It is fascinating how existing things can appear to a different person at a different angle and become the start of something new. This past year we have seen medical and research processes squash 12 years to 12 months and produce not one but several vaccines, some of which are being made available at cost price to poorer nations. Inventions, processes and reforms so often rejig what happens already. A person or team with a vision and a drive look at things differently, often despite many voices against.
In my own thinking I catch myself saying things like it won’t work, why bother, tried that already. I have to keep reminding myself that achievements are carved out by many single changes, fine margins, attention to details. Try everything and see what works! Learn from the many mistakes!
Facing this coming year, there is hope for spring and summer but also a worry. So many faster and more ambitious folks will get ahead, do better, achieve more. I can imagine being spun around like a cartoon coyote as a road runner whizzes by. So, how do we set our aims for this coming year, knowing that the fallout and damage from 2020 will be hanging over us? How does this Vicar appeal to you all to put Jesus in the middle and trust that following Him is precious?
In the past the cry would be to repent. Can I put that in a way that matches our present day thinking…Many businesses will have been reflecting on selling points, assets and opportunities. Individuals have been driven to spend time with themselves and others over the lockdowns. They have been forced to be honest about expectations. These are all linked by the same honest reflection. Repentance reminds us that there are standards set by our Maker, who knows us better than we know ourselves. It calls us to measure ourselves against those standards and then to take action in rejecting weakness and fear (that cause us to fail – sin) and embracing commitment and faith. In business terms, playing to strengths and setting a vision perhaps. Here is a confession prayer used to reset, to repent and take an honest appraisal of ourselves:
we have sinned against you;
we have done evil in your sight.
We are sorry and repent.
Have mercy on us according to your love.
Wash away our wrongdoing and cleanse us from our sin.
Renew a right spirit within us
and restore us to the joy of your salvation,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Based on Psalm 51
As we set off through the lockdown and get stuck into the new year and, as Lent approaches too, let’s take stock, not be dazzled by others, and do business with our Maker.
Choosing presents is going to be hard this Christmas. Occasionally I find something that would be just right for somebody but then I tell myself, it is summer and there’s no rush. Of course I forget about it or someone else buys it. Matching the right gift with a person takes skill. We have to be aware of what they like as well as what they need.
We might want certain things that nobody thinks to get us. Maybe that is what January sales are for. A wish list could help but this can look a bit selfish, probably better for weddings and birthdays.
We all wish for an answer to a certain virus. We might also add a couple of political things to the list of gifts and answers to prayer. As well as our wishes, we will have our personal needs too. What does God give us, is it just what we need or can we dare to ask for something we might just like not necessarily need? Talking to some people, they think God only gives us punishment and trouble not love. Is God really to blame for evil?
According to Matthew’s witness statements, Jesus said that we should ask things of God. The powerful verses 7 and 8 in chapter 7 of his gospel say: Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened to you. Is this the signal that it is ok to have a wish list with God? I suppose that would not include indulging in our greatest fantasies –it is unlikely that the New Vicarage will have a brand new Aston Martin on the drive or a vintage Fender guitar blasting out. Jesus gave some examples: verses 9 and 10 he said “which of you, if your child asks for bread will give them a stone? Or if they ask for a fish, will give them a snake?” These are essential things for surviving and growing. He then continued “If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Apart from calling us all evil, which I guess is a summary of us not being perfect and divine, Jesus explained that God wants to give us good things, we just have to ask. And if we are asking God, then we could expect so much more than anything an earthly person could give us. How about, a better 2021?
Extra note: We expect to open churches soon but have to comply with the UK Government regulations and our published schedule may not happen if lockdown is extended. Private prayer in church can be arranged through churchwardens. We are using Zoom to meet on Sunday evenings and if you would like to join in then send me an email and I can add you to the list.
Ask and it shall be given…
A lot of recent discussion has been about the growing difficulties of not being able to touch, hug or even just shake hands. Scientists have been saying how touching has powerful effects on our mental and physical health. We also benefit from laughter and even just a smile can bring us positive changes. Circulation, mood, motivation, breathing and general healing can all be improved according to research. “Laughter is cheap medicine” wrote Mark Twain.
As well as improving our own health, sharing laughter can benefit our relationships. Friendships will be strengthenedand conflicts can have the tensions relaxed too. Humour as an attitude gives us a healthier reaction to stresses and problems. The light-hearted sideways look can open our perspectives for problem solving.
A stamp collector walks into a bar. He approaches the waitress and says, “You’re more beautiful than any stamp in my collection!”
She replies, “Sir, philately will get you nowhere.”
The Bible can be formal and flat but there are intense emotions described and triggered. When God is creating, surely there was a chuckle as anteaters were made? And Jesus said that there is joy in heaven when a sinner finds that there is forgiveness and that they are known and loved by God. The Holy Spirit develops us with joyfulness as one of the fruits of the Spirit.
Joy and rejoicing however are different to smiling and laughing. They are about an attitude that gives space for the positive; that is not fearful. It is not that we should be flippant but in the seriousness of circumstances, to have a confidence that we are not just the sum of all our problems but that we are alive and relating. This is hope.
Like many things we can practise and train ourselves to have a happier perspective. Play with pets or our families. Keep a toy or comic picture close by amongst the paperwork. Smile when you can and search for times to laugh regularly.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” said Jesus as he turned religious values upside down as reported by Luke ch.6 vs.21. Even as we worry about Remembrance Day, Christmas and the new year, let us bring a smile to each other’s faces – feel free to send me better jokes than these…
Q: Why don’t ants get sick?
A: Because they have little antibodies.
Joyful blessings upon you,
A little book in the Old Testament speaks about a surprising personal story in the midst of the rise and fall of nations. A family set out from Bethlehem in Judah, a man called Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. They went to settle in the land of Moab, east of the Dead Sea. Sadly Elimelech died and while Naomi was looked after by her sons, they found wives in Moab, called Orpah and Ruth. Tragedy struck again after a few years when the two sons also died leaving the three women. Naomi, older and not able to find a new husband, had to make some tough decisions.
It seemed sensible to return to her homeland but she could not expect the two young women to go with her. In a tender and moving scene, she tried to send them back, “Go back each of you to your mother’s home.” Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and left tearfully but Ruth clung to Naomi. “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” Realising that Ruth would not be persuaded, she stopped insisting. They both returned to the land of Judah.
As a Moabite woman, Ruth would not have been expected to stay with Naomi and look after her. It was a sign of her devotion and loyalty. The story continues as they return and Ruth picks up the fallen sheaves of wheat after the men had harvested. This “gleaning” brought her to the attention of a man who later became her husband.
The story has a happy ending but along the way there are tragic events. It took a young woman with courage, determination and love to find a way through. The story starts and ends with Bethlehem, a place that will have huge significance centuries later. Ruth had children which continued the most significant bloodline in the Bible, leading to King David and eventually to Jesus.
An intimate story of struggling against the odds has huge unforeseen consequences. Who knows how important your struggles might be. Your courage and commitment, your personal story in these times, may lead to a huge change in the future or maybe just a little step forward for you and those around you.
Keep strong, Revd KC