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

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.

Unforced Rhythms of Grace

Last Sunday afternoon, I was invited to preach at the service at Manchester Cathedral launching the Peregrini Community, on the Festival of the Baptism of Christ. Peregrini draws inspiration from Irish wandering monks and the Anglo-Saxon saints St Cedd and St Chad, who continued the tradition of moving from place to place sharing the love of Christ. Both were sent from Lindisfarne.

What excites me about the new Peregrini Community is their commitment to live by the unforced rhythms of grace (Matthew 11:28 from The Message). As they say in their little booklet, ‘it denotes a series of aspirational statements that, when embraced, will nurture spiritual growth, foster Christian discipleship and enable missional encounter.’

So, here are the 5 rhythms which all begin with ‘By God’s grace….:

– I will seek to be transformed into the likeness of Christ.

– I will be open to the presence, guidance and power of the Holy Spirit.

– I will set aside time for prayer, worship and spiritual reading.

– I will endeavour to be a gracious presence in the world, serving others and working for justice in human relationships and social structures.

– I will sensitively share my faith with others: participating in God’s mission both locally and globally.

Aren’t these just brilliant?

I have been thinking about The Message’s wonderful translation of Matthew 11:28 – living by the unforced rhythms of grace. I love it – but what does it mean?

I think we get an idea of what it means when we look at the baptism of Jesus as we glimpse the wonder of the Trinity. It is by God’s grace we are called to join in with the glorious love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which is a community of self-giving love and joy. The early Christian Fathers used to describe the life of the Trinity as a round dance – a sort of Godly Celidh! It doesn’t matter if we have two left feet for we are all invited to participate. Thank goodness we are not talking ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ expertise here. As David Runcorn says, “it is a dance that is wholly possible because the life of the Trinity is one of pure giving. Nothing is claimed, nothing is demanded, nothing is grasped”.

It is this unforced rhythm of grace that you and I are called into. It is creative, full of self-giving love, and fun. Let’s do it!

Let’s talk about Water – from Blog to Bog

This week, in what has been a mini heat wave at Scargill, we encountered a six foot Bore (tidal wave), which came down the River Wharfe, the aftermath of an old dam bursting up near Great Whernside. It actually made the local news!

At the time we were pumping water from our spring, which runs close to the river, and this swept into our water supply making it undrinkable. We had brown water with bits in – not nice. And, of course, we then had the challenge of having no drinking water for 70 people. It made me realise just how dependent we are on water, this life giving stuff, and we soon found ourselves down in Skipton buying out all the 5 litre bottles of water. We got through 40 of these in one day. We take clean water for granted but, of course, for many in our world it is not so easily available.

On the Wateraid website it says that “every minute, every day, people suffer and lives are lost needlessly because of a lack of safe water and sanitation. This daily reality is for 748 million people.”

One of the things we did at Scargill during our Summerfest programme last year, which was great fun, was to raise money to twin our toilets to provide safe and clean loos across the world (see http://www.toilettwinning.org).

One of our pathway promises is about speaking out for those without a voice ‘ will you speak up bravely for people who are rarely heard, helping our heavenly Father to fulfil his dream of seeing the hungry fed, the sick looked after the naked clothed and victims of injustice release from their chains.’

This week made me think that perhaps there is more we can do to help our brothers and sisters across the world. Wouldn’t it be good if we all twinned our toilets? It only costs £60 and it would make a real difference.

Back to our water. The Estate Team worked hard pumping out our reservoir – cleaning it out. Today our water is running nice and clean, and tomorrow we will be able to start drinking it again.

We love our Estate Team, and we also love our spring water – and we are grateful to God for it.

When I was thinking about all this, I was reminded of Jesus’ words from Matthew 10 v 42 ’And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.’

Not a bad incentive!

Hey I’m back !

Hey I’m back! In fact we have been back just over a month from our travels to Australia and New Zealand. You will be hearing about our trip –  plenty of interesting things to talk about.  But those who have been following my blog will realise that it was no mean feat that we managed to get on the right plane on the right day at the right time!

Back at Scargill , we have just said goodbye to our Easter houseparty. An amazing week where we journeyed with Jesus through Holy Week to the joy of Easter Sunday.

