Kenilworth

220px-Elizabeth_I_in_coronation_robesIts battlements stand tall above the Warwickshire countryside. The high towers and stout walls of Kenilworth Castle tell out England’s turbulent history. The ghosts of knights, squires and damsels walk the bowers and cellars.

Today, this mighty citadels lies in ruins with its portals toothless, its doors gone and the cannon ports empty.

Yet one feature remains and it is a testimony to love not war.

For, in July 1575, Robert Dudley played his final card in wooing Elizabeth the First. Not for him roses and chocolates. Instead, when she arrived at his home at Kenilworth she was greeted by actors making speeches and trumpeters ‘trumpeting’. Similar acts of extravagant devotion when on for 3 weeks. All to no avail, for the sovereign remained unwed. However, she was grief-struck when Dudley died 13 years later and kept his last letter with her ever after.

Nowadays there is only one witness to this overindulgence. It is a beautiful garden kept just as the Queen saw it those centuries before.

I was thinking of the love between Elizabeth and Dudley as I sat eating an ice cream on the castle’s green when a lady visitor from the United States approached. She wanted to talk to my dogs. She had 3 back home and she missed them very much. Perhaps then whether we live in a grand palace or a humbler house, the greatest motivation of creator and created is love. Since it alone makes life a garden or an empty shell.

 

Painting the future

old&young

The artist opened her paint box, dampened her brush and started. Before her was a handsome half-timbered house complete with moat and gatehouse. She worked on in that hot summer’s day. The picture developed but did not show the many visitors who trooped passed. She disliked their intrusion with garish tops and shorts into this piece of Tudor history.

Then she sighted an old man in straw hat and linen jacket stop and gaze at the house. He was perfect for inclusion just at the bridge over the moat.
Soon she finished her work as the shadows drifted towards afternoon. So, she collected her gear and arose. To her surprise, there beside her was the gentleman she had portrayed.

 

They talked, and she asked if he knew the house well.

‘Yes’ he replied ‘many years ago I lived here’.
‘My uncle once owned it and I stayed each summer as a boy ‘. ‘Do you miss it?’ asked the artist.

‘Yes, but you can’t turn the clocks back. Now it’s the property of the tourists who pay for the upkeep’.

 

He paused and said: ‘Why don’t you paint it again including the visitors-that’s the picture of the future?’

 

A few minutes later he left with the first picture and the painter started again remembering that time runs in only one direction.

Prayer

Lord, be with me

when I cannot face change.

Come me if I must change.

Inspire me to change

for the future,

your future

our future together

Amen 

 

 

God the artist

blossom-200933_1920.jpg

 

God what a riot you must have had creating the world

Like letting loose with a giant box of crayons

Dabbing some orange here, some yellow there, big blobs of red and green and blue for good measure

And then defining the broad strokes with precision and fine detailing creating boundaries that separate, not to exclude but so that each enhances the other.

Colours that constantly change in the light, fading in and out, taking centre stage in some moments and fading into the background, quietly supporting, in others.

And, whether in public view or hidden away, still your glory shines through in all its marvellous detail.

And we, on whom you place so much value, worry that we can’t compete for your love, when all the time, you give us all that we need – and more, to share.

God give us your generosity and compassion so that we may never withhold from others the richness you have given us for the life of the world.

 
by Liz Crumlish, Path of Renewal      14067517_1231295756911936_1391560983021297587_n

Deck Chair

woman on deck chair

The woman sat on the deck chair looking out to sea and imagined a far-off ship going to the tropics. There it would find the warmth she had never experienced. She enjoyed a good life in a material sense at least. In personal relationships, she had been less fortunate. And so, she could buy a gift for anyone but had no one to give it.

 

A child run across the beach carrying an inflatable ball. Something attracted the youngster to the woman. So, she threw the ball towards her. Affronted by the girl’s forwardness, she was tempted to retreat into her book with a glower. Instead, the woman sent the ball through the air and into grateful hands. For a minute, they amused each other as they played out a game. Then the girl gave a shy smile and ran off to somewhere unknown.

Brightened, the woman looked around and saw couples, families and groups enjoying shared companionship. She should have felt excluded but somehow, she had reconnected with the human race. That was enough.

 

The ship upon the grey ocean dropped below the horizon.

 

Prayer

Lord, when we are lonely,

Send us companionship.

When we are alone,

be at our side.

When we are in company,

Hear our thanks

 

Amen

Taken from Summer Postcards available free at Wattpad.

summer_postcards

The Tree

4m1W7GThe tree remembered being planted in the churchyard those many summers ago. For he saw the young daughter of the squire slipping in a copy of that new book on ‘Pride and Prejudice’ to wile away the long sermon. This blissful rural scene was oblivious to the battles being fought on land and sea to fence in the tyrant Napoleon.

The tree brought to mind the parishioners chattering excitedly having been told of a war far away over whether humans could own humans; trees never own each other more than they can own God’s sunlight.

