You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
In Sunday’s Gospel reading Jesus tells of the Pharisee and the sinner praying in the Temple. (Luke 18:9-14). The sinner was honest with God humbly confessing his sins and asking for God’s forgiveness. The Pharisee, on the other hand, prayed with himself telling God, or more likely himself, all the good things he had done. Yes, he did offer thanksgiving when he said: I thank God I am not as this man but essentially he prayed to a mirror image of himself as Father Michael put it.
No doubt we all have mirrors in our houses somewhere. What image do they reflect? I often look into the bathroom mirror and wonder who the white haired old man I see there is and ask myself why he has come to live with us.
Thinking of the Pharisee praying to his own mirror image let me ask, are we honest in our prayers? Take, for instance, the prayer Jesus taught us. Thy kingdom come, we pray, but do we really mean it? “That’s too much for me to handle, someone else will have to deal with that.” Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us. “If you think I am going to forgive her you are quite mistaken! She started it I did nothing wrong! It’s she who should come to me to say sorry!” Give us this day our daily bread. “Well, I need it I deserve it. I pay my taxes.” I want, I need, I demand, I have done nothing wrong. Doesn’t this all sound rather similar to the way the Pharisee prayed?
One element that is missing here is the humility shown by the sinner in Jesus’ parable. But also missing is the grace of charity, a love for our neighbour. After all, even a simple smile or word of encouragement would help God’s kingdom to come and how hard is that? Or, what prevents you from taking the first step to reconcile the argument? Again, haven’t you enough bread already? Why not share what you have with those who have not?
Yet by adopting these apparently simple ways we will be the mirror in which people will see a reflection of God.
There is a picket fence running along the border of our property. Not that you would notice it as there are shrubs growing alongside, and over it, on either side. Sadly our previous neighbours have rather neglected the shrubs on their side. We have tidied ours to a reasonable height and width but the fence was, until recently, utterly covered. Our new neighbours have cleared their shrubs away to be composted. They intend to put in bedding plants, which will no doubt look very nice.
Perhaps the garden border reminds you of your life? Do the bushes, rampant on one side eager to gain an advantage over everyone else, to have the latest whatever it is, to reach the sun first, represent you? Maybe no problem if, like the bushes on our side, they are controlled but otherwise...? Anyway those material things will not last; they will decay and end up in landfill sites just as the shrubs went to the compost heap. Our lives need regular attention, a good clear out of the unnecessary clutter and a refresh and renewal of what remains. And what does remain? Within the tangle of bushes is the little picket fence that is now on full view. It is looking a bit tired now and needs refreshing as it will have to withstand the heat of the sun and the rain unprotected by the shrubs. A fresh coat of preservative paint is needed. I suggest it represents our spirit, our soul; what Thomas Merton called our True Self. Remember it is part of our life, not separate from it. We need to preserve and protect our souls and bodies from what St Paul calls the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6:11(KJV). To do so he urges us to: ‘Put on the whole armour of God’ (Ephesians 6:11 KJV). And what a suit of armour that is! Just listen: ‘the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet girded with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, wherewith you may quench the fiery darts of the wicked, the helmet of salvation and lastly the sword of the spirit which is the word of God’. With such a strong defence nothing can harm us. St Paul ends by saying: And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Ephesians 6:18 NIV. Just as the fence needs a good coat of preservative paint, our security comes from our conversations with God, our prayers for ourselves and for all people.
Painting the fence took most of Wednesday but it does look a lot better and will last for a few more years yet. Putting on the whole armour of God will preserve our souls for eternity.
On the church path on Sunday morning lay a small underdeveloped horse chestnut fruit that had fallen from a nearby tree. There are a number of old established trees along the path but normally they do not shed their fruit until autumn. However, the recent long hot dry spell has made it more difficult for even their deep roots to find sufficient water to sustain themselves. Thus they shed some weaker fruit to conserve energy for the remaining fruit to grow to their full potential.
