You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
The cycle of the seasons continues. The new growth that sprouted in spring has now produced its flowers, which the bees have pollinated, producing the fruit has ripened over the summer. Autumn is the time for those seeds and that fruit to drop to earth bringing about new plants and trees next spring. Some of the trees are starting to shed their leaves which have now outlived their usefulness. The trees need to shed anything unnecessary to conserve their energy for the long winter months. Soon they will stand naked skeletons against the grey winter sky. Season follows season as it always has done and always will. Let us give thanks to God for His constancy and for His great bounty.
As the fruit has fallen to the ground and the leaves, having outlived their usefulness, shed, now is the time to consider what in our lives needs to be discarded. Advent, the forty days before Christmas, is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. It is just three weeks away. Now is the time to look at our lives to see what can, or more likely should, be discarded to make space in our hearts for the coming of the King.
The cycle of the seasons continues. The new growth that sprouted in spring has now produced its flowers, which the bees have pollinated, producing the fruit has ripened over the summer. Autumn is the time for those seeds and that fruit to drop to earth b
The boys were playing football in the park when a rather enthusiastic kick sent the ball close to the couple of old men sitting on a bench reading their newspapers. “Oi! Watch it!” one called out. “Sorry Granpop” replied the lad as he collected the ball. “Kids nowadays! No respect for their elders!” the old man went on. “Weren’t like that in my day. Step out of line and Dad would take his belt to you! That’s proper discipline. Never did me no harm”. “Half the kids nowadays don’t know who their Dad is!” his mate responded “They change partners as often as they change their socks”.
Not sure I agree with corporal punishment as a deterrent and I suspect they were looking at the past through rose coloured spectacles, but there.
Of course, we do know our Father. We speak to Him every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer, although He does seem to be a bit distant. ‘Our Father which art in heaven’ we say. That implies way above the skies, and since recent space exploration has not yet found Him, God must be on a walk about somewhere, in the same way the ancients regarded their gods striding the heavens. We do have a whole book about Him that we call the Bible but from the Old Testament we may get the impression that He is a severe judge dealing harshly with offenders against His Law – fire and brimstone rather than a leather strap. Yet His Son painted a different picture of His, and Our Father. Jesus taught that God loves and cares for us and that whatever we do He is always ready to welcome us back if only we truly repent and want to return to Him. Now that really is something; God the Creator of the universe has time to care for me! And, please note this, He cares not only for me but for each and every one of us without exception. There are no humanly imposed qualifications on His love for mankind. One further and most valuable consideration is this; He has promised, as the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says: ’God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”’ Hebrews 13:5 NIV. So the terrors of the darkest night will fade; the insurmountable obstacle can be overcome; all fear and worry can be put to one side for God will always walk with you. He will never leave you or forsake you. You can be assured of that.
There can only be one response to that. Thanks be to God.
Schools have been back for several weeks now and last week was Fresher’s Week at a number of Universities. Pray for the students as they start on their new adventure. Pray, too for the Empty Nesters who are getting used to the silence at home. But, pray also for those who do not have access even to basic education in some parts of the world.
Addressing the question of migration from Africa into Europe the heads of the Jesuit Provinces in Germany, Austria and Africa were among the many signatories to a letter to the E U Heads of State meeting in Salzburg recently, entitled "Flows of migrants, flows of money". It was a petition for justice. Here is an extract: “Currently there is more money leaving Africa in illicit financial flows through aggressive tax evasion and money laundering, than is entering Africa in combined developmental aid and foreign direct investment. If Europe would support African governments in curbing those outflows, African states could secure much more funds for investing in infrastructure, education, and healthcare. This would, in the long run, keep Africans in Africa and ultimately curb illegal migration,” This situation is not restricted to Europe/Africa. It can be found in other parts of the world, too.
So what is our reaction? This is too big for me to solve, They must do something. Ah, yes Them, again! It’s always someone else’s problem! Here is an extract from something written by John Donne in 1624. It is just as true today as when it was first written.
'No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a Promontory were, as well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee....' The world may have shrunk since Donne’s time so that one might now substitute ‘the world’ for ‘the Continent’, but the point is that he places emphasis on our personal responsibility; the bell tolls for thee. Let us then, do what we can, in whatever way we can, whether it be supporting health and education charities overseas or lobbying our law-makers to take positive steps to work with, and to help, war torn and less well off countries rather than shutting off aid and building walls. That may place us at odds with some people, indeed the cost of discipleship can feel harsh at times, but Jesus’ words and loving presence remind us why the price is worth every penny.
Each of us is called to do something, NOW. Education is not just the right of the privileged few in the comfortably rich First World, it is essential for the growth to maturity of all the underdeveloped countries of the Third World.