One of the things that struck me is how Jesus went out of his way to show people who he was through his actions. A good example of this is Palm Sunday where Jesus rode in to Jerusalem on a donkey, and the significance of entering the city from the Mount of Olives.  Jesus didn’t speak a word yet he was saying so much through his actions. He was saying, ‘Look, I’m your King!’. And, of course, the Resurrection is the amazing sign of who Jesus is and what he came to do, but yet even though some his closest friends didn’t get it. Just look at Luke 24 and the story on the road to Emmaus.

So some of the questions I have been asking myself are, “how do I recognise Jesus today?” and “is my life dulled to the presence of Jesus or preoccupied with self-interest ?”

On another point on the same subject, I challenged the Community recently to think how people could recognise Jesus just through our actions, through the way we treat and serve people? Loving actions, a welcoming smile, to be kind, a willingness to say ‘yes’, to go the extra mile can say much more about God’s love than words that are divorced from action. And, of course, Jesus longs to show his love through us even though we are weak and fragile. St Paul reminds us:  ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’ 2 Corinthians 4: 7

I heard a lovely story about Rowan Williams when after they had walked the stations of the cross he rhetorically asked the question, ‘Why is there no stations of the resurrection?’,  which he answered, ‘we are the living stations of the resurrection’.

So, how do people recognise Jesus? Through you and me.

Image

There and back again…

Not sure how this happened but this blog has gone missing – so here it is again….

Traveling can be bit of an ordeal. Di and I are on sabbatical, having a break from Scargill, and today we were hoping and expecting to fly to Australia only to find we had got to the airport a day early. Oh yes! I’m obviously not that good with dates…And not only being a day early, I thought I had lost my wallet only to find that I had left it in my daughter’s car back in Milton Keynes. It had all the usual cards which, without, would have made traveling very difficult. All a bit stressful, particularly to my long suffering wife.

What I have achieved today is to be an embarrassment to my daughter and caused a lot of laughter and head shaking. But no harm done, we will try again tomorrow with tickets checked and wallet safe.

Traveling though can be exhausting even straightforward trips. The bible are full of journeys many that are very hazardous.The Israelites in the Old Testament journeyed for forty years in the wilderness, full of trails and difficulties, learning huge life lessons on the way. In the New Testament we read of the the holy family’s trip to Bethlehem, (Mary on a donkey = virgin on the ridiculous. You can thank Adrian Plass for that!). A couple of years later fleeing for their lives as refugees to Egypt, an enforced journey. Jesus identifies with refugees and we keep in our prayers all who find themselves along way from home. Their plight makes my experiences insignificant and yes, ridiculous.

Yet the “inward” journey is also never straightforward, far from it. Christians, often speak of their walk with God, or their desire to discover God, with phrases such as a desert experience or walking through a valley, or mountain top experience. The inward journey for the majority of us is exhausting and hazardous. St Augustine wrote in one of his prayers, “our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. Very true. This is the journey which will bring life, love and hope, and like the younger son in his parable, we stumble along in the hope of coming home to the unconditional love and welcome of our Heavenly Father. The road can seem long and tough but let us not be discouraged, as Jesus promises to journey with us, speaking to us, and that “if we listen carefully we discover we are already home while on the way” (Henri Nouwen).

Will I make it to Australia, will I journey more into the love of God? Both journeys are keenly on my agenda – I’ll let you know.

What if healing comes through tears…?

Aside

This last week we have had a lovely time at Scargill. We have had a Community retreat, which was led by good friends of Scargill – Ken and Liz Whiteway. They were very gentle, warming and encouraging of us.

It is lovely when we have people who know us well and come with love and blessing. And talking of blessing, they shared that often blessing does not come through life being easy or our prayers being answered in the way we would hope. There was a wonderful song from Laura Story called ‘Blessings’, which they shared with us. The chorus is:

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise’

There are a lot of ‘what if’s” in the chorus, and the song is asking the question, does God bless us through the disappointments and difficulties of life?’

Many guests who visit us at Scargill are living with very hard and stressful situations, and it is difficult to see where God is in it all, but what if that somewhere, somehow, in the darkness our compassionate God wants to bless us with His love? I wonder if Romans 5 v 3-5 echo something of what this song is saying?

‘And not only that, but we also boasting our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’

Just what if?

Laura Story: Link to the explanation and link to the song itself on YouTube