You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
Last Thursday Storm Doris hit our shores causing untold damage. Power lines were brought down by fallen trees. Vehicles were damaged. Rail travel was disrupted. The gale force winds overturned lorries on the open roads across Lincolnshire. Sadly, too at least one person was killed by flying debris whilst walking in the street.
With so much vitriol, incitement to racial hatred lies and deceit in the world we need something to cling on to. (And whilst we are on the subject remember Jesus said: ‘Why do you look for a speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye with never a thought for the plank in your own?’ Matthew 7:3 (RSV)) Don’t forget that this is God’s Creation we are messing up! But if: ‘ God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that everyone who has faith in Him may not perish but have eternal life’ John 3:16 RSV would He leave us without any hope at all? The answer surely must be NO and there are numerous examples in the Bible to support that statement. Perhaps the one that gives us most hope must be when we read: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ John 1:5(NIV). Whilst everyone who does evil hates the light yet evil cannot overcome that light.
Then right on cue we read: ‘ See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.12 Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land’ Song of Solomon 2:11-12 New International Version. Yes, despite the storm, the daffodils are coming into bloom in the garden and the crocuses are in full flower. Our old friends Mr and Mrs Blackbird are searching the bushes and hedges around the garden for a suitable place to build a nest. Spring is on its way. Indeed apart from marking Ash Wednesday March 1st is officially the first day of Spring. By Friday morning Storm Doris had died down and the clearing up could begin.
God in His mercy calls us out of darkness and asks us to follow Him in the light. God is with us and will walk with us through all difficulties and dangers. With God by our side who or what can overcome us? After all, as Moses said to Joshua: ‘The Lord himself goes at your head; he will be with you; he will not let you down or forsake you. Do not be afraid or discouraged’ Deuteronomy 31:8(RSV) Hope leads to faith and however dark the world may seem a firm faith in God will see us through.
The other evening we had a power cut. The electricity supply was cut off completely. Suddenly everything was darkness, the central heating shut down and, of course no power means no kettle so no cup of tea. Panic ensured for a while. Suddenly things were out of control. There was nothing we could do. Yet since my wife had prepared for such an eventuality it was not long before torches, battery lights and candles were found. Some measure of sanity returned. At least we could see.
We all need preparation for our spiritual life too. Lent begins early this year; Ash Wednesday falls on March 1st. During Lent some will undertake pilgrimages to a holy place. They will prepare taking, amongst other things, bibles, spiritual books, prayers and intentions plus quantities of foot salve to ease the blisters. In the same way we must prepare for our Lenten journey. For most of us, I suspect it is more likely to be giving up something, perhaps sugar in tea or coffee or that tempting chocolate biscuit at 11am. That may not be as simple as it sounds, - tea without sugar tastes awful, to me anyway - it may require effort, commitment, a decision to take a certain course which will need preparation. Then having made the decision to give something up, what are we going to do with the time saved by not finding the sugar bowl or queuing up to purchase those chocolate goodies? The answer must be to use that time to prepare, to use the time to deepen our relationship with God and to recommit ourselves to following Christ which is the aim and object of pilgrimage.
Now here’s a thought. Everyone says that they know the Easter story so why bother reading it again. But is that really so? Would we not learn something new by revisiting those events of 2000 years ago? There is absolutely no doubt that we will find something new in the Bible, something that hadn’t been obvious to us before. Perhaps more importantly we need to ask, what message in that story does God have for me today. It may well be different to the message God has for you. The only way to find out is to ask Him. “What are my spiritual needs?” Just ask Him, and wait quietly. Our ideas may not be what God wants so we will probably need to make that same simple prayer on more than one occasion. But God will tell us.
As a result of Jennifer’s preparation, light was soon restored to us – material light, that is. Let our Lenten preparations restored spiritual light to us as well. Let us turn away from our sinfulness and recommit ourselves to following Christ. That will not be an easy course but then nothing worthwhile ever is easy. But we have God on our side to guard us, to guide us and to support us. Thanks be to God.