He then lived many summers and slept for many winters before Johnny, the blacksmiths boy, proud in his khaki uniform marched off to France.  A few months later, his family came weeping to the yard even though Johnny had no grave there.

It seems hardly any summers at all after the Great War, that his branches were swept back by a  gaudily painted plane sprouting smoke and crosses  flew overhead with another firing in pursuit. Now he saw the night sky filled with new stars, all talking to each other as they silently rotated above.

More recently, he was overjoyed when a young family came to stay in the disused church which had been  converted to a house.  They played in his shadow and touched his bark in games. And so he felt the pain even more as the chainsaw cut into his flesh to make way for another room for washing, games and fitness machines. But through it all,  he knew the sorrow for humans who neither live for summer or sleep in winter but destroy or are destroyed in ever season.

Let us pray

Lord Jesus
Remind us we are custodians
Of all living things
Not their masters
Or abusers
Just their caretakers.

Amen

The reward of praise

cross at durham cathedralPsalm 150

Have you noticed that for many authors and composers, one work in quite different

 

from all the others? To back up my thesis, I give you Shakespeare’s Tempest and Gilbert & Sullivan’s Yeoman of the Guard. The Bible too has that rather strange book of the Revelation. Also, in any anthology or collection, such items are often put at the end.

Well, today we come to the very last Psalm. Does it then show some unique feature or other? Well, on the face it, it is but another hymn to celebration and thanks-giving. However, with a bit of thought, it dawns on us that it doesn’t actually give a personal reason for this upwelling of joy. And so, in that way, at least, it is unusual. Since most of the other Psalms do express gratitude for some specific divine gift or direct response. But this is not true for Psalm 150. It is very much a matter of ‘praising – Yes’ but ‘motives – No’.

 

Why should this be?

Well there is almost a suggestion in its lines that praise is its own reward. That praise is the obvious response to being given joy but that it also the way to find joy itself. In fact, the giving of praise in faith strengthens faith and emboldens belief. Praise then is more a question than an answer.

 

Something of this can heard in the life of John Wesley. We of course know him to be the cofounder of the Methodist Church with his younger brother Charles Wesley. Yet to achieve such a monument to faith, he had many failures. But throughout he kept enough faith to keep looking for faith. Indeed, this may have started when he was on his way to the Americas and his ship lost a mast placing it in jeopardy. Whilst most of the passengers panicked a group of Moravian Christians calmly sang hymns and psalms.  This faith searching for faith and praise search for the reason for praise impressed him hugely.

 

Many years later it was at one of their service, which he attended in a state of low depression, that he found his joy. Since as he relates:

 “In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a Moravian society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation. “

 

That phrase ‘strangely warmed’ is one of the turning points in British Church history. It could be our turning point too.

 

For there much in these days to dent faith and to diminish joy. There is much that dampens our desire for praise, for rejoicing and for celebrating. There is much that tempts us to silent ingratitude.

 

But all that flies in the face of the Psalm that is the epilogue but not the epitaph to the Psalter. For its truth above all truths is that God is our creator. That through Christ, he is our saviour. And that, through the Spirit, those in the deepest mire will find their hearts strangely warmed.

 

One hymn that I rarely slate to be sung is ‘Oh love that wilt let me go!’ The reason being that one well-known member of our Church family found it too much of an emotional trial.

 

It may well be so for you too. But its story tells of joy in the least expected place and faith found through faith.

 

For its composer, the Reverend George Matheson, was very bright academically. In fact, he graduated with first class honours when he was only 19 years old from Glasgow University.  Yet a deep tragedy was being worked out in his life. For, even as he completed his studies, he was rapidly going blind. He broke the news of his impending blindness to his fiancé.

To his astonishment and deep sadness her blunt answer came as a dagger to his heart, “I do not want to be the wife of a blind man” she said – and with that they parted.

Years later the memory of that rebuff came flooding back on the evening of his sister’s wedding who had been his assistant and companion. He recalls the pain of that night as he tells how it was that he penned his most famous hymn:

“My hymn was composed in the manse of Innellan on the evening of the 6th of June, 1882, when I was 40 years of age. I was alone in the manse at that time. It was the night of my sister’s marriage, and the rest of the family were staying overnight in Glasgow. Something happened to me, which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering.

The hymn was the fruit of that suffering. It was the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the impression of having it dictated to me by some inward voice rather than of working it out myself. I am quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes, and equally sure that it never received at my hands any retouching or correction.

I have no natural gift of rhythm. All the other verses I have ever written are manufactured articles; this came like a dayspring from on high”.

 

Here then is surely a most certain case of praise seeking a reason for praise, of a little faith searching a greater one and a rediscovery of joy in the one whose love in Matheson’s own words – wilt not let us go.

