You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
This weekend the clocks go back one hour to Greenwich Mean Time.
Have you ever wished you could turn back time? Perhaps you have spoken a sharp word in anger, or frustration. Even as the words are on your lips you know it is wrong to utter them but nevertheless they come tumbling out. The damage is done for once spoken they cannot be recalled. The writer of the Book of Proverbs was well aware of this problem since he makes no fewer than 21 references to the effect of speaking. For example: ‘The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.’ Proverbs 15:4 (NIV). No doubt on occasions you have been on the receiving end of someone else’s barbed tongue. The arrow has pierced, the wound inflicted. As with any wound if left untreated it will fester leeching poison into the system. Friendships, relationships once solid, will be broken down by the bitterness and rancour inflicted by the poisoned dart. Perhaps before speaking we should pray as Job did: ‘my lips shall not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit.’ Job 27:4 (AKJV)
What now? The answer, which trips lightly off the tongue of the friend but is much harder to put into practice, is to seek forgiveness. C S Lewis once said: ‘To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable; because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.’ In this he echoes the words of St Paul: ‘and be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.’ Ephesians 4:32 (AKJV). Again, each time we recite the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.’ Yet, sadly, the hardest word to say sometimes is “Sorry”. However, seeking forgiveness is the only way to mend those broken fences, to restore the love that has been lost.
It is not possible to turn the clock back, and I accept that it is not easy to seek forgiveness at times, but it is something we must ask God to help us to do.
This week we are due for our annual health check with the Doctor. Don’t anticipate any problems but it is good to get things checked out, I suppose. Do we take a spiritual health check as seriously? Indeed when did we last have one? I know we go to church regularly, recite the familiar words, sing our favourite hymns, listen politely to the sermon and then go home for another week. Is that enough? Yes, you will make your private prayers during the week and they are just that, private and personal, so that how you pray to God is up to you. What I am suggesting though is putting the kettle on for a nice cup of tea, drawing up a couple of armchairs round the fire and sitting down for a good old chat with your Best Friend; metaphorically speaking of course. Being your Best Friend, you can tell Him all your troubles, worries and doubts, not forgetting to thank Him for all His goodness and His love for you. He knows you, loves you and understands you, better than you know yourself, in fact! Naturally, any conversation is two-way so do listen to what He has to say.
As a structure try starting of the day by thanking God for the new day and for the opportunity it presents for you to do His Will. Then ask yourself, “What can I do for God today?”
At the end of the day, set aside some quiet time to review the past day with gratitude. Try the following:
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.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years