It has been frantic here these last few weeks. What with meetings to organise as Secretary, meetings to attend, parts to learn for our drama group, accounts to audit, appointments to keep, doctors, dentists – the list goes on! And why don’t people return phone calls when they promise to do so? Sometimes I wish the world would stop spinning so that I could get off! Yes, I know you all probably lead a much more frenetic life than I, but I am supposed to be retired. I am sure all this hustle and bustle is not doing anyone’s health, physical or spiritual any good. Looking at it from a spiritual viewpoint, and, as I have said before it is not possible to separate the spiritual self from the secular self, how much time do we really give to God each day, in prayer, Bible reading or simply reflection? Even Jesus took time out from His teaching and healing ministry to spend in prayer and contemplation. If He needed to do so then surely we need it so much more. So when at Sunday Mass Father Graham announced that he would be leading a time of Quietness and Reflection at the local Friends Meeting House at the end of November this seemed an ideal opportunity to take some time to rest, reflect and recharge the batteries.
Now, I have never been inside the Friends Meeting House although I have passed it a number of times, of course. It seems that a building was first acquired for a meeting house by 1698 according to D M Butler, who wrote The Quaker Meeting Houses of Britain, 1999, vol.1, p. 174 although the local meeting’s own history has 1704 as the date of the acquisition. Remember that the Pilgrim Fathers had settled in Massachusetts in 1602 to escape religious persecution in the Old World and at least one family came from our town. That meeting house closed and was sold (by 1800 according to Butler, in 1848 according to the local meeting’s history). It was not until 1937 that groups of Quakers started to meet again, initially at a private home, then in the Women’s Institute Hall. In December 1957, the sale of an old meeting house elsewhere in the district provided funds to buy the so called Red House, the site of the present building, and convert it for use as a meeting house.
Anyway, it sounds an ideal place and time for a Quiet time. As Father Graham said it will be a good way to prepare for Advent and Christmas. I think I am rather looking forward to it.
I think autumn is my favourite season of the year. It is as John Keats wrote in his poem To Autumn a ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness....’
Yesterday we celebrated Harvest Thanksgiving at St Mary Magdalene. There was an abundance of gifts around the altar at the early Mass and I am sure more were brought to the later Morning Service.
You only need to look outside at the garden, along the street, in the fields or in the local park; open your eyes to the trees, plants and bushes that are now heavy with berries and seeds. The Pyracantha coccinea, more commonly known as the scarlet firethorn, across the garden is laden with bright red berries, on which the birds will fatten up for winter. The ancient oak trees will shed their acorns for the squirrels. Indeed, I met Brother Squirrel in the churchyard yesterday busily searching for food. He will eat his fill and then bury a supply for later in the winter; just so long as he can remember where he has buried them. If he forgets there will be a number of oak saplings appearing in odd places next spring! Soon the sycamore seeds will float down to earth on their double wings; whilst along some streets you will find an abundance of sweet chestnuts on the ground, or more likely their inedible cousins, the horse chestnuts or conkers!
Traditionally Harvest Thanksgiving would fall after the crops had been gathered in but this year I suspect the farmers are praying that the good weather holds so that they can harvest their crops of wheat, barley, oats and etc. Of course, we must not forget that in addition to the physical food for our table God also provides the spiritual food for our souls at the Eucharist.
Amazingly, God, Our Creator provides this glorious, abundant bounty each year for His creatures, human and animal. And whilst some seeds will be crushed underfoot accidentally or otherwise there will be plenty to feed the birds and animals, and indeed us, with some to spare. He truly cares for all His creatures. How great is that?
When we come to realise that God is our Creator and that He cares for us, undeserving as we are, our only response must be to bow before Him with humility and offer our unbounded praise and thanksgiving.
School’s back! Can you remember your school days or are they like mine just a distant memory? Do you remember reading the syllabus for the year and thinking how inviting the playing fields outside looked? Perhaps you had an inspirational teacher who pushed you, helped you, and guided you through the course which had at first seemed so daunting. Maybe you are now, or were at one time, that inspiration to your students.
In the film Dead Poets Society the late Robin Williams played such an inspirational teacher. He exhorted his students: “Carpe Diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary” Now whilst we might argue with the second part of that sentence since Jesus said: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?’ Matthew 6:25 But I suggest that Robin Williams’s character was simply telling his students to make themselves useful members of society and not to sit back and expect someone else to provide. So far as the phrase Carpe Diem is concerned Jesus deals with that too, later in the same sermon: Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34
Here is a quote from Bread for the Journey, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, ©1997 which I find apposite: ‘Jesus reminds us that we do not belong to this world. We have been sent into the world to be living witnesses of God's unconditional love, calling all people to look beyond the passing structures of our temporary existence to the eternal life promised to us.’
