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.

Living Generously

One thing about living in community, that we have been learning here at Scargill, is to live generously. And what I mean by living generously is being willing to forgive, to go the extra mile, and have a desire to serve. A godly hospitality will be generous and open-hearted.

The life of Jesus was always abundant and extravagant, a generosity that never stopped at what was strictly necessary. For instance, a meal time with Jesus was wonderfully over-the-top such as the wedding at Cana with the miracle of turning water into wine, these six stone jars full of water would have been equivalent to 900 bottles transformed into the best red wine ever. How mischievous and wonderfully outrageous is that! Jesus picnics with 5,000 and there are 12 baskets left over. The resurrected Jesus, who not only cooked breakfast on the beach for his friends, preceded this by a miraculous catch of fish that was so big that they were unable to haul in the nets. Just 3 examples!

In Luke 15, we read the parable of the ‘Lost Son’ which could be better described as the parable of the ‘generous Father’, who is extravagant and lavishes his love upon the homecoming of his son. Jesus shows us an aspect of the Kingdom of God, which is one big heart of generosity – nothing stingy here!

And it is this that we are caught up in at Scargill, that in all our fragility and weakness, and at times getting it wrong, our desire is to reflect this generous heart of God to those who come through our doors. So what does generosity look like at Scargill? Chocolate on the pillow, beautiful flowers round the House, well kept grounds and gardens, a variety of cake on arrival, willingness to have a conversation as to how we can make a guest’s visit the best it can be, care taken over special diets, food made with love, willingness to carry suitcases on arrival and departure and an invitation to our guests to make our home theirs while they are with us.

Walter Brueggemann, in his inspiring book ‘Journey to the common good’, writes that the Church has been given a different narrative to that of the culture and society around us, which often speaks of scarcity. He says, “ that journey from anxious scarcity through miraculous abundance to a neighbourly common good has been peculiarly entrusted to the church.”

Living as Kingdom people, people of faith, creates a mindset of generosity. Let us remember what Jesus said, “freely you have received, freely give.” Matthew 10:8

And, of course, being generous is not about what we can get back, as Piero Ferrucci says, “Generosity is, by definition, disinterested.” Think about it.