buried or forgotten and that is hope. It maybe fragile like a flickering candle but somewhere in the mystery of it all there is a belief that in choosing to be present alongside another hope can begin to grow.

The Grenfell Tower fire in London was such an awful tragedy, and the repercussions will go on for a long time. And yet, if there is one ray of hope it was the community response. Giles Fraser in The Guardian, interviewed a parish priest of a church which became a loving refuge, for grieving families, as well as receiving generous donations. He speaks of how quickly the church was able to respond. “I was woken up at 3am by a priest who lives in the Tower, so I came down to the church, opened the door and turned the lights on.” From then everything happened: volunteers appeared, coffee and tea were made, people began delivering food and clothes. It was a wonderful expression of compassion and solidarity within such a diverse community.

Being compassionate brings real hope, as the community round Grenfell testifies.  Most of us will not be faced with such an experience, yet we have a daily opportunity to be a compassionate presence. It’s risky and costly, sometimes we maybe a bit clumsy, but we are given daily opportunities to be a compassionate hopeful presence to those we meet and share our lives with. It could be as a smile, a willingness to be fully present, to truly listen, to “waste time” with someone. Jesus calls us to be compassionate people and, metaphorically speaking, ‘open the door and turn the lights on’.

 

 

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Choosing Gentleness

Today we have said goodbye to David, one of our young community members who has been with us for a year. He has taught us much about gentleness. He has been one of the best community members we have at interacting with guests, helping them to feel at home. One of the things he loved doing was making himself available to carry people’s bags as they arrived, with a welcoming, smiling presence. Francis de Sales said, ‘it is wonderful how attractive a gentle, pleasant manner is and how much it wins hearts.’  This could have been written about David.

Gentleness is a beautiful gift, so here are some thoughts about it.  We can learn a lot about gentleness from Jesus. He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you find rest for your souls.” Jesus gets tough with those who should have known better yet shows fundamentally that his Kingdom is radically different from that of society around us. On that first Palm Sunday Matthew, quoting the prophet Zechariah, speaks of the Messiah “gentle and riding on a donkey”. Jesus comes not in power but in peace, vulnerably riding on a donkey. It reminds us that Jesus is gentle and humble in heart.

St Paul, at times not really known for his gentleness, realises that this godly characteristic should be practised in the Christian community. In Ephesians 4:2, ‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.’ I love Paul’s  realism in showing love by ‘bearing with one another’. How true is that when living in community!

So how do we grow in gentleness? What I think Jesus does is instead of giving us overwhelming feelings of warmth, especially towards those who get up our noses, he gives us opportunities to practise gentleness – that is how it works. There is no doubt that living in Community is an apprenticeship in becoming like Jesus! A lack of gentleness often betrays our inner feelings, our frustration with a situation or someone (sometimes justified), as well as our anxiety. It is often in Community we learn to live not just with each others gifts but with each others limitations –  the easy way out is to be dismissive of one another.

Gentle, patient encouragement is the way forward, speaking words and actions that bring life – to build people up. Max Lucado writes, ‘Choose gentleness… Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.’

At Scargill we have a beautiful walled garden, it is stunning at this time of year. There are many delicate plants and flowers which are both beautiful and fragile. They are a picture of our own fragility and vulnerability, and if not treated carefully, gently, and patiently we break, yet if treated gently we flourish and grow.

Living in Community is one of those places where we can become the people Jesus wants us to be,  where our gifts are celebrated, where we can face our limitations and find ways to grow through them with the gentle patience of each other. As we learn to be gentle with each other we can learn to be gentle with ourselves. This helps us on our road to wholeness, not allowing the old inner critic to whisper harsh and unyielding words about ourselves.

‘It is wonderful how attractive a gentle, pleasant manner is and how it wins hearts.’ Thanks David. Let’s choose gentleness.

 

Community April 2017 C Best

Clenched Fists to Open Hands

Hello – I have been musing about the church festival celebrated today which I love. Today is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, often know as Candlemas and it ends the Christmas and Epiphany season, and you can read all about it in Luke 2 22-40.

One reason why I love this festival, is that it’s a wonderful excuse again to go over the top with candles, to fill the church with candle light as we celebrate the one who is the light of the nations. It is good and proper to go over the top!

The encounter of the holy family with Simeon and Anna is deeply moving and the long wait for them to see the Messiah is at last fulfilled. Simeon, in the Orthodox Church, is referred to as St Symeon the God-Receiver, as the Greek text indicates that he receives Christ into his arms. It is a beautiful and vulnerable encounter. Simeon in the fraility of his old age receives in his arms the vulnerable, totally dependent Christ child. Simeon’s arms are open to receive Jesus, there is a willingness to receive, to hold close, the “consolation of Israel.”

