Friday, 30 September 2016

Rain, Diaries, Duty and Harvest

A harvest address based on the Gospel reading for the coming Sunday . . .

5 The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ 6 The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.

7 ‘Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? 8 Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”? 9 Do you thank the servant for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are servants and of no account; we have done only what we were required to do!” ’  Luke 17.5-10

The reading we’ve just heard may seem a slightly strange reading for a harvest festival service; it is in fact the set Gospel reading for this Sunday in the church year. And as I sat in a rather grumbly mood looking out at the rain last Monday morning, it occurred to me that the theme of duty that is in that reading is in fact a harvest theme (and of course the servant in the story would have spent his day ploughing or shepherding – so that’s all right too).

I was grumbling because I don’t like it when my planned schedule gets disrupted, by rain or anything else. There were lots of things I could have been doing, and they all required a dry morning. I’ve a shed needs painting before the winter, my lawn needed a mow – and plenty more besides. I had my day nicely planned out, but instead I was sat there watching the rain. People wandered past on the street outside; they all looked grumpy too. But rain’s a good thing really; without rain, our bit of the world would be a desert – water is the basic essential of life, very special stuff indeed. So I shouldn’t moan when it rains. I still did, though.

And plans and schedules are important to me; I’m not sure how I’d get through the week without my diary. If I don’t look at my diary, or if it’s gone walkabout as I’m sure it does, all by itself – I’ll miss things and forget things, and things won’t get done and completed as they need to be. And given my great ability to put things off or else lose interest and not complete things, my diary has also a very useful and important role as a means of self-discipline.

In our reading today the disciples ask Jesus for more faith. Jesus responds by chiding them for the smallness of the faith they have, and then goes on to talk to them about duty. You’re not performers on some stage expecting to be applauded at the end of the show, he tells them; you’re servants with tasks to complete, and all you’ve done at the end of the day when those tasks are complete, is your duty. And as I know very well from my diary, when one task is complete, there’s always something else to do – even on a rainy day.

We don’t earn our way into heaven; salvation is God’s gracious act, and however small our faith, we can trust in God’s love, as real, personal, special to each one of us, and the source of our life. Now the Greek word doulos that in the reading I used is translated as servant, could also means slave. Servants in those days would be literally owned by their master. Think of yourselves as servants, as slaves in God’s service, says Jesus. Why should you get some special reward just for doing something good? Or why should you feel you can take time off just because you’ve completed one task? For a servant, there’s always something more to do.

Well, we know that’s true. On the farm or in the garden, finish one task and there’s always something else to get on with. For the Christian disciple as for the household slave, this is true: that you’re never off duty.

That’s not to say we should feel guilty about getting the wellies off and sitting in front of the fire after a hard day’s work. We need our rest, and the world’s there for us to enjoy as well as to work in. But maybe today’s reading reminds us that as stewards of God’s creation and labourers on God’s farm we’re never off duty. And the work we do is work for him, as well as for ourselves.

In Old Testament times, the people of Israel – when they first settled the land God had given them – understood that the land they held and farmed was not only their land, it was also and remained God’s land. The way they used it, the way they used and shared the produce of the land, needed to be a way that did honour to the Lord. For that reason, at harvest time they would take the very first fruits to present at the altar to God – and that not to say “Thank you, Lord, that’s your bit, now we can do what we like with the rest,” but as a sign that all the harvest was his, and that all would be used in a way that honoured him.

That tradition is part of what lies behind the modern harvest festival; but we no longer bring the first fruits, for our harvest is also the harvest home, the celebration of having got everything done, of having completed the task. “All is safely gathered in,” as we sing in one of the harvest hymns.
All may be safely gathered in, but that’s no reason to put our feet up. The work goes on. These days fields are prepared for the next season, and the seed is sown, almost as soon as the harvest has been taken. Harvest festival is thanksgiving and celebration, but also a time for committing ourselves to a task that is ongoing. The harvest and the land are both ours and God’s; and under God we have a continuing duty of care: for one another around the world, for the environment and for the myriad forms of life with which we share it.

So one harvest is complete, but the work continues. We rejoice but we also recommit ourselves. “The earth is the Lord’s, and all the fullness thereof; the round world, and all who dwell therein.” Thus we read in one of the psalms, and at harvest we recognize our interdependence, the way in which we both serve one another and are served, the way in which the fruitfulness of the land requires care and balance and vigilance. And we know that while we have a harvest, others do not – and our thanksgiving includes a recognition of our duty to our neighbour, wherever and whoever he or she may be.

Not as an optional extra, but a duty. Not as something we may or may not choose to do, but as part of the programme in our diary, if we’re serious about saying and believing that “the earth is the Lord’s”. We pray in one of the harvest prayers that we may use the harvest we have “to the glory of God, for the relief of those in need, and for our own wellbeing.” All three of those: thanksgiving is expressed not only in what we say, the hymns we sing, but in the direction of our lives, the things we do. In saying, “What is mine, Lord, is also yours.” In seeing harvest as opportunity, opportunity to serve.
For we ourselves are also harvest. Jesus told the parable of the sower, and you’ll remember the seed that didn’t grow, or didn’t grow well, or got choked by the weeds that grew around it. But some, said Jesus, grew and yielded fruit – and that should be us, fruitful in God’s service, and glad to serve the greatest of all masters, the one in whom we find life, the King of Love.

It was still raining as I finished writing these words, but I didn’t feel quite so grumbly. And water is the greatest of the Biblical symbols of life, nothing else would work without it. So I’ve revised my schedule, and all I need to do will still get done, so long as I’m serious about doing it.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Song and Season

A good, if tiring choir practice tonight with the Guilsfield Singers. We are, of course, already singing Christmas music. By the time Christmas comes - or at least our pre-Christmas concerts - we are either hopelessly in love with what we're singing or else we absolutely hate it. Usually both are true, for different parts of the programme.

Meanwhile, the world around is still very summery, or it has been today anyway. On a visit this morning to a suburban street in Oswestry I was amazed - and delighted - at the colourful displays in the gardens, which seemed more redolent of June than of the very end of September.  It's sad how many front gardens have disappeared under concrete or tarmac, and become car parks. For the most part that hadn't happened on this street, and it was a much brighter and better place for that. An attractive front garden is a gift to the community, I think. We're more likely to spend time in our back gardens, but a flowery and bright front garden will add a bit of happiness to the lives of those who pass by.

