You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
After putting on a brilliant show of flowers the plants, shrubs and bushes are now getting down to the important business of producing seeds which will carry on the species into next year. The firethorn produces bright red berries which attract the birds who feed on them during the hard winter to come. Likewise the insects, birds and animals will feed on the fallen apples to help them put on the necessary fat to survive. (Just watch out for drunken wasps who have consumed too much fermented apple juice!) That way the seeds get distributed and the species carries on. The columbine which we met in an earlier blog matures a bit earlier than some plants. Already the seeds are swelling inside the seed pods. Soon, ripened by the sun the pods will explode scattering the seeds around the garden so that next year there will be columbine plants growing in just about every nook and cranny.
Jesus spoke of seeds on a number of occasions; no doubt because, since many in His audience were farmers they would understand the symbolism of God’s Word as a seed. Seed (God’s Word) sown on stony ground or on fertile soil, yes they could follow the symbolism of that and so, of course can we.
But consider this. The firethorn exhibits the glory of God in its bright red colouring but waits for the birds distribute her seeds in contrast to the columbine which distributes her seed by exploding her seed pods. In each case the seed is spread and if it falls on fertile ground will develop into a new plant.
So which are you? Are you a firethorn berry waiting for someone else to spread the Word or will you imitate the columbine by spreading the Good News enthusiastically, joyfully, so that everyone can see God in us; in our lives, our words and our actions? Surely that way God’s message get will into every nook and cranny of the world and those whom we have been carefully nurturing will come to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour?
Remember St James’ injunction: “But be ye doers of the word and not hearers only.” James 1:22.
As I was clearing some of the overgrown bushes in the garden yesterday I came across a deserted blackbird’s nest carefully tucked into the branches of the firethorn bush. Such a neat tidy little nest formed of woven twigs and grasses with a lining of mud. How did you make that, Mrs Blackbird, with only your beak to work with? Where did you learn the skill not only to form such a sturdy structure, but how to place it on such a firm foundation? Is there a University somewhere that runs a Building and Construction course for blackbirds?
The Old Testament tells us a lot about building houses, temples and etc. Just one example: the plans for that magnificent structure, King Solomon’s Temple are described great detail in the Book of Kings. Now, every building requires a foundation stone or cornerstone on which it is built. Jesus reminded his listeners of the fate of those who build their houses on sand. (Matthew 7:24-27NIV). No doubt King Solomon’s Temple was firmly founded but like the blackbird’s nest it, and all the succeeding temples, crumbled and decayed; they are no more for as Ecclesiastes says: “All go into one place; all are of dust, and all turn to dust again” Eccl.3:20. There is nothing permanent on this earth – certainly not you or me.
If we are looking for something permanent then we must turn to the New Testament to see what St Paul has to say on the subject. Writing to the Corinthians he says: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” (2 Cor. 5:1). So, where do we find the cornerstone for this house “not built with hands”? Here again we turn to St Paul who tells the Ephesians: “with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” (Eph 2:20).
But let us remember that this is not some ethereal building out there somewhere. Each day we pray “on earth as it is in heaven” which tells me that we need to build this house here on earth. Now!
But why am I telling you this? It is surely a basic tenet of our faith. Well, yes it is, but it is good sometimes to step back from the rush and bustle of everyday life and to think for a moment. Am I caught up too much with building a home for my family, making enough money to satisfy my wants; achieving something, some reward? Am I concentrating too much on things which will decay? Am I, as the Psalmist says, rejecting the stone? (Psalm 118:22) Is it possible that I am blinded to God’s invitation to be part of his kingdom? After all, the kingdom of God is open to all men and we are all called to help build it here on earth. Am I ready to take my part in this glorious undertaking?
Both the buddleia and the lavender are in full bloom in the garden right now. I have seen several different species of butterflies drinking the nectar from the buddleia. Some are delicate pale blue ones, some dark brown but beautifully marked whilst the plain old cabbage white butterfly makes a regular appearance. The bees meantime are taking full advantage of the sunshine to feed on the profusion of lavender bushes planted along the edge of the front garden. Last evening as I put the waste bin out for collection in the morning one of those bees stung me on the hand. I understand why, of course. He was afraid of this large shape that intruded into his space.