When thinking about Simeon’s encounter as the God-Receiver it led me to consider my prayers and my willingness to be open to Jesus, to hold me and receive him. I’m not sure I’m that good at it. Henri Nouwen in his book “with open hands”, says that prayer is no easy matter, and that the first challenge we face is to open our hands which are often clenched (metaphorically and literally). It is difficult, if not impossible, to receive when our fists are clenched. So why do we have clenched hands? Well for all sort of reasons, we could be holding tightly to jealousies, resentments, anger, our ambitions, failures, perhaps our need to be in control. Whatever we are holding tightly, seem indispensable and they begin to shape our lives.

When we dare to open our hands we are making ourselves vulnerable, as we begin that long journey of trust that all Jesus has for us is unconditional love, for as he gives himself in this love it is vulnerable, generous, self-giving and transformative.

I pray that you and I might be like Simeon, a God Receiver, hands and arms open to receive all that God has for us – I think we will be joyfully surprised! And as we are to able receive we will begin to shine his love to those around us, yes perhaps like a flickering candle, vulnerable and inviting.

candle lit in the hands

A tentative question, a surprising answer

So, one final blog on 2 Kings 5. It is a story of healing, grace, unexpected unsung heroes, and a surprising answer to a tricky situation. Check out the story if you haven’t read it yet.

The story so far – Naaman has gone down to the River Jordan, swallowed his pride, (and who knows what else!) and dipped himself seven times. He comes up cleansed from his skin disease, grateful, with a changed heart, acknowledging Elisha’s God ‘that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel’. And of course, it was this exclamation from Naaman that made him realise the difficult and complex situation he was going to have to face when he went back to Aram.

He tentatively and apologetically asks for forgiveness for when he goes back he will have to go with his King to the house of Rimmon and bow down while the King leans on his arm. Poor Naaman, having just experienced and realised the truth about God he finds himself in a place of compromise where he would be outwardly going against his earlier emphatic declaration. Adrian Plass, who writes on this wonderful passage, says, “Well is it OK to do that? Or not? Or what? Have I got to make a stand?”

Elisha’s response is surprising, liberating, and gives hope to all of us faced with on-going difficult times or impossible situations, ‘Go in peace’. Not exactly the response he expected yet what beautiful three words they are! Adrian goes on to say, “that was all Elisha said and it seemed to be all that was needed on that particular occasion. Through a prophet, who is more interested in hearing the authentic whisper of the Holy Spirit than blindly following patterns and pre-conceptions, God was cutting Naaman a little slack, and this new follower of the one true God was probably even more grateful than before, don’t you think? How lovely to be told that you can go in peace when you are expecting a thick ear or a thunderbolt.”

The wonderful truth about these words ‘Go in peace’ is that it gives us opportunity to have a dynamic, life-giving dialogue with God. These three words are not closed but are open and spacious words.

Elisha cut Naaman some slack, and Jesus cuts us slack too. Our community promises has the response – “with the encouragement and guidance of the brothers and sisters who share this pathway, we will try our very best to follow the example of Jesus”. Each night I reflect on my day and sometimes I realise how my relationships or attitudes has not lived up to the promises I have made. I have messed up, and I can’t quite get it right at the moment. Jesus forgives, he says have a good night’s sleep, lets work together on the difficulties, ‘Go in peace’. And he says this with affection and love.

Elisha begins to give us an understanding of God’s compassion and Jesus shows it to us fully. I pray that we will learn to live and move in it.
In the All Age services during SummerFest we sang our Naaman song – words by Bridget and Adrian Plass, sung and produced by Anna Andersson on the attached music file – enjoy! We had three weeks of it!

God of the Humble

I love Summerfest! I love the variety of ages (grandparents, grandchildren, teenagers, parents, singles, babies – in fact I love the lot). I love to see people being able to express how they feel. I love the laughter and silliness. I love the sense of community with Jesus at the heart that grows within a few days. And now we have finished Summerfest 3 and it has been a wonderful time.

Our theme has been Naaman’s story from 2 Kings 5 – check it out it is a good read. It is the story of Naaman’s healing of his skin disease that came in a very unexpected manner, it is a healing, which was far more than skin deep, it was conversion of his heart. It was a radical and life-changing experience.

We read that Naaman arrived outside Elisha’s house with all his soldiers and chariots, and mules laden with gold and silver. Naaman’s identity was bound up in his wealth, his position and his success. He came to Elisha displaying how powerful he was, desperately wanting to buy his healing. You can imagine that Naaman was well put out when Elisha would not come to greet him as he felt his rank deserved and, adding insult to injury, he is told by Elisha’s servant to go down to the murky Jordan and dip himself in it seven times if he wants to be healed. Naaman was besides himself with anger. He was a huffy old Naaman! Yet with the courage and love of his servants he is persuaded to go down and dip himself in the Jordan. Isn’t it good that we too can have friends who are able to speak the truth in love, to save us from messing up?