Michaelmas summer or not, we are on the run down to Christmas, though. Strange on a bright day like today to think that in three month's time the festival will be finished - or at any rate, we'll be in that strange period between Christmas and New Year. I find it really hard to visualise the bare trees and hard ground of winter when all around me is leafy and green (and, when winter does reach us, I shall find it equally hard to visualise the world in its summer clothes). The usual forecasts of an arctic blast are being aired in the newspapers. Out of interest, I looked to see what one pundit had said a year ago. Exactly the same as this year, I found . . . polar bears on the frozen Thames, that sort of thing. Bound to be right some time, I suppose . . .

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Let's Dance

Another new poem . . . maybe not quite where I want it yet, but I'm happy to share it as it is . . .

Today finds me standing at the mere’s edge,
where trailing branches of willow and ash
play tunes in the clear water. Fish with silver scales
and red fins are patrolling the shaded pools;
occasionally one breaks the surface to seize a fly.
Each splash chimes a broken chord,
and everywhere around me there is birdsong.

Yet my sense is that the music I hear
is only the smallest hint of the music that really is.
We are surrounded by music,
and we are also, wonderfully, made of music.

For I claim music as my deepest self;
music sings within me, the music of atoms and molecules,
of dancing, spinning electrons;  music finds its rhythm
in the constant motion of my blood,
in my breathing out and in, in all the circles and cycles
of existence. So it is because I am music
that I can hear and interpret the music of today,
in the calling birds, in the splash of water on rocks,
the rustle of the leaves, the laughter of passers-by.
It is because I am made of music
that this music becomes part of me.

So today I feel, and say, and insist that all of life is music;
music is my best explanation
of what it means to be alive, and
of what we should do with our lives.
Let’s dance.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Between The Meres

This is a poem started yesterday, and that I've been working on this morning. I'm not sure whether it's quite finished (but then again, I never am), but I think it's ready to be viewed . . .

Pausing between the meres on his homeward journey
he looks at the yellowing leaves
as if seeing them for the first time.
Somewhere a buzzard is mewing.
Late afternoon in early autumn, with a sharpening breeze
to usher in the shorter days.

Leaning on the gate to recover his breath,
he is startled by a cascade of swallows;
they appear as if from nowhere,
but these are not the skimming, dancing birds of summer.
Now each bird flies with solemn purpose and direction,
for they are heading south, they are heading home.

He notes their passing, shakes his head.
So, where am I headed, he wonders, what refuge for me?
He has seen too many autumns;
each time it seems harder to take,
the yellowing of the leaves and the flying of the birds,
the closing down of things.

Suddenly, close by, a robin begins to sing,
her notes falling through a minor key
like ice crystals gently forming in the air. He looks up:
the sky is certainly clear enough for frost,
but maybe not quite yet, there’ll be
a week or two more of hanging on, he thinks.
He kicks his boots against the gatepost
to clear the mud of the mere bank from their treads.
And as he sets off up the lane, a single swallow
flips and curves back across the hedge; this one at least
seems happy to stay a day or two more.

So, we’re not done quite yet, he decides.
He whistles a tune to match the robin, makes for home.
Sunshine filters soft and low through the alders, while
ahead a rising plume of smoke speaks of
welcome hearth and comfy chair.
No need for now to reflect too deeply on
the yellowing of leaves, the ice in the air,
and the shortening of days and of breath.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Wet Weather

Well, a proper wet day today, the first for a while. We've had some heavy rain over recent days, but nearly all at night. I had a nice walk down to the pub though, for the poetry evening. An excellent guest poet, and a couple of decent pints of Adnam's, and good company.

Walking home, it's marvellous how just a couple of pints can propel you uphill so that you hardly notice the steepness. Wet nights, though - where the path is well lit, that's all right, but where shadows fall across it, or a street light is out (thank you, Powys County Council!), you tread carefully. I hate the sudden crunch which means (usually) that you've trodden on a snail - or even worse, the slimy squelch that suggests a slug has met its doom. On a wet night like this, they are out in force. I think I missed most of them.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

On Dives and Lazarus

A sermon for tomorrow, at Welshampton and Coedway . . .

We’ve just heard the story of Dives and Lazarus, maybe the original rich man in his castle and poor man at his gate - to borrow from the verse of All Things Bright and Beautiful that we don’t sing any more. The rich man doesn’t have a name in story in fact; the name we give him, Dives, really just means ‘Rich Man’.

Those who first heard Jesus tell this story would have thought that to be a rich man was proof of God’s blessing. Surely God was smiling down on people like that. Some people of course became rich in bad ways, like the tax-collectors who worked for the Romans and were cheats and anyway outside the Law and out of God’s favour; but so far as we know Dives wasn’t like that; he probably did all the right things - kept the feasts and fasts, went regularly to the temple and the synagogue, prayed at the proper times each day. I think Dives was a man other people looked up to.

And when Jesus went on to tell his disciples that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, they’d have been staggered to hear him. A pious and obedient rich man who lived according to the Law was surely already on a fast track into heaven. Everyone could see such a man was richly blessed.

Not so, says Jesus to them. The problem is that things we think we own can end up owning us. A rich man can be made short-sighted by his wealth, so that his wealth becomes an end in itself; so the wealth of Dives and the comfortable life it bought him had made him blind to what was really happening in the world around him. Blind to Lazarus begging by his gate. The way I see it, a man like Dives, who was surely very conscious of his civic and religious duty, he’d have tossed a coin or two to Lazarus there at his gate if he’d seen him. But he didn’t; he was too wrapped up in his own affairs to notice him. These days such a man might sweep past in his stretch limousine with its tinted windows, not seeing the bums begging on the street. No limo, but otherwise it was much the same back then.

Maybe Jesus told this story to help his disciples tackle an issue that must have been nagging them: why it was that while people abandoned and rejected by the religious elite came to hear Jesus preach, pious and godly people other folk looked up to hardly gave him the time of day, and often briefed and plotted against him. Surely a teacher of God’s word should be heard gladly by holy folk like the Pharisees, so why, instead, were these people constantly trying to catch Jesus out, and trip Jesus up?