But that fallen horse chestnut reminded me of St Paul’s advice in his letter to the young church at Galatia when he said: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Galatians 5:22–23.
So, just as the fallen fruit of the chestnut will feed the birds and animals, we are to use those fruits of the Holy Spirit that St Paul describes; they dwell in each and every one of us. We are called to act in such a way as will bring love joy and peace, not only to our own lives but to all those we meet. That way by our lives and actions all will see God in us. Hopefully we will inspire others to act and live in the same way, making the world a much better place in which everyone can live together in harmony.
The chestnut tree is a gift of God which will grow in every season, producing its fruit at the appointed time, so will the gifts of the Spirit grow in us. Let us then use those gifts to the best of our ability; to try to ensure that everything we do, we do for God.
The Gospel reading on Sunday reminds us to: “Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Matthew 7:15
We are faced with false prophets, in the form of temptations every day. “Buy this product it will make you younger, older, healthier, more attractive or less attractive. This offer is so good that we will have to end it in 24 hours! So buy now!!” My old granny used to say: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Those sorts of temptations we can usually deal with quite easily but there are others more subtle which are perhaps not so easy to decide. For example, you might be offered a job, may be a promotion, that you feel is just made for you. The only problem is that it is on the other side of the country. It is a tempting offer but a long way from friends and family and everything you know and trust. Should you take it? This is where discernment comes in. Obviously you will need to think long and hard, talk to family, and perhaps a trusted friend. Make a list of the advantages on one column of a sheet of paper and the disadvantages on the other. When Jesus restored the sight of Bartemaeus He said to him “Go your way, your faith has saved you” Mark 10:52. We, who are sighted, often feel that every blind person would want to be able to see as we can. Yet think about it. Up to now Bartemaeus has not had to worry about getting about, someone will lead him; he has not had to worry about earning a living to support his family, someone else will help him. Now having been restored to sight he has to take on all those cares and worries that beset us all. It was some big deal for him to want to be restored to sight but he had faith in Jesus’ ability, he trusted him. In the same way God loves you and wants what is best for you and so you know that you can trust Him. Therefore there is every reason to include Him in your decision making process. Ask yourself: What does God want me to do? Talk to Him, ask Him and listen for His reply.
We can and we must: Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. Proverbs 3:5 KJV. That is the only way to deal with wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Have you taken your summer holiday yet, or are you still looking forward to a break from work? Perhaps you are restricted to taking your holiday when school is out. Maybe you are planning a winter holiday this year. Whatever your plans remember that eighty years ago a manual worker would have had to make do with the statutory Bank Holidays as the only respite he would have from his daily grind. And he would not be paid for not working on those days either! In contrast a senior local government employee would be granted up to 48 days paid holiday each year in addition to the Bank Holidays.
The Holidays with Pay Act which was passed by Parliament in 1938 changed all that. Now everyone was entitled to one weeks paid holiday. Not that everyone could afford to go away of course; the lowest earners needed their basic weekly income just to pay for rent and food. For them the passing of the Act meant they could have a few days off work without having to worry about making ends meet, but it did not mean they could suddenly afford a seaside holiday.
As you jet off to sunny climes, think about your not too distant relatives. Think, too, about all those today struggling to make ends meet, for whom a holiday in the sun away from the daily grind is a mere pipe dream. Jesus said: Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 KJV. Let us be grateful that He is here for us to give us the rest we need.
It has been extremely hot here for several weeks now. No rain is forecast for the rest of this week at least. So it is not surprising that a fire has broken out on the moorlands to the east of Manchester followed by two more in the west that joined together. There is some question that they were started deliberately, although why anyone would do that is beyond me! Any way they have spread like, well, like wild fire across the peat moors. Aerial photos show the extent of the devastation; at least nine square miles have been consumed by fire. Fortunately there has been no loss of human life although wild life experts tell us that whilst anything that could fly or run has escaped the blaze, those unable to do so, like the chicks of the birds or the young mammals will have died. Fire brigades from across the country, together with units of the army, have been doing their best to extinguish the flames but, of course peat has for centuries been a source of heat and light so it is very difficult to stop it from burning below the surface. The conditions in which they are working are terrible not only the heat but the choking smoke making it difficult, if not impossible to see or even breathe. Yet the fire fighters are working on and will eventually bring the fires under control and then extinguish them completely.
