Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
As we live in the catchment area for good infant, primary and secondary schools it is not surprising that there are a number of parents with young children living in the road, as well as older folk like us. For example, our next door neighbours have four children, two teenagers and two a bit younger. They have never been any trouble and we get on quite well with them.
However, on Thursday last week a marquee was erected in their garden. Oh joy! A teenager’s party! That will be noisy and will probably go on all night! No sleep this weekend then, we thought! But later in the evening a note dropped through the door explaining that yes Jane, the eldest girl, would be having a few friends round on Friday evening and again on Saturday but that the music would be turned off at a reasonable time and they hoped we would not be too inconvenienced. Of course, there was noise as the youngsters enjoyed themselves doing whatever it is they do to the strange sounds that nowadays pass for music. Anyway, the music was turned off at the stated time, the revellers departed, apart from the select few who slept over but there was no disturbance from them and so everyone was happy.
Do you know, I think that is where I saw God over the weekend, in the thoughtfulness of our next door neighbour?
For my birthday my daughter bought me a wireless keyboard for my tablet computer. An excellent gift and one I will use a lot. The only problem is that for me technological things seem to have a mind of their own. They are most useful when set up, but it is the setting up that I sometimes find difficult. However it seems that God is aware of my technophobia for today’s retreat takes as its text Luke 1:37 ‘For with God nothing shall be impossible’ and asks the question: How do I respond to unexpected struggles or challenges? Do I lean on my faith in God or do I try to cope alone?
Today’s society often views it as a sign of weakness when a person is not able to deal with everyday affairs. “Man up. Pull yourself together. You are a wimp. Get on with it” is often the reaction. Not very helpful and not what that person needs to hear, especially as he, or she may be feeling very alone in that situation. Indeed it might well put them off asking for the help that may be available.
I read recently of an ex-serviceman who having returned home descended into a spiral of drink and drugs eventually living rough on the streets simply because he was unable to cope with the pressures of everyday life in the UK after his experiences fighting in Afghanistan. He felt very alone and thinking he was the only one to feel like this he did not ask for help. In fact, he tried, unsuccessfully to cope on his own. Eventually, out of the blue he received an invitation to volunteer on a project to refurbish houses for homeless returning ex-servicemen like himself. This inspired him to turn his life around. He now runs his own business and dedicates himself to helping other returning soldiers in a similar situation.
The lesson here is that we all need help to get through the struggles and challenges of this life, whether they be simple like my technophobia or more complex as in the case of the returning ex-serviceman. And there is hope for as the psalmist said: When I called you answered me. Psalm 138:3 (NIV). Centuries later Jesus reassures us that we need to: ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8 (NIV).
Trust in the firm rock that is our God for ‘with God nothing shall be impossible’
At the start of Lent we often make a promise to give up something; usually chocolate sugar in tea or coffee. Having done so we then continue with our lives in the same old fashion. But is this what God wants? The prophet Isaiah addressed the question many years before the birth of Jesus. He quotes the people as saying: 3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ and goes on to give God’s response as:
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.4 Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Isaiah 58:3-4 NIV.
So it seems clear that God wants more from us than simply giving up something which is quite easy to go without. If we simply stop eating chocolate but carry on our lives as before, then who are we pleasing? Obviously we might get a rather nice warm feeling having made the effort, and we may feel a little healthier. But who else benefits? If we look at Isaiah 58 again we find that a fasting more acceptable to God involves ‘loosing the chains of justice and setting the oppressed free (58:6)’, ‘sharing your food with the hungry and providing the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them’ (58:7). In other words we are called to give something back to our community, to our world. To do otherwise could be considered simply self - serving, some might say hypocritical.
So the question this week is: What effect will your Lenten practices have on your neighbours, your family, your church and the world in general? How will they benefit from your efforts; will they notice any difference? If not, why not?
Last week I picked up on the theme of hope during the period of Lent. I want to continue that theme this week with a seemingly unlikely story, but bear with me.
Storm Freya blew in over the weekend causing damage and disruption to parts of the UK. Nothing like the damage caused by the weather in other parts of the world , of course, but enough. Fortunately we were not affected too badly here, although the strong winds and rain made walking to the shop to buy some milk yesterday a bit of an unpleasant outing. But we needed milk and the shop is not far enough away to justify taking the car – just far enough! Wet through and wanting to get home as quickly as possible I was pleasantly surprised when on turning the corner I saw in a neighbour’s garden that their camellia bush had come in to bloom. A bit early? Well, the red bush always flowers before our delicate pink variety but it was good to see. It was like a light shining in the darkness.
In this life we encounter so many storms and disappointments. Just when everything seems to be going so well something turns up to disrupt proceedings. Yet the daffodils and the hyacinths are already in bloom and now the bright red camellia, just as they did last year and the year before at this time.
Surely the message we can take from all this is that despite the rain, the winds and the storms of life, there is hope.
Who needs you to show them that message of hope today
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years