In the story both Dives and Lazarus die, and Lazarus is carried into the bosom of Abraham, while Dives ends up in the flames of hell. At first read that sounds like karma in Buddhist or Hindu thought - a sort of payback time, where the unfairnesses of this world get set straight. The wealth and success Dives enjoyed in this life has destined him for a next life full of torment. But in fact it isn’t for his wealth that Dives gets punished: to be wealthy is fine. But Dives had allowed his wealth turn him blind, he’d allowed what he owned to own him instead.

And he finds himself in an unreachable place where no-one can even get across to soothe his parched lips with a drop of water. So Dives says, even if you can’t help me, then at least don’t let my brothers go the same way - send someone to warn them. But they’ve been warned already, he’s told. It’s all there in the scripture you read every day, the word you hear expounded every Sabbath in the synagogue or the temple. But, says Dives (as I imagine him, anyway) you can’t expect them to listen to that - that’s just the stuff we get in church. I mean, I always went, and I sang the hymns and said the prayers, but you know, it was always mostly so I was seen doing the right thing. I never listened all that hard to the sermon so I don’t suppose my brothers have either. So please, do something big and flash so they can’t help but notice. Hey! Send Lazarus back, that’ll do it - they’ll surely pay attention if someone comes back from the dead!

It’s then we hear that chilling phrase: "If they’ve not listened to Moses and the prophets they’re not going to listen; they won’t even listen if someone should rise from the dead.”  There’s none so blind as those who will not see; there’s none so deaf as those who stop their ears to the word. The summary of the law, all the Jewish law and prophets rolled up into one, is this, and we know it well: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength; and love your neighbour as yourself.’

So what might that mean for Dives, and maybe for us? To love our neighbour we must first seek out and find our neighbour; our neighbour isn’t just the person who happens to come our way or knock on our door or live down our street, though of course to be generous to them is important. Our neighbour is anyone we could help, and some of those people don’t present themselves well, they may be hard to like, they may be hard even to see. Dives never noticed Lazarus. If he’d noticed him, he might have helped him. He didn’t though - they just didn’t move in the same circles.

Then we’re to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. It’s OK to love ourselves; it’s fine to enjoy life; we don’t have to wear hair shirts all the time. God made us, and he made us to be beautiful, both inside and out; God made the good earth and its fruits, and he wants us to enjoy them. Religious folk don’t need to be solemn and sour-faced, we’re allowed to have fun. Jesus himself loved a good party! What’s wrong is when we enjoy the earth at the expense of others; and when we squeeze charity down into “what we do with the stuff left over once we’ve spent all we want on ourselves”. That’s when we lose focus, lose the Jesus touch. My neighbour may be no more important than me; but they’re certainly no less important.

For all the our Brexit worries, we still live in a prosperous part of the world. We’re blessed with more than others have. Some of those others are beating at our doors, are floating across the Med or trying to board trucks in Calais. We could feel threatened, even besieged; many people do feel that way, but what about us?

For the person of faith, wealth carries with it responsibility - Dives may not have realised that, but we should. So it’s not just a sign of God’s favour upon me, the fact that I’m not too badly off; it’s an opportunity to do something useful, it’s a chance to be of service. Put simply, what God gives me remains his, even though it’s also mine. As we approach the season of harvest, in Church we remind ourselves again that God is the giver of all good things, and that we should use and employ what he gives us in the spirit of the giver. And in doing that, give a lead to others. God loves it when our eyes are open to see as he sees, so we interpret and respond to what we find there with compassion and love. God loves it when we recognise our neighbours, and when with generous hearts we set ourselves to provide for their needs, as well as for our own.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Harvest Festival

The HF season comes round again . . . this is my sermon for Corndon Marsh, Chirbury, Montgomery PC, Wattlesborough MC and Cefn MC (I think that's the full list for this year!).

At a recent service I attended at Welshpool Methodist Church, the minister got us placing missing pieces - we’d all been given one each - into a jigsaw puzzle of Noah’s ark. Her theme was jigsaws rather than arks, but I couldn’t help but notice that one of the beasts waiting to enter the ark was a giant panda, and that felt sort of wrong; surely the animals Noah brought into the ark would have been ones that were actually present in the Middle East at that time, which doesn’t include pandas. Of course, the Bible does say that Noah brought two of every sort of animal into the ark; but the logistics of getting every animal in the world into one boat left my head spinning. Having said that, though, the giant panda is a very potent symbol of endangered species, and of our impact on what is a very fragile environment and ecosystem; so if the jigsaw picture was not so much about Noah back then but where we are today, I guess the giant panda should have been there after all.

There are only about a thousand giant pandas left in the wild today, along with maybe another hundred or so in captivity, and scientists are very concerned about how viable a population that small can be. Loss of habitat is a big concern, as it is for many other species; a habitat may not be completely destroyed, but quite subtle changes can unbalance things in ways that affect particular species. Scientists are noting huge falls in frog populations all around the world, from Australia to Central America. No-one really knows why they’re disappearing so fast. Maybe global warming. Maybe a build-up of chemicals like pesticides in the environment. Maybe places that used to be wet are drying out. Maybe there’s more than one reason, it could be that frogs more sensitive to change than some other creatures. I was reading an article on the subject that suggested that by the time we know for sure why frogs are declining, it’ll be too late to do much about it.

I trained long ago as an environmental scientist, so these are issues that will always interest and disturb me. Countryside birds that used to be common – lapwings, corn buntings and even house sparrows – are on the decline, and again, it’s hard to know why. The natural environment is complex and sensitive, and changes in the way we do things, changes in farming, in lifestyle, in trade, may happen too quickly for the ecosystem to cope. We so much power, maybe too much.

So if the minister’s jigsaw that day was as much to do with conservation today as a great flood back then, it reminds us of the need for modern day Noahs. I remember singing a song in school assembly that begins “The world is a garden you made.” I think it was written for the Worldwide Fund for Nature. It does all begin with a garden if you look back to chapter 2 of the book of Genesis. Adam and Eve are placed in the Garden of Eden, where everything’s in harmony, and the sun sparkles on the morning dew.

When Adam was the gardener there, he didn’t need to do much gardening. It’s only when we read on into the next chapter, with the serpent and the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and then Adam and Eve thrown out of Eden - that’s when he has to start doing real gardening, the kind that gives you blistered hands and an aching back.