Daily we may face apparently insurmountable obstacles, sickness, bereavement, the loss of job, home, or family member. Often these may seem, like the moorland fires, impossible to overcome. But there is hope. Right at the beginning of his Gospel St John wrote: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5 NIV. And that is our hope for the future. We must hold it before us at all times. As the moors will, in time, regenerate and the birds and animals return, life for us too will go on. Let us be thankful then that God has said: Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 NIV. The Lord will walk with us as we walk the desolate moors of our lives without burning our feet and breathing freely without choking on the smoke. Thanks be to God
Jack and I have been best friends since our school days. He was my best man at our wedding and his wife Jane is godmother to our daughter, so, yes, we are pretty close. Over the years our careers have taken us in different directions. Jack took a job opportunity on the other side of the country, so we’ve not seen as much of each other as we would have liked, but we have always kept in touch, spending time together when possible. He has not enjoyed the best of health recently so it was a pleasant surprise to receive a phone call on Wednesday evening to say that they were staying with friends locally and could they call to see us the following day. Well, yes, of course they could, we would be delighted to see them!
As you can imagine we were up with the dawn chorus on Thursday, the house was cleaned from top to bottom, bread was made, cakes were baked, and fresh flowers cut from the garden adorned every room. Everything sparkled a joyous welcome. Oh and “no you can’t wear that shirt, I know it’s comfortable but go and find a decent one”.
It was whilst looking out a suitable shirt that Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins came to mind. (Matthew 25:1-13 NIV) Five had prepared in case the bridegroom was delayed by bringing enough oil with them for their lamps whilst the other five had not. When the bridegroom eventually arrived the wise girls were ready. They welcomed him, lit his way into the festivities and went in with him. The foolish girls did not have enough oil to light their lamps and so were shut out.
So the question is simply this; are you ready for the coming of the Lord or are there still a few cobwebs in the corners that need attention? After all when comforting the disciples, Jesus said: 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:2-3 NIV. When He returns to call you home, will you be ready to welcome Him, to go with Him or will there still be some untidiness, some areas of your life that need attention? But before that, in this life when He taps you on the shoulder to say “I’ve a job for you” will you be ready to go with Him?
Yes thanks, we all had a great time together that afternoon. Just like old times in fact.
So many people are involved in the Church Fete, whether distributing the Parish Newsletter to tell people about it, collecting flower pots, plants and etc., for sale, manning a stall on the day or counting the takings at the end, everyone has a part to play. This expression of community effort reminds me that in the Lord’s Prayer the words, Thy Kingdom come...on earth trip easily from our tongue. Are we ready to devote the same amount of time and energy to achieve that, I wonder? Indeed, what do we mean when we ask for God’s Kingdom to come on earth?
So two questions: firstly, what would God’s Kingdom on earth look like and secondly how can its coming to earth be achieved? We can be sure that it will not look like any kingdom or state that currently exists on earth, that’s a certainty. As to how it will come, well that needs our prayers.
The foundation stone on which God’s Kingdom will be built must be LOVE. God’s Kingdom on earth will be a place of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control; where there is no more fear, poverty, violence, persecution, hatred, intolerance or hunger. A place where each and every man, woman and child is treated with equal love and respect regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation; and not treated as a pawn in some political power game. When Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, and your mind. This is the first commandment. And the second is like unto it. You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:38), He made no exceptions. Neither must we. Our love must be inclusive of all people; whether you like them or not. Protecting those unable to protect themselves is central to our Christian discipleship. Equally, we are called to protect and seek justice for those who are poor and vulnerable, as well as those who are oppressed, strangers, outsiders or who may be considered marginal.
