This is the last meditation from the week of fasting and reflection. Yesterday I was speaking at St Paul's Tupsley in Hereford... The Old Testament reading they chose was one of if not my very favourite passages...
With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
(Micah Chapter 6)
I love the matter of fact simplicity of the Prophets words, the way it encapsulates our calling, even the ministry of Christ! It blows away all notion of Religious observance - the sense that there is a right way to worship - and refocuses us on what these days is called a missional dynamic and our willingness to step out WITH our God.
To act justly - for me means three things 1) to be honest and fair in the way we live our lives - I guess in today's world this means a huge amount, and is very practical! It means paying our taxes and not doing all we can to minimise (however legally) how much we contribute to society, it means not trying to get as much from others as we can, it means being very very careful about the way we shop and trade - about not just buying a few fair trade items but doing all our business in a way which is and is seen to be rigourously fair and just. It means allowing others to truly be themselves and taking their concerns and struggles seriously, making time beyond our selfish concern for others, it means stepping back and allowing others to lead when we know they have the gifts - not being in love with power - even creating space for others to contribute equally even if we think we can do it better! 2) acting in a way which intends to transform injustice in society, standing firm against inequality and abuse - locally and globally. Yes, this has a political aspect but it also has a relational aspect, it does mean big things - campaigns and charity work - but it also means how we change society by our local actions and involvement... how we act and live as peacemakers where we are! 3) to give others what they deserve - what they are worth! I don't think there is some sliding scale or metre for this, it's simple - we treat others as they where made, as creations of God, as made in the image of God. So, as hard as it may seem we have to begin by looking through what life has made them to see the reflection of the divine which may be deep, deep within... that is not to excuse or condone behaviour but to try to love them as God made them and to demand from others that everyone is treated with the same justice, the same starting point, the same rights, the same respect and the same freedoms.
To love mercy - Whilst we demand justice for all and live justly we are called at all times to act with mercy - not to seek equality or rights for ourselves but to live servant lives, in the way of the Christ - the servant king - and to relish, to love doing it! It also means that our way needs to be God's way, way of compassion. As Shakespeare wrote in "The Merchant of Venice" (a play about demanding "justice")
The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath... It is an attribute of God himself; And earthly power doth then show like God's When mercy seasons justice.
So Justice and Mercy go hand in hand - we demand justice for others and put aside our own demands for justice, instead acting with total mercy. We fight for the rights of others and lay down our own rights.
walk humbly with your God - First and foremost we are told that God is not some distant Deity who needs appeasement by ritual and observance, no, God is here to be walked with - God is an intimate and immanent God, a God who does not want to dictate to us from "on high" but journey with us on a daily basis. Walking with God in God's world is not a discipline but a privilege! 1) Belief in God is not a means to an ends or even the end of a process, rather it is an ongoing relationship - we are always learning, always discovering more about God and the possibility of God. That relationship is not a located one but a lived one - we don't "go to Church" each week to get our God fix or boost rather it is one port on a 24/7 voyage, a place to share and pray with each other about what we have been doing with God the rest of the week... and to thank and honour God for all God has done with us and for us. Many people today are exploring/discovering how we develop a "rhythm" of worship/prayer that is woven through daily life and living rather than it being focussed on one moment each week. 2) John V Taylor said "Mission is not an activity of the Church but an attribute of God" - God is a God who engages with people, with all aspects of people in the midst of their living - it is God's very nature and passion... thus Evangelism is not calling people to a place to meet God but to open their eyes and recognise that God is right here and closer than they could possible realise! 3)Doug Goins writes that the Hebrew root of "humbly", "describes a lifestyle that is not proud, not self-willed, and not arrogant" so a life that is not "self-willed" but given to another will, another purpose. So life is a journey which is lived according to God's purpose - merged in God's purpose - in a rhythm of humble relationship with God and with others, not a dualism of "spiritual" and "secular" life - church life and work life etc.
This for me is the heart of the pilgrim, the inspiration of Brendan, Aidan, Chad, a man called Jesus who walked the roads of Palestine 2000 odd years ago and of the calling on us to be peacemakers, disciples and children of God. This, it seems to me is the core of the journey we are committing to take, all the rest is simply how each one of us lives each stage of it. I guess that's what I pin my hopes and dreams on, and why I commit to walking with God, a God who chose to walk with me, who came to live amongst us and live and die for us. Whatever happens, happens! I can do nothing but walk humbly with my God... may the way be led by your will God, not mine.