Harvest Festival prayers often speak about us as being stewards of creation. But creation wouldn’t need any stewarding if it wasn’t for us human beings and the way we mess things up. Things in the natural world would roll on quite nicely without us; but with us, so much is vulnerable and there’s a need for conservation and care. Maybe the giant panda could represent the many species that might well be better off if we weren’t around.

But what would be the purpose of a world like that? In Adam and Eve and their descendants, people to till the ground, to blast the rocks, to invent and make all kinds of things, a new phase of creation begins. God’s creation becomes conscious of itself and of its God. Through human beings what God has made, like moulding clay on a potter's wheel, ceases to be inert and thoughtless and can choose and reason - can reach out to its creator, or not, as we choose. We’re free agents, we can worship or we can ignore the hand that shaped us.

Last week my daily paper informed me that we human beings have only twice as many genes as the fruit fly, and many of them are just the same. Scientists use fruit flies a lot in genetic research. They are smaller and simpler and arguably a rather less intelligent than us marvellous men and women, but like us, they are also (if I may borrow some Bible words) fearfully and wonderfully made. They are made of the same stuff as we are. Scientists tell us that, but so does the Bible. In Genesis chapter 2 we find that we and all other living things are formed from the dust of the ground.

And fruit flies too have their place in the order of things, just like pandas, frogs, sparrows and for that matter blue whales and three toed sloths: each one of them the outworking of God's creative love, each one of them precious in his sight. And so are we, of course, as the cross of Jesus must always remind us. But unlike pandas and whales and sloths, we know that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and we know that they are too. Knowing that confers a responsibility upon us; Harvest Festival is a time to remind ourselves that as stewards of what God made we should make sure our earthly home has space and food not only for us, but for the myriad living things that Adam once gave names to, and that our Lord created out of dust and love.

I’m really glad to be with you tonight, because Harvest Festival is one of my very favourite times in the church year. And as we sing our harvest hymns let’s not only pray for the land around us and all who work on it; and let’s not only give thanks for the fruitfulness of the harvest we’ve brought in, but let’s take the wider perspective in which we see how it all links together; one harvest of all the world, in which the skill and labour of all kinds of people near and far helps keep us fed and clothed and provided for.

But there’s more than that. Harvest isn’t just stuff, it’s also people, souls, lives. We ourselves are harvest, and we’re right to think tonight about the harvest of our souls, the harvest of our faithful response to God. Thankfulness is expressed not in what we say, or not only in what we say, but in what we do; our actions are what make our words credible, and those who are truly thankful will show their thanks in sharing and using well what they’ve been given - using the gifts of harvest in a way that honours the giver. Our prayers today will touch on those whose harvest is poor, and who may suffer or starve without our help.

Harvest Festivals look forward and look back; back to those who worked this land before us, to the old harvest hymns and to traditions we don’t want to lose, stories of past faith and service. But also forward to those who inherit this earth from us - they need to receive it in good order, so that they too, future generations known and unknown, can have a secure and plentiful harvest. It’s been well said that we don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. And Harvest Festival should also look outwards; so we think not only what we can have and own and use, but of pandas and frogs and sparrows, as well: how poor the world would be if there was not also a harvest for them.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Fixed on the Cross

I wonder if the parable of the Unjust Steward raises issues for you, as it’s tended to for me? Ever since I first read it, I’ve wondered why Jesus should be praising a man who’s cheated his employer - and, in the process, recruited other people into his conspiracy. And how Jesus can possibly want his disciples to go and do the same, as he seems to. Jesus also says we should use our worldly wealth to win friends for ourselves; what does he mean by that? It sounds a bit like bribery, it doesn’t sound like how I’ve always assumed Christians should live.

But maybe that’s the reaction Jesus wanted. Jesus didn’t only say nice easy things, often the things he said shocked people. His teaching was fresh and different, and sometimes that meant puzzling, even alarming. I think that when Jesus told this story, he wanted his disciples to sit up and pay attention. So if they were startled by what he said, if they were wondering “Where’s he going with this?” - well, that was all to the good.

But look a bit closer at what he said. It isn’t Jesus who commends the dishonesty of the unjust steward, it's the steward's master in the story who does that - a man who'd probably made his own wealth by the same sharp practice and cheating. He’d surely have been angry at what his steward did, but even so I reckon he couldn't help but admire the speed of the steward’s reactions, and the sharpness of his wit. In fact, he probably ended up thinking: "Goodness, I didn't know he was that good!  Perhaps I can still use him, after all."

So what does the story say to us? Not that we should be dishonest in the service of our Lord, but that we should be quick off the mark, not letting opportunities pass us by: chances to win friends, to change lives, and to use in creative ways the resources God gives us. You’ll know the saying "so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly use." Well, that shouldn't be us: we’re to be - like the unjust steward - clear-sighted and quick-witted.

I no longer need to go to clergy training sessions; but a year or two before I retired I was part of the planning team for one. Our main speaker was a man called Art Gafke, who if I remember rightly was a Methodist minister in Las Vegas. We were lucky I think to get him - Art was a guy with a wealth of experience, a great sense of humour and some good stories to tell. His theme was about how by understanding ourselves and our situations better, we become better able to set aside our own agendas to co-operate together, to use our personal resources more creatively as people of God, and to become more effective ministers for Christ.

And that, he told us, requires us to think outside the box. Not to do what’s always been done before just because it's always been done that way, not to do things the way other people tell us they should be done, and not to let ourselves be hemmed in and limited by what other people expect. We need to work in a way that’s appropriate to the strengths and abilities we have, appropriate too to the world we’re working in. The message as he delivered it came across as new and fresh, but really it's the same as the message Jesus had for his disciples.

For he told them to use every means at their disposal, and he tells us the same. That might mean doing things differently from how our forebears did them. For the Gospel to be heard in today’s world, e must tell it in ways and language that today’s world understands. That’s led to churches that don't fit the traditional model: churches that look more like cafes, or like one I’ve heard of that meets in a gym, while people are training; or festivals of one kind or another - a friend of mine’s just got back from his first Greenbelt, and he’ll certainly be going again; or virtual churches on the internet. Four young clergy from Lichfield Diocese (and one slightly older one behind the camera) have started something called the TGI Monday Show, a little ten minute slice of discussion filmed in north Shropshire that you can watch on the web. Fresh expressions of ministry, so called, may not be for everyone, but mission within a mixed economy means we can no longer say if we ever could that 'one size fits all'. Having said that, the traditional church remains part of the mix. New ways of doing worship and teaching and outreach don’t replace “traditional church” but fit in alongside and add to it.