Fear is a natural and a very powerful emotion which affects us all in some way or another, whether it is the fear of flying, or fear of spiders, or as in my case, fear of heights (or confined spaces). Basically, I suppose, it is fear of the unknown which of course is what the bee felt. Fear can have a much larger impact on our lives, fear of the consequences of illness or indeed of dying, perhaps. And then there is the fear, real or imagined of other people; the school or workplace bully for example. But what about those refugees making the hazardous journey across the Mediterranean crowded into unseaworthy vessels seeking a better life in Europe? They speak a different language, have different cultural practices, perhaps a different ethnicity and are, well, different in some way, you get the idea. How do we react to the large numbers of them invading our space? Some of them will try to make their way to this country although many will settle elsewhere in Europe. Do we reject them; send them back to their own countries on the grounds that they will take our jobs, our welfare benefits. Will they flood our schools and our National Health Service? Or do we welcome them with open arms? I do not have all the answers but I do know this; compassion is a word easily spoken but not so often put into action. I think we need to look at ourselves at our compassion. Last week we spoke of the need to show God to the world through our lives and actions which we agreed was a challenge. That challenge becomes even greater when we consider Jesus’ commands set out in Luke 6:32-33 (NIV)
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even those who do not believe love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even those who do not believe do that."
Of course that is not an easy course to take but I think we need to remember Psalm 34:4:
“I sought the Lord’s help; he answered me and set me free from all my fears”
The other day in the supermarket I noticed a young child in a shopping trolley completely absorbed in the task of trying to open the child proof lid of a bottle of water. He couldn’t because no one had explained to him how to do it, but that did not stop him trying.
I was reminded of the meeting between Philip and the court official (Acts 8:27-39). You will recall that the Ethiopian official was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah. He was obviously a well educated man who had probably picked up the writing in Jerusalem from whence he was returning home. However, he could not understand its meaning until Philip explained, not only the passage that concerned the man, but also told him the good news about Jesus. Now that he understood, the official asked to be baptised after which he went on his way rejoicing. In the same way once someone has shown the child how to open this child proof lid he too will rejoice for no bottle will be safe from him!
Likewise, we who have been baptised have received something that is both beautiful and rich; the good news that Philip imparted to the official. However, there are still many people in the world who have never heard or will hear of Jesus. They are born, live their lives, and die without having been exposed to Jesus and his words. As Christians it is our duty to show God’s unconditional love to the world through our lives and actions. Every day we hear or read about terrible events happening in the world, but as 1 John 3:17-19 says:
“If you have material possessions and see another in need but have no pity, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence.”
This then is our challenge that the world should come to know Christ through us. A challenge indeed but remember that faith can move mountains and in any case rest assured He is with us always. Thanks be to God
Looking at the front picket fence the other morning I saw that it really was looking a bit tired, a bit worn and in need of repainting. I would not normally tackle this job so early in the season but it was a nice bright day on Wednesday and the plants in the bed just by the fence have mostly died down and those that haven’t I could shield. But, did I have enough paint? There was a tin which I opened last year; maybe there would be enough in that. The difficulty is that the paint manufacturers change the mix each year, just slightly but it is impossible to get an exact match. Would I need to buy a whole new batch? There was a lot of fence to paint after all. Maybe I should use up what I had and perhaps paint the other side of the fence with a new batch if required. As it is a picket fence there was no chance of using a spray, just a good old fashioned paint brush; that would take a time. Stop prevaricating and just get on with it! First I needed to cut back some of the forsythia that had encroached. Then being the front fence several neighbours stopped for a chat as they passed. The postman congratulated me on a good job but said he hoped the weather held out as rain was promised for later! Thanks, Steve, I really needed to hear that. I just needed to get on with the job.
But then, in the same way, God never promised that following Him was going to be easy. In fact Jesus gave a number of warnings to his disciples of the perils and dangers that they would encounter in serving Him. A look at Matthew 10, where Jesus sends His disciples out alone for the first time will illustrate that discipleship may not appear to be a good career choice at first glance. But yet they went out as instructed and performed miracles in His Name. Indeed later the book of the Acts of the Apostles shows just what they were able to achieve, apparently on their own. But of course it is only because the Holy Spirit was with them that they, mere men, were able to do anything at all. And that is the vital, all important point:
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:20 (KJV)
He is with us, always, even unto the end of the world! Thanks be to God!
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years