We finished the service on Sunday with the Hymn "God is looking for a people" (which I've never heard before) the words of which are as follows...
The God we love is looking for a people,
who will allow his Spirit full control,
within whose hearts the truth will be established,
and fan the flames of worship in the soul.
He looks beyond our calculated duty
for lives alert to all the joys of grace -
may we be found among their honoured number,
a people eager for the warmth of his embrace.
The God we serve is looking for a people,
Who will give due attention to his word,
approaching scripture with a prayerful stillness,
prepared to wait until is voice is heard,
and who will move from hearing into action,
allowing Christ to shape them day by day:
may we be found among their honoured number,
a people who will listen to him and obey.
The we preach is looking for a people,
who will proclaim his kingdom to the poor;
who will not flinch when aced with opposition;
who find the cross to potent to ignore.
They will explain the hope of resurrection,
yet work for justice now for all the earth:
may we be found among their honoured number
and show our neighbours how much Christ says they are worth.
The God we love is looking for a people,
who will be knit as one community;
who will be glad to bear each other's burdens
and whose commitment fuels their unity.
In lives like these the Spirit's gifts are nurtured;
by love and joy and peace their faith is known;
may we be found among their honoured number.
a holy people Christ is pleased to call his own.
A strange one today in one sense because is some ways the title seems anachronistic to me... of a world that has passed. A world of Tabernacles and Temples, of Mountain tops and Buildings... a world when we needed to go to God. I wonder if the world began to change back in the days of the time of Exile.
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: "Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them," declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 29)
When the exiles had to learn how to sing the Lord's song - how to live and worship God - in a strange land. How to relate to God, to "enter his presence", when none of the cultural tools where available. Moreover, the peace of the people of God is dependant on the peace of their captors... their faith has to be rooted in relationship (with each other, with the people they live amongst and with God) rather than in religious observance.
Skipping forward we reach the moment when the Tabernacle system is finally over... in Matthew 27 we read "the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split" for me this has always been the part of the story which makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, the part which has most affected me. Because this is catastrophic moment, a rupture in the whole God/Man system... the moment when we no longer have to enter in to God's presence in the old sense. Romans 8 goes on to say that "The Spirit of God dwells in you... if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you"... so rather than it being we who need to enter into God's presence rather God enters into our very living... who we are, where we are.
I guess for me then the challenge is not to enter God's presence but to be with God in the everyday living, to allow God to dwell in my ordinary experiences... my everything.
Great God, who constructs the cosmos,
dwell in me. who sets the stars,
dwell in me. who paints the planets,
dwell in me. who separates the seasons,
dwell in me. who dictates the days,
dwell in me. who times the tides,
dwell in me. who made mankind,
dwell in me. dwell in all my being, dwell in all my walking, dwell in all my crying, dwell in all my loving, dwell in all my thinking, dwell in all my living.
Today's reflection is on "entering the quiet" place... I guess the obvious place to start with this is Elijah in 1 Kings 19 - When in fear the prophet runs to the wilderness where after listening to the earthquake and the fire he hears the voice of God as a low whisper a "still small voice"... but for some reason today I'm being drawn to a different kind of silence, the one experienced by Job. I guess it's no surprise we don't read much from Job, it aint nice! In these consumerist days do we really want to read - IN SCRIPTURE - a story of a righteous man who feels not only let down by God's silence but "withered" and "used up"... there is no comfort for Job in the right answers and platitudes of his friends rather to him they only seem to deepen his sense of being let down, his feelings of abandonment even torture! He accuses his friends of "lying 'to do God a service' and making up stories to "'get him off the hook'". In all his pain and frustration he sees through their words and challenges them saying...
He'd reprimand you on the spot, if he detected a bias in your witness. Doesn't his splendour put you in awe? Aren't you afraid to speak cheap lies before him? Your wise sayings are knickknack wisdom, good for nothing but gathering dust." (Chapter 13)
What I find myself pausing on are two thoughts..
1) Entering the quiet place may be as much about running out of energy to keep shouting at God as it is about a "nice" quiet place. A few weeks ago I found myself running out of steam, feeling as if my prayers where pointless, my treatment unjust. I reached a point when I felt I could go no further. When it felt like the cry of our community echoed the words of Job in Chapter 14...
We're all adrift in the same boat:
too few days, too many troubles.
We spring up like wildflowers in the desert and then wilt,
transient as the shadow of a cloud.
Do you occupy your time with such fragile wisps?