For if what we believe matters to us, then we need to be sharing it, using every means at our disposal. But whether we're doing new and different things or sitting in the same pews as our forebears, this is always true: we need a firm focus in our ministry.

Not long ago I was watching a tight-rope walker on the telly; I could hardly bear to look, I’ve never been good with heights. Just now there’s an ad on the telly where someone’s sitting on a rock on the edge of a cliff; obviously they didn’t fall off, but I still worry that they might each time it comes on. I was also very worried about this tight-rope walker. He didn’t look very safe. He stopped and swayed on the rope; he took a step back; his pole was first tipping up on his right, then on his left. I thought he’d lost it, which I’m sure was deliberate, all part of the act. For suddenly he was OK again, stepping confidently across to the other side. And I was able to breathe again.

A few weeks ago the world said farewell to the Christian clown, evangelist and Anglican priest Roly Bain. He used to do tightrope walks as part of his act, on a wire strung across the church, as a way of preaching about faith. There’s a fresh expression of ministry if you like. I’ve watched him do it. On a tight-rope, to get across to the other wide without falling you need to be completely fixed on where you’re going. To be distracted could be - well, maybe not fatal, there is a safety net, but embarrassing, to say the least. So as a good demonstration of a truth that applies to disciples as well as tight-rope walkers, what Roly Bain fixed his eyes on at the far end of his rope was a cross. As well as enthralling and entertaining the people who came out to see him, he had a discipleship message to share from that rope, about being completely fixed on our Saviour and on the sacrifice that saves us, and not letting ourselves be diverted or distracted. As it happens, I did borrow his sermon and do my own tightrope walk once at a family service - but before you get too impressed, I did it at about three inches above the ground. I know my limits.

Anyway, neither tight-rope walkers nor disciples can serve two masters. At the end of our reading this morning, Jesus says that we can’t serve God and money. In the old Authorized Version we read that we can’t serve both God and “mammon,” and I like that word better: it widens our thinking out from just money, to include a whole host of worldly things that could distract us - that could hold us and bind us. Not just money itself, but status, possessions, even traditions, even wanting to keep things how they’ve always been. Jesus tells us that we should use whatever wealth we have in God’s service; and we should value what we have, delight in the good things of the world. But always in ways that honour the giver; what we mustn’t do is to let what we have use us, own us, take us over. Give God the glory, and him alone.

And, says Jesus, be inventive. Be like the unjust steward. Think on your feet. Use whatever you have at hand, make the very most of whatever opportunities present themselves. You don’t have to do what people have always done. But we do need to know where we're headed, we do need to know whose word it is we preach, and honour him in the preaching; we do need to keep eyes, heart, mind focused on Christ and Christ alone.

The words we use may change, the place in which we worship may be re-ordered, changed round, or maybe changed altogether. We may not dress the way we used to, or sing the same songs, or pray the same prayers. But, whether we welcome change or find it hard, what really matters is this: that the Gospel is being preached, taught and proclaimed as widely and persuasively as possible, and people invited, welcomed and affirmed, met where they are. The message itself remains the same. The words we use may change, the way we speak them may change, but the Gospel itself does not. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever: and today he calls from us an urgent witness of focus and faithfulness, and of inventive opportunism, in the service of his love.

Friday, 16 September 2016

A Long Sentence

Our family’s been quite free of crime,
there’s been none of our lot doing time,
till my cousin, young Tom, he’s a clot,
on our copy book left quite a blot.

He went down to the library one day,
got a book out and took it away,
made a start on the crime he had planned,
bought some Tippex and steadied his hand.

He went through all the lines on each page,
with determined and furious rage,
and he Tippexed out every full stop,
working up from the base to the top.

He took the book back the next day,
But the library assistant said, ‘Hey,
you’ve defaced every page in this book!’ -
and she called her boss over to look.

And soon a policeman was called,
and off to the nick Tom was hauled.
That was Tuesday - and Tuesday next week
he’ll be pleading his case to the beak.

His defence doesn’t seem very strong,
defacing a book, it’s just wrong -
and if you remove the full stops . . .

. . . well, you can expect to get a very long sentence!

Thursday, 15 September 2016


Just when everything else is shutting down for the season, ivy is in flower along our hedgerows, in woods, on old buildings, in all sorts of places. A woody climber native to Europe, ivy is an important food-source for wildlife.

It can thrive in shady places, is a good groundcover and handy for hiding ugly garden features like oil tanks, old sheds,  and tree stumps. Many cultivated varieties are available, so ivy is a popular garden plant, used of course also in floral art and winter decorations especially at Christmas.

But ivy is also an important source of food and shelter for wildlife during autumn and winter. Just now, late insects are buzzing around its flowers, which are pollinated by moths and late wasps. Later the black berries will find a use. Blackbirds love them. Ivy berries that last through into spring will also be a useful early food source for young birds. And as an evergreen, ivy provides shelter for a wide variety of over-wintering creatures. Ivy is also browsed by cattle.

Though often thought of as a parasite, ivy is not in fact parasitic, and will not normally damage a sound building or wall, nor is it generally a threat to healthy trees. Regular trimming can help a lot though, as a good lush growth of ivy in winter, especially if covered by snow, can be quite a weight to bear, particularly where trees are already getting past their best.

Our native species of ivy, Hedera helix, is native to western and central Europe from southern Scandinavia southwards. Ivy has been introduced to many other parts of the world, and is often regarded there (e.g., the USA) as an invasive and unwanted species.

Ivy berries have been used as a source of dye, and in ancient Rome ivy wreathes were used to crown winners of poetry contests. In medieval times ivy on a pole was used as an alepole - the sign of a place that sold alcoholic drinks.

Bees make good use of ivy flowers, at a time when there are few other sources of nectar. One new arrival in the UK is the ivy bee, a fairly large solitary bee. This is rather like a honey bee in shape, but with stronger stripes of yellow or orange on the abdomen and a furry orange thorax. This bee flies through a five or six week period of the autumn, and so far seems to have had little impact on existing bee species. It was first noted in the UK in 2001 and had reached this part of the country by about 2013.

Saturday, 10 September 2016


A sermon for this Sunday . . .