And that surely is a lesson to us all. Our schooldays may be long past and who knows what tomorrow will bring; we only have today, this moment. So what are you going to do with the talents wherewith God has blessed you in your school days and since then? What are you going to do for God today? How are you going to be a living witness of God’s unconditional love?
At 10.30 am on Saturday 24 April 1993, the IRA detonated a bomb in a tipper truck loaded with almost a ton of fertiliser, parked right outside St Ethelburga’s Church, Bishopsgate in the centre of London. One person was killed and 40 others injured. The structural damage in the area was extensive, indeed, 70% of St Ethelburga’s was destroyed. Nearly seven hundred and fifty years of Christian worship on the site came to an end that day. However, it was the vision of Bishop Richard Chartres, the then Bishop of London, that it be rebuilt and serve a different function. In 2002 the new Centre for Reconciliation and Peace commenced its work in the rebuilt premises. St Ethelburga’s is a maker of peace-makers with the aim of inspiring and equipping people from all backgrounds to become peace-builders in their own communities and lives.
Their latest project is ‘Reconcilers Together’; an ecumenical network of Christian organisations across the UK and Ireland. Five centres across the UK, all organisations actively transforming conflict from broken relationships to community divisions to issues of injustice, have come together for this exciting project. The shared mission is to inspire and equip Christian leaders to be a reconciling presence in their churches and communities. The focal point of the network will be a fully funded training programme for 20 Christian leaders called Journey of Hope which will run from January to June 2019.
Prayerful spiritual discernment tells me that I am too old to train as a leader and then to set up and lead a new project like this. However, in his endorsement Right Revd Justin Welby the Archbishop of Canterbury says: ‘Reconciliation is poured into the church in such lavish quantities by the Spirit of God that it overflows into the world around us. We are called to be not only reconciled, but reconcilers.’ He goes on to remind us of St Paul’s words: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us." 2 Corinthians 5:18-20. So we all do have a part to play. As Christians the ministry of reconciliation – to ourselves, to God, to creation, and to others – must be central to living out the gospel.
Please look at the website https://www.reconcilerstogether.co.uk/ to learn more about the project and support this worthwhile venture in any way you can. Pray for all those involved, and join with me in the prayer attributed to St Francis: Lord make me an instrument of your peace. Together we can make a difference.
Just a short blog this week inspired by a favourite children’s meal; pieces of spaghetti formed as letters of the alphabet in a tomato sauce. It is a theme to which I hope to return in the near future but for now, read on:
In a world where there is so much:
Abuse of power
Breach of trust
Jealousy Do I need to go on?
Then today please join me in this prayer:
‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born
To eternal life.’
Many of you will know this prayer as one attributed to St Francis of Assisi whom God told in a dream to rebuild His church. Something which he did; indeed his legacy lasts to this day.
What is stopping you from being ‘an instrument of your peace’?
I have always been amazed that despite the extensive healing ministry Jesus carried out in his life time on this earth He was rejected by His own people. I read the other day “Jesus rejection on earth mirrors our rejection of Him”. I want to draw your attention to a situation where Jesus is still rejected in His own land before asking to think about your own life and actions.
Its Mission Statement states: ‘St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group operates an ophthalmic hospital in Jerusalem and is the only charitable provider of expert eye care in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, treating patients regardless of ethnicity, religion or ability to pay.’ The key words are: ‘regardless of ethnicity, religion or ability to pay.’
The need for high quality eye care is as essential today in the Middle East as it was in Jesus time. However many of the Palestinians treated are unable to meet the costs involved for treatment themselves and so rely on support from the Palestinian Authority and the UNRWA. It is sad then that in January this year the US stated that it will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m of the $125m instalment due as well as threatening to withdraw or cut funding to the Palestinian Authority altogether. Since the Hospital gets $600,000 annually from UNRWA to cover patient’s costs with a further $2,721,900 coming from USAID to the Palestinian Authority the effect of those cuts real or threatened is not hard to see. Equally some patients need to access the main hospital in Jerusalem, but the number of patients or their companions being delayed or denied their permit to travel out of Gaza for medical treatment rose to 51% in 2017(from 33% in 2016) The number of operations in Gaza therefore, increased by 64%. Of course, there are two sides to every story. The Israelis are concerned to protect themselves from attack by the Palestinians, for example. Yet it does appear that Jesus is rejected in His own land once again.
Now, it is easy to point the finger at others, indeed, Jesus had a few words to say about that! 3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5 KJV
Please have a look at the Eye Hospital website https://www.stjohneyehospital.org/ and help in any way you can. But look closer to home and ask yourself honestly when, where and how have I rejected Jesus? More importantly what am I going to do about it?
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years