Why even bother hauling me into court?
There's nothing much to us to start with;
how do you expect us to amount to anything?
Mortals have a limited life span.
You've already decided how long we'll live—
you set the boundary and no one can cross it.
So why not give us a break? Ease up!
Even ditchdiggers get occasional days off.
In fact my actual prayer that night was "Give us a break"! I felt too the injustice of Job when he looks at others and sees that, "Crooks reside in high-security houses, insolent blasphemers live in luxury" (Chapter 12)... why was their no justice? Why did God seem to so cruel? His friends find all sorts of reasons - Bildad says "but God IS faithful", Zophar that "If you scrub your hands of sin... you'll look around, sit back and take it easy", Eliphaz acuses Job or "trivialising religion" and that is is all part of God's plan. Then Bildad again calls Job selfish and self-centered and Eliphaz that he simply needs to "give in to God, come to terms with him and everything will turn out just fine"... and so it goes on. Unsurprisingly non of this gets to the heart of where Job is. In fact he says he simply cannot find God in all of this...
I travel east looking for him - I find no one;
then west, but not a trace;
I go north, but he's hidden his tracks;
the south, but not even a glimpse.
His great cry is "What did I do to deserve this?" Finally, not in a still small voice but in a great storm God speaks! (Chapter 38) He reminds Job of the wonder and design of all creation, the cosmos and the insects and everything in between... finally Job cries,
I'm speechless, in awe - words fail me.
I should never have opened my mouth!
I've talked too much, way too much.
I'm ready to shut up and listen. (Chapter 40)
I admit I once lived by rumours of you,
now I have it all first hand -- from my own eyes and ears!
I'm sorry - forgive me. I'll never do that again, I promise!
I'll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumour. (Chapter 42)
I wonder if that is the point Elijah reached too, he had beaten the 400 prophets of Baal, done what he thought he could to convince Jezebel and still she wanted him dead... so perhaps feeling betrayed by God as Job did he ran. I guess the question for me then is when all, including God seems arrayed against us to whom do we listen? Do we listen to the "wise words" of others, telling us it shouldn't be like this, that we shouldn't think like this and that God isn't really like this?... or are we honest? God in the end rebukes the friends, saying "You haven't been honest either with me or about me - not the way my friend Job has." So for me the meditation today is, can I be honest, can I scream and shout at God, can I enter the quiet place not by suppressing my struggles but by running out of steam.. running out of words... running out of easy answers? Can I get to the point when I simply dry up and have no choice but to be quiet and listen? I guess that's not far off where I am... be patient with me Lord!
2) An after thought really, through this I've associated with Job, but I know I am often one of the friends... Lord, help me to shut my mouth and allow others to make their own journey and to reach their own point of quiet.
Apparently we/I keep getting featured in the Christian press... which unsurprisingly I don't often read... I was told I was in a magazine the other day and now apparently I'm in this weeks Church Times... so if you happen to see my smiling face in something let me no (no prizes unfortunately!)
The theme for Tuesday's reflection/prayer and fasting is washing... so I decided to do mine in the Bath! Seriously! While I was lying there a question struck me... My Son has his bath at night, the purpose being to wash off all the grime and dirt he's picked up during the day... which with boys is a lot! Whereas I bathe every morning, tbh I don't feel right if I haven't had at least a shower (though I am def. a bath man!), I don't feel like I'm ready for the day ahead (the number of times the postman has knocked with a parcel just as I've got into the bath! <grrr>). I began to wonder when the change happened? Probably when I was around 16/17 I guess, perhaps when I stopped coming in from school/play caked in mud! There was def. a shift somewhere, a shift in the main purpose of the washing; from cleaning off the detritus of the day to preparing me for the day ahead.
I suppose the two purposes are important, we have to take time to get rid of the crap, to confess, to cleanse, to be cleansed... but as well we need to take time to prepare ourselves, to shake off the lethargy of the night and wake ourselves up for the day's business... Today I find myself focussing on the later, the bath as the beginning. I guess one can see both in the sacrament of baptism, the dying of the old and the awakening to the new... baptism is about dying to the old but it is also, more significantly in some ways, about a new life beginning, being prepared for the things to come. So Baptism isn't the end of the journey, but the start of a fresh stage of it. In the Jewish practice washing has 3 senses (the first two of which are intertwined) - 1) to be cleansed/purified 2) being prepared to approach God and 3) as an act of hospitality... it's interesting that Jesus seems to combine them in the washing of the Disciples feet... he welcomes them, he serves them but then he also prepares them to follow him, to do likewise. How could they imitate him if they where not prepared to be first washed themselves? I wonder if in Jesus question he asks two questions 1) the one we often think of - if they could not allow him to serve them how could they serve others? and 2) if they where not washed, cleansed and prepared how could they then walk with him/God? As The Message puts it...