I should preach to you about sheep and shepherds today, and perhaps in a moment I will. After all, the lost sheep is one of the best known of the parables Jesus told, one I’ve re-told very fruitfully in many a children’s service and school assembly. But first, let me tell you a story about a family moving house.

At the end of weeks of sorting things out, packing, preparing, the day at last had come. Everything that was moving had been packed into boxes and cases and tea chests. All the furniture was piled together, the carpets and rugs were rolled up, the pictures had been taken down off the walls and wrapped in old sheets. Soon the furniture van would arrive, and everything would be loaded in. And then the family would follow by car: Mum, Dad, David and Alison.

Alison had packed a bag with a lot of her toys in. They were to come with the family in their car, being, as she said "MUCH too precious to send in any old furniture van." Her mother had tried to pack My Little Ponies and a host of other things into the boxes labelled “toys”, but Alison would have none of it. Nearly all her best toys were in the car. Her big brother David, on the other hand, had been happy to let his toys be packed - those he was even bothering to take, that is. Really, David was growing out of toys.  He'd sent quite a few to the summer jumble sale at school.

Some of the others were outside, in the Box for Broken Toys. For when you move house there’s a great opportunity for sorting things out, and throwing things out, and Mum had done her best. That toaster that had somehow lingered on in the kitchen even though it had toasted nothing for years - there’d be no place for it in the new kitchen. Dad's old gardening trousers and that dreadful hat he sometimes wore were at the bottom of a dustbin bag where. all being well, he’d never find them. And the Broken Toys - cars and tractors with wheels missing, dolls that had lost an arm or leg, jigsaw puzzles with pieces missing: all of these had been tossed into the Box for Broken Toys, ready for that day's visit by the Dustbin Men. New house equals new start, no more Broken Things.

Among the Broken Toys was Scrufftop. He was actually quite near the bottom of the box, because he'd been one of the first Broken Toys to go in. Scrufftop had been David's teddy bear, but David didn't need teddy bears any more. He hadn't looked at Scrufftop for years. Scrufftop had an eye missing, a torn ear, and was mostly bald; nor was he as well stuffed as once he'd been. Not that he'd ever been a very handsome bear (hence the name). If toys could talk, like they do on 'Toy Story', I don’t imagine the other toys would have said much to Scrufftop that was positive. He’d had his day. Once he'd been loved; now he was just rubbish.

David and Alison were both very excited about the new house; but Alison was feeling a little bit sad as well. She'd had many happy times in the old house, and it was sad to see it now with no curtains in the windows, already beginning to look unwanted. The furniture men were just finishing loading the van, so the children climbed into the back of the family car. Many of Alison's toys were in the boot - to be honest, there wasn't much room for anything else - but she'd brought one load into the car with her (packed in a Sainsbury's Bag for Life); and now, as the car headed out of the drive, she delved down and found Harry, her fluffy and cuddly green hedgehog. A little bit of comfort, as she said a sad goodbye to their old happy house.

Meanwhile, down near the bottom of the Box for Broken Toys, think of Scrufftop - unloved and unwanted, not even thought about any more. Once he'd been loved; now he was just rubbish. Or was he? When David noticed his sister cuddling Harry the Hedgehog, he suddenly shouted out, "WHERE'S SCRUFFTOP?" Mum looked round and smiled. "Where's what?" she said. "David, you’ve not bothered with that old thing for years!" She turned back. "Haven't you brought him?" asked David. "Of course not!" Mum replied. The car turned onto the main road out of town. "We have to go back for him!" David announced - and with one of his 'My dear, what have you done now?' expressions on his face (but wisely saying nothing) Dad turned the car round, and headed back.

Back at the old house the Dustbin Men were already busily shifting rubbish. Half the street had been cleared already; and if there hadn't been a bit of a problem getting the dustbin lorry past a bus going one way and a milk float heading the other, maybe the bags and boxes at David and Alison's old house would also have gone. As it was, they just got back in time. As soon as the car came to a stop, David's door was open; he ran straight to the Box for Broken Toys, and scrabbled and scrabbled down to nearly the bottom.  And there he was - old hairless, one eyed, torn-eared fantastic Scrufftop.

Broken? Maybe he was. Old? Certainly. But unwanted and unloved, and just rubbish? No way. New house, new start, lots of new things to look forward to, but it seemed there'd always be a place for old Scrufftop.

So there you are. Funny, isn’t it, how we can go on loving scruffy old special toys like teddy bears, how they stay special even when no-one else would give them a second glance. Funny, isn’t it, how God feels much the same about us. David loved Scrufftop in a special way; even though he'd grown out of most of his toys, he wasn't going to let go of Scrufftop. Years later, and grown up, it wouldn’t surprise me if he still has him, and still loves him.

God loves each one of us in just that same way. As if each one of us was that one special toy you go on loving when you've forgotten all the others. And he still loves us, loves us just as much, when we're scruffy and smelly and not very lovable. He may not like us, but he goes on loving us. Other people may throw us out, treat us like rubbish, but God continues to love us. That’s the message Jesus came to bring; that’s the story behind the story of the lost sheep. It’s about how much God loves and treasures and cares for each one of us.

So back to the story of the lost sheep. I reckon that most of the time if one out of a hundred sheep goes missing, the shepherd will write it off, cut his losses, and be thankful he’s still got the others; but this shepherd doesn’t do that. Each one of his sheep is known, valued, loved; so off he goes to search for it. And when he finds it and brings it home, there's great rejoicing.

Some people thought that if Jesus was a proper teacher he’d spend all his time with the insiders, the holy folk who did all the right things and never strayed. They were highly suspicious of the way he’d go off to visit and spend time with outsiders, folk like tax collectors, prostitutes, undesirable people - sinners. Jesus gives them and us a simple and direct answer. You may write people off, he says, but God never does. We may drift away from God, to get lost in all the tempting byways of the world, but God never stops loving us.

The Church is the body of Christ, so being as like Jesus as we can be is our number one priority. This parable reminds us that to do that includes seeking out those who are lost, and bringing them home. Teresa of Avila says that 'ours are the hands with which Christ seeks to bless the world today'. So the Church can never be content as it is, and the Church has no right to be aloof and in any way to look down on those around it. We’re all rather like Scrufftop, loved despite ourselves, not because of our innate goodness or beauty. What saves us is not that we do well, but that God does not give up on us. And so like our Lord himself (and in his service), our call is to seek out the lost and strayed, and to bring them back so that they, like us, can know God's love for them, and know that love for real. And then there will be rejoicing in heaven.