These words led me to reflect that in autumn the birds and animals in our garden busily stock up on food for the fast approaching winter. The squirrels collect and bury nuts for the coming days, whilst the birds and other animals simply eat as much as possible so as to live off their fat during the cruel winter months ahead. Having eaten their fill some birds migrate whilst the hedgehog and other creatures will hibernate until the warmer weather arrives. The animals, then, have their fears since, for them a harsh winter is quite simply a matter of life or death. They must do what they can to prepare for the worst.
We too have fears, doubts and worries that we face every day. Maybe something major like a terminal illness diagnosis, a relationship that is on the rocks, or perhaps the loss of someone we love. At times like these we can feel very lost and very alone. Then God appears to have forgotten us completely. Maybe though our fears are -- well, you fill in the blanks since you know what fears you face at this moment in time. But where is God when we need Him? No doubt He has better things to do than concern Himself with our troubles.
The Israelites had doubts and fears as they endured famine, slavery, exile, not to mention wandering in the desert for 40 years! Like us they cried out: ‘How long, Lord? Will you forget me for ever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?’ Psalm 13:1-2 (NIV).
Yet God knows each of us more intimately than we know ourselves and He cares for us. If He did not care why would He promise: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28(NIV). Hold on to that, but remember we cannot overcome our fears, our doubts our worries on our own. With God, however, everything is possible. Did He not say: ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ Hebrews13:5(NIV) God is there - and always will be - waiting for us to call on Him. I recall the words of a hymn that says: Take it to the Lord in prayer, and that is exactly what we must do.
After winter, spring comes, the hibernating animals awaken, the migrating birds return as God provides food for His Creation; their fears are overcome. In the same way when we take our fears to God in prayer despair evaporates into hope and our trust in God is rewarded.
God knows our fears and will free us from them when we call upon Him, about that there can be no doubt. Thanks be to God.
During World War 2 London suffered extensive bombing. Since the London docks and much of the associated industry was in the East end of the city, that area was hit harder than most. As a result many people were made homeless as their homes, schools, shops and factories had been destroyed or made uninhabitable. After the war ended pre-fabricated buildings were put up to provide housing as a temporary measure. They were often damp and draughty, but they provided somewhere to live. A more permanent, though radical, solution was to build entirely new towns in the countryside outside London to house those made homeless by the war. One of those New Towns was Harlow in Essex. The reaction of those lucky enough to be offered a house was mixed - a new house – great, but: “Where is Harlow? Its miles away! What about our friends? How will we get back to see Aunt Dorothy? Dad will have to find a new job; he can’t travel back to the Docks every day and Jack will have to go to a new school.” Thus it was with some trepidation that they boarded the train to take them to their new home which seemed a long way off in the country. When they got there everything was so different. Each house had spacious bedrooms and a bathroom. (No need for tin baths in front of the living room fire or trips down the garden to the outside toilet!) Each house had its own garden with a lawn. The roads were wider with more space between the houses. But there was no corner shop at the end of the road at which to chat with friends. Now there were walkways to get to the new shopping arcade. The new neighbours took some getting used to as well. It was all so different some wanted to go back to the old house, the old ways.
Jesus offers us a new home, a new way of life, although, that new way is not easy and some will return to their old ways, their old home. He asks us to give up our old bad habits, our pursuit of power and riches, to follow Him. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’” Matthew 16:24(NIV). He knows how difficult that will be, yet earlier He says: ‘Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Matthew 10:38 (NIV). But God also says: ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ Hebrews 13:5(NIV) for which we must be eternally grateful.
Are we ready to move to a new life; a life with Christ? As the people of the New Towns found, that new life may be difficult at first, yet it is a much better, more rewarding life.
This year Harlow celebrates 70 years since it took its first new resident. Happy Anniversary Harlow.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years