Is this a naive, unattainable pipe dream? Whilst it might seem so, it is certainly not, although making it a reality will not be an easy task. Yet as Jesus’ disciples that is what we are called to do. But no one person can achieve it alone. We must unite to work together as we do with the Church Fete. We need God’s help, but we also need each other if we are to build communities of faith. Take heart and remember that Jesus said: When two or three are gathered in my name I will grant their request Matthew 18:20 NIV. Working together as one the task becomes easier.
Let us then pray the Lord’s Prayer, and work with one another towards achieving “Thy Kingdom...on earth”. If we can even make a small progress towards that goal then: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 NIV), as Jesus’ reminds us.
I find that flower pots, like the plants they contain, often seem to have a mind of their own. When I am not looking they appear to multiply and grow. In amongst the cobwebs, in almost every corner of the greenhouse there is another flower pot that I am sure wasn’t there yesterday. Of course they are always useful but what to do with the surplus? It seems a shame to throw them away. After all, as we know the oceans of the planet are choking under the amount of plastic that we discard. The fish, birds and animals, over which God made us stewards don’t forget, are dying as a result of our “throw-away” society’s habits. Fortunately for me the Annual Church fete came to the rescue. There on the Notice board was a request for flower pots! Hurrah, now they can be re-used by someone who needs them!
This idea leads nicely to Sunday’s Gospel reading from Luke 15:8-10, where Jesus speaks of the woman who has ten pieces of silver but loses one. She lights a candle and sweeps the house clean until she finds it. Then she and her neighbours rejoice at recovering it. In the same way God seeks us from amongst the dust and grime of this world, looking in all its murky corners until He finds us. Of course, we must want to be found for He will not coerce or force His Will upon us, but having found us He rejoices. ‘In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’ Luke 15:10 (NIV).
So as the flower pots are refilled with compost and planted up with fresh seedlings, or new plants, for the enjoyment of someone else ask yourself, what more can you do for God today?
The Annual Church Fete will be held at the end of the month and so it is an ideal opportunity to deliver the parish News-sheet to every house in the parish. As you can guess this is quite some undertaking but hopefully there will be enough willing hands to share the load. I picked up my round on Sunday and set out during the week to deliver them. I deliver on a relatively new estate some way from where I live so it is interesting to see the houses and, as you might expect, the gardens. Some people take great care with their gardens, one had a border of deep red roses round a neatly manicured lawn whilst others were filled with a mass of exotic flowers producing a riot of colour. It was impossible to pass by without stopping to admire them. Others were simply a sad patch of grass and weeds – still I expect the birds and insects appreciated it. One thing which did sadden me was the number of front gardens paved over to accommodate two, three or four cars. One ecologically minded chap had plugged his electric car into a cable running from the house to charge it. Very eco friendly provided the old chap delivering the Parish News-sheets doesn’t trip over it!
As you will have noticed by now there were so many distractions on the round that it is a wonder that anything got delivered at all! But then there are always distractions in life. For example, the ubiquitous mobile phone means that everyone is contactable at any time of the day or night.
Let me ask you then. When you made your morning prayer today did you have a real conversation with God? As well as talking to Him did you listen to what He had to say to you? Or were you distracted by thoughts of how you would handle the meeting later today, or maybe “Will there be a parking space at the supermarket”? It is so easy to get distracted; I do it all the time, but remember that God made the world and everything in it. He made you and me in His own likeness and, as St John said: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ John 3:16 NIV. That means we are His Beloved children so that He wants what is best for us. And so if He is prepared to do all that for us shouldn’t we spare some time for a proper conversation that involves not only talking to Him but listening to what He has to say to us.
So, please take the time to prepare properly, to put aside all distractions, to focus on your prayer, and to listen to God.
Yes, I completed my round and indeed I understand that all the houses in the parish were covered in record time.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years