As Jesus says to us (every one of us): "Love one another, just as I have loved you."

Friday, 9 September 2016

An old sermon

I was asked the other day what my sermon had been on the readings set for last Sunday (which included the difficult words of Luke 14. 25-33). I had to reply that I had in fact preached on totally different readings - however, here is a sermon prepared for Deut 30. 15-20 and Luke 14. 25-33, preached six years ago . . .

Today I offer you the choice of life and good, or death and evil.

With those stark words, the people of Israel are prepared for their crossing over into the Promised Land.  This is what Moses tells them: “Love the Lord your God and walk in his ways, keep his commandments, decrees and laws.”  When they do that, God will bless them as they enter the land.

In other words, there’s no room for half-heartedness;  what Moses is really saying is this: If you’re not fully up for this, then just stay this side of the river, or wander off back into the wilderness.  If you’re going to cross the river to claim what God has promised, you’ve got to be committed with all your heart to his service and to the keeping of his commands.

I was reading the other day on the sports pages about a star player who’d been dropped for the big game.  Why aren’t you playing him, the manager was asked: he’s the best player you’ve got.  I can’t play him, was the reply:  He’s not in the right frame of mind.   He can’t give me the commitment I need.  It isn’t how good he is, it’s whether he can play as part of the team.

I think I was a bit like that at school.  I was an able pupil, good at most subjects, I got good marks, I could pick things up quickly. And yet I was the despair of many of my teachers, because my mind was so often elsewhere.  I’d be gazing out of the window and not really engaging with things at all.

Ability isn’t enough, without commitment.  You need to be on-side, you need to be part of the team. You need to turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  If you can’t do that, don’t bother - isn’t that what Moses was saying?

And Jesus says some really hard things in our Gospel, doesn’t he? “Unless you hate your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, you can’t be my disciple.”  That really jars, doesn’t it?  We have to hate our own kith and kin?  What sort of a Christian would that make us - hating our own nearest and dearest? Doesn’t God want us to be loving and dutiful, as parents, as partners, as siblings?

Of course he does;  and if you do happen to be having problems with your parents, your children, your brothers, sisters, or even your friends, sorry, you do not have permission to hate them as a Christian duty!  Jesus is saying the same sort of thing as Moses:  this is about commitment.  What Jesus tells us is that we shouldn’t place anything above our allegiance to God, and our commitment to serve him;  not even our duty to our own families.  To be a dutiful parent, child, sibling, to be a good citizen or friend or member of the community member - these things follow from our duty to God, they don’t take precedence over it.

Those other duties are still important;  none of us should act badly, spitefully or uncaringly to those who have a right to expect us to treat them with love; but not even the closest relationship, not even our love of our own life, should be allowed to stand in the way of the first call upon us:  love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.  I think it was William Ruskin who said:  “He who gives God but second place in his life, gives him no place.”

Moses says: Don’t cross the river unless you’re wholehearted in your desire to serve the God who is giving you this land.  Don’t come with me, says Jesus, unless you’re seriously ready to put what my Father asks of you first before everything else.  In other words, religion doesn’t make a good hobby, not if you’re being real about it. True religion requires the gift of your deepest and truest self.  We’re to offer to God “ourselves, our souls and bodies” - and to hold nothing back.

Such self-offering isn’t just about what we do here, it’s not only about being committed to church.  When Jesus says “Take up your cross” that’s a lifestyle choice, and a lifelong commitment.  The place and power of the cross in our lives will be revealed in more than being part of the church and present here for this hour on a Sunday.  In some ways, dare I say, that’s the least important bit.  Our use of time, our allocation of money, our care for others and the welcome we offer, our care for the world and our thought for the environment, the moral standards to which we aspire, our readiness not only to speak but also to live the truth:  these are the vital outward expressions of true inward commitment.

Religious zeal can easily be perverted and misused by unscrupulous faith leaders who use the power they have for their own ends. That’s a feature of cults, of religious extremism, and even the mainstream churches aren’t totally immune.  We see it of course in other faiths too, and to me, extremism anywhere is abhorrent.  But   there’ll always be those who set themselves up in God’s place, to misappropriate the enthusiasm and desire of those whose only aim at the start was to serve.

Jesus knew that:  many will claim my name, he told his followers;  many will try and lead people in the wrong direction, and, yes, some people will get fooled.  We need to be on our guard, we need to test what we’re told and taught: the only true way for us is the way of the cross.  We know that God is love, and that in his love he seeks peace and healing and understanding, forgiveness and compassion and justice.  So any word that leads us away from those things, is not the word of God, however plausibly it’s preached.  We know what God wants of us, as Paul reminds us, for we have the mind of Christ. And in Philippians chapter 2 verse 6 he writes that Jesus was by his very nature God, and yet he humbled himself, taking the form of a servant.”  There’s the test we should apply, whether we’re looking inwardly at our own selves, or reflecting on the teaching others give us.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, with all your mind and strength;  and the second part of the summary of the law will then naturally follow:  and love your neighbour as yourself.  Our true love for God is bound to be revealed in our care for others, in our readiness to give and to serve in every aspect of our daily lives.  In our daily lives in which again and again, that crucial question is posed:  are you up for this, or are you not?  Will you cross the river?  Choose, life and good, or death and evil.  All that matters is this, as we come to kneel at the table set by our Servant King, whose mark is the cross:  are we people of the cross, or are we not?  Are we committed to him, are we his full-time disciples, or are we just playing at it?  This man wants first place in my life, or no place:  will I do that - will I make my best stab at it, anyway?  And will you?

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Slow Burn

A poem in process . . .

You spent long enough
piling the brushwood into place,
getting it just right. You don’t need
too much oxygen in the early stages. Oh, there’s
no smoke without fire, maybe,
but since you didn’t want too much fire too soon,
for now there’s hardly a wisp of smoke.

Meanwhile, the sun continues to shine,
just another Monday, like all the others,
traffic queuing on the M6, children
climbing aboard a yellow bus, while in the park
ducks squabble over bread on the pond.