If I don't wash you, you can't be part of what I am doing
So today I see a new beginning, today I bathe to be prepared to be part of what God is doing, We have literally washed the feet of people this year (out on the streets of Telford in the early hours of the morning at sank•tuary) and now it feels like we need to be washed, not just because of the crap we have picked up on the way but to be prepared to face the new day which lies ahead and that we might walk his way.
This week I am fasting (during daylight) with my friends from Springfield Fellowship. This was written this lunchtime as part of my meditation.
Three loads I carry as I walk,
Three packs I balance on my back.
Each one I meticulously packed,
Each I carefully stowed and strapped down hard.
Not one I felt I could leave behind,
Not one could I do without.
Three weights I feel dig in my shoulder,
Each one present and distinct,
Pulling me in different directions,
Making my way harder than it seems,
Causing me to miss my step and trip,
Yet often they feel as one,
So tightly are they bound together,
So long have I carried them.
At times they feel alien jabbing and ripping me,
At times they are part of me.
They are things of great value to me,
Things that make me who I know I am,
Things that give me place and time,
Things that though at time they give me pain,
One great sack carries all I hold of worth,
All that I think I love,
All that I hope never to lose.
How could it be possible to leave this bag?
I could no more cut off my arm or leg!
This I bind closest to me,
I wear it next to my back,
This load gives me stability,
It sures me when I feel feeble.
It is my frame, yet still it is heavy.
One carries all my certainty,
That which I have no doubt is ordained.
In each part a word or thought,
A prayer or poem which gives me purpose,
It is what keeps me on.
It holds my map, my itinerary.
How could I abandon all this,
For whom should I walk,
Which way should I go,
How would I know, how could I be sure?
One load binds all three,
It wraps around the other two,
At times holding them,
At times pushing them sharply into my skin.
My fears I carry in this last bag,
My fear of losing the others,
My fear of walking alone,
My fear of being lost.
My fear of being pointless,
Of going nowhere, of being no-one.
All this speaks of me; my loves, my faith, my fears.
My scale of what is valuable,
My sense of what is good and right,
I am content in each step and yet I count each mile,
I want to pass, to savour each view,
To go the places I could not plan to visit,
I want in each to leave something of me, something good behind.
Somehow, I don’t know how,
I know I must risk leaving parts of me by the road.
I must give up my load,
Lay down my pack.
Not in wild abandon,
But in faithful surrender.
A Prayer from Thomas Merton (with thanks to Jackie Naumman and our family in Bembridge - IOW)
My Lord God I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. (Thoughts in Solitude. Thomas Merton)
I've never been a big John Spong fan but with some questions about exactly what he means and the place of Christ... I kind of liked this...
I know no faith except Christianity. I walk the Christ-path into the mystery of God, but I do not believe that God is a Christian. Christianity is a noble human system whereby millions of people have journeyed into the mystery of God and trans cendence. The goal of faith is not to become Christian: it is to become whole.
NB I don't agree with this old Anarchist poster 100% ;-) (we have an excellent MP in David Wright) but it did make me smile and it seemed somewhat timely with the announcement yesterday of the changes to MP's expenses procedures!
It's feels a very vulnerable time for Lou and I particularly here in Telford. I guess there is always something vulnerable about who we are as a community, to some extent small is by nature vulnerable and difficult to sustain. We have been reflecting for a couple of months on gifting and at this time we feel it is still the right place for us to be, we are committed to safespace and Telford and feel called to stay here, we are excited about the new possibilities working with +Mark (our new Bishop) may bring... but, firstly being small and active is not easy and we would really value your prayers for everyone one in the community, at times it feels like we are individually and corporately being picked on! Secondly, for Lou and I things feel increasingly insecure, at this moment CMS does not have the money coming in to pay it's half of my stipend and things don't look good... we have three years left of a seven year contract and suddenly (at least that's how it feels) those three years are in question. We have some wonderful people and Churches who support us through CMS but we are someway short of the funding we need.
FYI the article on us which was on the old Fresh Expressions Web Site has been reposted on the new one - here please have a look and if you feel you can support us in any way please make contact. :)