It is very significant that Naaman ‘went down’ into the Jordan. He had to make himself small. He had to give up his identity that meant so much to him. He went down as a proud and successful general with a serious skin disease and came up with the skin of a young boy, with a childlike heart, declaring, “there is no God in all the world except in Israel”.

It is a story peppered with grace, yet it is grace that could only be received if Naaman was willing to go down. John Stott writes, ’Pride is your greatest enemy, Humility is your greatest gift’. It is true for us all that if we want to discover the grace God has for us we have to make ourselves small, we have to go down. If you are ever privileged enough to go to Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity you have to bow down to get through the doorway.

So like Naaman when we go down, bow down or make ourselves small we understand a bit more of who God is, and what He is about. As it says in the Jerusalem Bible, “The fear of Yahweh is a school of wisdom, before there can be glory, there must be humility.” Proverbs 15:33

Mad Hatter's Tea Party at Summerfest with good friends from St Stephen's - great fun!

Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at Summerfest with good friends from St Stephen’s – great fun!

A Tale of the Unexpected

Summerfest joyfully invades Scargill during August which is our 3 week all age fun-packed arts festival where about 100 guests join the community. Along with the rest of the Community, I love it!

Every year we have a different theme from the Bible and this year we have been looking at the story of Naaman the Aramean General seeking healing for his leprosy. It is a great story – why not check it out in 2 Kings 5.

It is a story full of surprises and unknown heroes, with kings, prophets and servants and it is one of these servants I want to focus on. The story tells of a servant girl captured by an Aramean raiding party. We don’t know her name, or where she came from, but we can only imagine the heartache and trauma she must have felt being literally trafficked from her family to a foreign country and culture into servitude. Yet she does not allow herself to be defined by this part of her history and is gracefully able to offer words of hope into the household she is now serving which just happened to be Naaman’s. She knew from her own country that there was a prophet who would be able to help Naaman in his desperate need. I am not sure that I would be able to offer such words of hope if I had been held captive. I reckon I would be full of resentment.  Sheridan Voysey, a recent speaker at Scargill, commented  ‘the greatest tragedy is not the broken dream but being forever defined by one.’ This gracious attitude was within this slave girl and she truly is the unsung hero in this story of restoration.

What is also remarkable about this story is that Naaman listened. Perhaps there was something in this slave girl that made people listen – people who are grace filled are attractive. St Paul says ‘be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.’ Colossians 4:5-6. Perhaps this grace filled attitude lived within this young slave girl.

Being channels of grace will at times be costly and may go against our better judgement and yet Jesus would call us to be people of grace in our words and actions. The little slave girl ,who had a conversation with Naaman’s wife, led to restoration in Naaman’s life beyond his wildest dreams.

Martin Luther King said that anybody can be great because anybody can serve. He goes on to say, “You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

A bit of All age Summerfest worship in the Chapel

A bit of All age Summerfest worship in the Chapel

The Tale of Two Good Friends

This last week Di and I have been in London and Canterbury, where we have experienced a cocktail of emotions.

On Wednesday we were in Canterbury where it was a privilege and an honour to be at the consecration of two women bishops, one of them being a good friend Rachel Treweek. It was very moving and a truly joyful occasion.

On Friday, we were at the funeral of a close friend, Malcolm, and I was given the privilege of giving the address. Malcolm and his wife Caroline had been great friends of ours while I was vicar of their church in London, and since we have been at Scargill. The service was a celebration of a life well lived, with grief at the loss of someone we loved dearly.

You may ask, “What does a consecration and a funeral have in common?” Unsurprisingly, yet joyfully, we caught up with old friends and had time to share laughter and tears, but most importantly the tale of these two friends is a tale of hope.

Rachel is now the Bishop of Gloucester – the first woman Diocesan Bishop in the Church of England! It has been a long struggle with a great deal of patience and perseverance, often much heartache, which has now culminated in this most joyful celebration – and it is full of hope. Having worked with Rachel, when she was our archdeacon in London, it is wonderful to see that her gifts, and the person she is, can be experienced within the Episcopate. There is hope for the Church as Rachel and other gifted women are called by the Holy Spirit to become bishops. It will be so life giving for the Church!

Malcolm, who was 60, struggled with cancer over the last eighteen months, and through his illness was such a person of hope. Malcolm lived in the knowledge that he was deeply loved by God, and however dimly or partially he saw it, he believed that he would know it fully. Malcolm died in this hope, being literally “sung into heaven” by those he loves, and those who love him.

And the hope in which Rachel lives, and Malcolm died in, is the hope that is gifted in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul’s words to Timothy (1 Tim 1 v1) ring with truth for whatever lies before us, “Christ Jesus our hope”. Shawshank Redemption (a must see film!) is full of great hope quotes – “hope is a good thing, may be the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” So the Risen Lord Jesus is our hope, that we live, move and have our being in, and it is this Hope that longs to make his home in our hearts for eternity.