So, Monday morning: coming up to nine o’clock.
The accident at junction 12 has become a
traffic report, three miles of tailback; the
children climb down the steps, leave their bus
to chatter between the iron gates, new term,
same stories; and the ducks are dabbling elsewhere,
having abandoned the last few stale crusts
to their friends the fish.

And I am just heading home. It’s a nice morning.

Meanwhile, the brushwood smoulders gently,
and no-one notices, no-one yet can
even smell the smoke. But in any case,
this is a controlled fire,
not someone trying to set the world alight;
the rest of humanity can get on with their Monday.
This fire is set along my way home,
and you have set it so well: it is
carefully hidden, carefully aimed.

One minute everything was sunny,
and the world was candy-sweet;
the next, I am surrounded by flames
(out of nowhere, so why am I not surprised?)
and I seem to be catching fire so quickly -
though, truth to tell, you knew (I’m sure)

that I was already caught.

Monday, 5 September 2016

On Picnics and Self-Offering

A sermon given at All Saints, Worthen and at New Street United Church, Welshpool, on the feeding of the 4,000 from Matthew chapter 15 :-

Mostly when I go on a picnic, it’s just me, or me and the wife, or maybe the two of us plus daughter, son-in-law and our three grandchildren. That’s quite enough, I find. I’m not one for big do’s, not really. I only go to big do’s under protest. I seem to recall a few deanery and diocesan events that involved picnics, over the years. I went to Buckingham Palace once, but even that was only 1,000 or so. 4000 seems a little excessive, I must say. Theologians may argue about whether the feeding of the 4000 and the feeding of the 5000 are one event remembered twice and told twice, or two different events. But that’s not important to us today. The simple facts are what matter: 4000 plus people are hungry and in need of feeding. There is nothing like enough food to go round. But they all get fed, and there’s even a load of food left over at the end. Oh, and Jesus was there - that seems to have something to do with the fact that the impossible somehow became possible and got done.

So it’s a miracle. Now I’m not big on miracles, and nor was Jesus. Confused? He certainly did an awful lot of them. But here are three important things: firstly, that often when he did something amazing he told people to keep quiet about it, not that they did, always; secondly, that there was nothing unusual in a rabbi, a respected teacher of that day, performing miracles, particularly miracles of healing; and thirdly, it seems to me that Jesus explicitly ruled out any thought of dazzling people into belief by performing stupendous miracles. When tempted in the wilderness, he refused to turn stones into bread, even though that could have been a great way of feeding not only himself but all kinds of hungry folk, and he refused to leap from the pinnacle of the temple, which surely would have dazzled the crowds when angels appeared to bear him up and save him. And he spoke against those who asked him for signs.

So I’m not big on miracles per se; it’s what the miracles are for, what they’re doing, what they show us about God and about ourselves, that’s what draws me in. And I think this story of the feeding of the four thousand, this great feast conjured out of almost nothing - this is a marvellous and complex story which takes us into the heart of God.

So let me touch on a few special features in this story, beginning with the fact that this is already a place where the love of God is being powerfully felt. Broken people are being mended, and, as they see what is happening around them, people are coming to faith in a new way, and they are praising God.

And we see the compassion of Jesus, not only in the miracles of healing he performs, but in his care for all the people gathered there, that they should be provided for, that they shouldn’t be sent away empty. Hospitality is an important duty in Middle Eastern cultures. Of course they must be fed. “So how are we going to do this?” asks Jesus.

Of course the disciples have no answer. Or they do, but it’s an answer far too small for the question. It’s ridiculous. They do have some food, but nothing like enough - seven loaves and a few fish, and them only tiddlers. But here of course is the main and deciding feature of the story - their puny, insufficient offer is accepted. “No, lads, that’ll do,” says Jesus, in effect “Let’s see where it gets us!”
Then he gives thanks, and shares the food. He does nothing flashy, no pass of the hands, no incantation; he speaks the normal thanksgiving words - the writing here is quite deadpan. And yet they are all fed! What happened? How was it done? We can ask that if we like, but it’s not important. What is important is this: God makes what needs to happen possible.

God makes what needs to happen possible. Not out of nowhere, but beginning with what we offer him. Ah, no, it is a bit more than that: beginning when we offer him all we have. What if the disciples had said - just think about this - “We’ve got seven loaves and a few small fish; if we split the four loaves between us, and maybe keep half the fish, could you see what you might manage with the rest?”

Of course, Jesus could have fed those people with a single loaf and a single fish; maybe even with nothing - with God, all things are possible. But this isn’t that kind of miracle; this is a miracle that challenges his Church into action, a miracle that begins with us. If we offer what we have, all we have, to him, amazing things happen. “Lord take me and use me, put me to what you will,” that’s the prayer John Wesley made, that Methodists continue to say each new year within their covenant service. The hymn writer Frances Ridley Havergal understood that need for total giving of self - remember her most famous hymn, “Take my life and let it be dedicated, Lord, to thee.” It includes this daring and foolhardy line, “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold.”

How ready are we to do that? But here is the experience of the disciples that day, and the experience of disciples of Jesus ever since: what we can offer may seem too small; we may think we don’t have the strength, the skill, the numbers, the resources . . . but it’s not what we offer that matters, but that we give all we can. God takes what we give and multiplies it, that’s the promise of this parable; our small offering is made sufficient to the task, provided we give wholeheartedly, provided we set our own shoulder to the wheel.

Bishop Stephen Cotterill, the Bishop of Chelmsford, has rightly said, “Whatever we pray for, we have to be prepared to do.” It wasn’t enough for the disciples simply to want Jesus to do something about those four thousand would-be picnickers, they had to be part of the solution themselves. Even if all they had was seven loaves, they had to be part of the solution - and what they had was enough. It’s no good hoping someone else will do it, or even praying someone else will do it.

And, for what it’s worth, here’s my take on miracles. Miracles do happen, and they happen all around us. Wherever the little love we can give gets tied into the great big huge wonderful love of God, miracles happen. Miracles don’t happen instead of what we do, they don’t happen so that we won’t have to do it, they happen because of what we do, because of what we offer, because of what we feel, and of course because of what we pray. They are love making a difference, love changing lives, feeding hearts. We serve, praise, proclaim, worship the God of love; he is always wanting to make miracles happen among us. What we offer to him is what opens the way for him to work his will among us. He is waiting on us, as he says in Revelation, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” We may think we’re too small and weak for the task, but hear what Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Amen.