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!

Honouring the stranger

There is a lot of talk about immigration, and it will be a major factor in next year’s general election. I find the rhetoric, that we hear from the politicians from all sides and most of the media, very disturbing. No doubt the election in Rochester this week will be partly decided with this issue in the forefront.  In the Observer this last Sunday a survey by the thinktank British Future, speaks that there is more openness towards the stranger, “rather than being overwhelmingly hostile to immigration and immigrants. Most people appear to hold far more nuanced views.” If this is true, thank goodness. Yet what we hear often is such a hardened view.

So what should be a Christian view towards the strangers and those who come into our midst? Have we something positive to add to this debate? In the Old Testament we get some commands from God himself who in my understanding should not be messed with! In Leviticus 19 it says that we should treat the foreigner as if they were a native born Israelite, and love them as we love ourselves.  It also says in Deuteronomy, “you shall love the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” And in the New Testament St Paul in Romans speaks about extending “hospitality to strangers”. And of course, Jesus, as well as many other Biblical heroes, was a refugee, displaced and living in exile.

I wouldn’t want to be a politician, what a nightmare job, but it does seem clear to me that treating immigration with a hardened heart, indifference and resentment is not the way forward. There does needs to be fairness for all, and understanding that is peppered with a great deal more compassion.

The rhetoric such as ‘let’s get tough…’ and a hardened attitude I feel is motivated out of fear. For when we are fearful, walls go up, our lives shrink in every way and we become less open to those around us. Someone said that “fear is the darkroom where Satan develops our negatives” and the media feeds our fears until there is no room left to welcome the stranger. St John reminds us in his letter it is that perfect love that casts out fear. We live by a different attitude.

So Christians have a prophetic voice, a different message to what we are reading in our newspapers. A message that is based on fairness and compassion but also honours the stranger among us. I wonder what honouring the stranger would look like in our churches and communities?

Not that we have got it sorted here at Scargill, far from it, we are a work in progress. Our Community Promises say, that with the help of God, and with the guidance and encouragement from one another we will try our very best “to welcome the stranger as we would welcome Jesus himself, putting their needs before ours and treating each one as a royal guest.” It is deeply challenging!

St Paul puts it succinctly again in Romans – “Welcome one another, then, just as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God”. Christians are working from a different script from the loud, fearful rhetoric that we often hear around us.

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

Go on being filled…

Well we have made it safely to Australia. – no dramas. We managed to get on the right jets at the right time in the right place. Thanks for asking (if you do not understand read my last post).

So this January we are concerned about having enough sun screen rather than thinking of shovelling snow which has been our usual occupation at Scargill. It is nice and warm in Brisbane, and tomorrow we travel down to Sydney for a week. Such hardship!

With more time to reflect, one question I have been asking is how thirsty am I for God? King David has such a desire to know more of God in his life and in Psalm 63 he speaks of this yearning.

“God – you’re my God! I can’t get enough of you! I’ve worked up such hunger and thirst for God” (The Message)

Can’t quite remember when I last felt like that. One thing for sure though is that I would like to have David’s desire. The sentiment “I still haven’t found what I am looking for” resounds often deeply within me. St Paul in Ephesians 5:18 speaks about go on being filled with the Holy Spirit. It is constant asking and probably should be a daily discipline. For without the Holy Spirit I am stuffed (hope you like my profound theological vocabulary). How can I know Jesus, how can I have a blazing love for him? How can I be inwardly transformed and therefore a lively witness to all that Jesus is and all he has done in my life? Where do I get the desire to read scripture and hopefully make sense of it? Through the grace and love of God, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Simon Ponsonby, who recently spoke at Scargill, speaks of how we settle for less, when there is so much more to experience and know of God. He quotes Billy Graham who says “the desperate need of the nation today is that men and women who profess Jesus be filled with the Spirit.”

Jesus says “let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.  As scripture has said, ‘out of the believers heart shall flow rivers of living waters.'” (John 7)

Come Lord Jesus pour out your Spirit on us today

Being ‘living water’

Wet and Wild at Scargill Summerfest

Wet and Wild at Scargill Summerfest

These last 2 weeks we have been enjoying Summerfest at Scargill. Summerfest is an all age arts festival where we have guest artists, all age teaching, a myriad of activities and a chat show every evening. It’s full on!

These last 2 weeks I  have doing quite a lot of speaking and succumbed to ‘foot in mouth’ when trying to quote Jackie Pullinger. It is funny that when we are tired  when brain and mouth sort of come disconnected.  I found myself saying she had lived for many years in the Walled Garden, and yes, we do have a beautiful Walled Garden at Scargill but sadly this is not where we will find Jackie Pullinger. For those of you who don’t know, Jackie spent many years working in the Walled City area of Hong Kong, bringing ‘cups of life giving water’ to prostitutes and drug addicts.

The verse from Matthew 10 that speaks about giving a cup of cold water to one of these little ones….has been resonating in our hearts and minds. There is nothing so refreshing as a cool glass of water. It is worth spending some time thinking about those who have been living water to us, those who have shown us kindness and compassion, who offered us ‘a cup of water’. It is good to give thanks for those who have brought us to life by their generosity and their belief in us, and, of course, not all these people will be Christians. I was remembering my primary school teacher who encouraged me and helped me believe in myself when education was such a struggle. Who are those who have offered cups of water to us, that have made a difference to our lives?

But, the challenge then is how can we be living water for others?

We are privileged to have this living water within us and we are called to give it away, not to hold it for ourselves. I’d like to encourage you to think about who you could give a ‘cup of living water’ to this week. It could be a word of kindness, it may be a ‘phone call to a friend we have not spoken to for some time in order to show them how we love them, it may be a listening ear. It will be an act of love that will bring life. Jesus brought life to the woman at the well (John 4) and we too have this opportunity to give Jesus to others, as the source of living water. Isn’t this just a wonderful gift that we can offer?

A friend posted this wonderful prayer on Facebook.

Holy Trinity, Well of love, Refresh us with your presence. May we drink of your life-giving water, Filling us with you, Overflowing to all those around us.