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.

Advertisements

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!

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.

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

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.