 

This Sunday then of high summer, let us give ourselves over to praise and faith and to joy. If, for you, they are in short supply may they then grow in our seasons’ warmth. If your heart however finds itself strangely warmed, let it rejoice wholeheartedly, let it luxuriate in renewing faith and let it praise God not for you can get but for whom you can give.

 

For at the end of his life of faith finding faith, John Wesley passed away repeating “The best of all is, God is with us”

So now as we close our Psalm book refreshed from its opening let us join him and George Matheson in giving praise in those very same words:

 

“The best of all is, God is with us.”

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Words

 

Psalm 30

pentecost

Last weekend was exceptional.  It also didn’t rain at the Glastonbury. Music Festival!

And so, it was in warm sunshine that Barry Gibb, the surviving Bee Gee, sang:

 

 

It’s only words, and words are all
I have to take your heart away

Well, since then I have had a week of meetings. And so, I have also had a week of words. Some crucial, some important yet others were rather uttered as routine.  For, we in the Church, have a habit of saying the most awe-inspiring words almost as clichés – the result being we really don’t think what we have said nor do we realise what we have heard. As examples, I give you the often carelessly used words of gospel and grace and mission.

 

That’s why I approach the words of today’s Psalm with such trepidation. For it would be too easy to reduce them to the arid words of God forgets me, God gets angry with me and then God sorts everything out. Thanks be to God. That’s why I must introduce three literally awesome words here and truly mean them. That’s why to get to the heart of what this Psalm means to you in your situation and me in mine, I must prefer to it as ‘The living Word’

 

Oh, you say, surely the whole Bible is the living word? And I would reply it depends on how you read it.

For some will read the bible like a legal or academic text. We can read it as merely a dusty tome of ancient history and lofty moral advice.  We can even read it like the highway code. Put more bluntly, we can look at its words without imagination or empathy. But when we do that, we do not see its uniquely personal message to us. We do not hear Christ’s voice uniquely speaking to us. We do not even believe that the living word will change our situation. Therefore, in the end, an unemotional reading of the bible leaves unfilled and unfulfilled.

 

Take our Psalm of today.

 

If we do want to get away from it being the minutes of some discussion with God, we must engage its words with emotion.  For then in its lines we find all the turmoil of the faithful mind. We sense the mental struggle between unbelief and belief in the words ‘I called and I cried to you’. We feel the emotion of drifting, of being unguided and of being abandoned. Here I am thinking of – you hid your face from me. Moreover, we join the psalmist in his fear of an angry God bent on retribution even if for a moment.

And, surely, we all know these passions in times of trial and distress.

 

Yet if we read with feeling, then the words start truly to live. They genuinely start to speak into our troubled hearts. We hear Christ calling to us in new and reassuring and liberating words. Consequently, we do grasp that, with him, our enemy whatever that might be, will be defeated. We do comprehend his healing and favour and faithfulness. Indeed, we do rediscover the word of life in the emotion of being helped to the point of dancing. Hence it is for all these reasons that the psalms, and this one in particular, sing in our hearts and make us feel better.   That’s why the psalms are not so much the word of God but the music of God.

 

Returning to the Bee Gees. Now, of course, Barry is the last surviving member of the group formed with his brothers. And you would think that being on his own and 70 years old, he would want to retire. Well this is what he says:

“I thought, That’s enough now. My bones were creaking, my knees were hurting and with everything that had happened, I thought, maybe it’s just time to be Grandad and not worry about it anymore. But music has to be played and I wanted to keep the music alive.”

 

Today we each have been given the living word music in the psalms of God. Through his living word in scripture, we each have been given encouragement to go on singing his praises in all emotional weathers. Above all, we have been given a one word more – God’s unbreakable word – his final word to us – the eternal word of Jesus Christ.

 

So, let us this morning hear God’s word to us in a modern-day psalm. For in the sunshine with rain clouds threatening, Barry Gibb sang on:

Smile an everlasting smile

A smile could bring you near to me

 

This world has lost its glory

Let’s start a brand-new story

 

Talk in everlasting words

And dedicate them all to me

And I will give you all my life

 

A single word I say

It’s only words, and words are all

I have to take your heart away

 

It’s only words, and words are all

I have to take your heart away

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are Star Dust!

WE ARE GOLDEN

We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion year old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden”

Crosby, Stills, and Nash.   

and2disk

Amazing God,

when you took Abraham by the hand

and showed him the depths of the heavens

and the endless stars

whose numbers none can count,

you had already known and named

his descendants who would outnumber

the numberless.

As the psalmist says,

“all the days ordained for me were written in your book

before one of them came to be.”

 

We are billion year-old carbon

reimagined, knit together,

fearfully and wonderfully made.

A miracle indeed,

yet more miraculous still

made in your image

as golden as the stars.

 

We are not worthy

to be called your children

yet through our Lord, Jesus Christ,

you count us worthy!

 

Lead us as you led Abraham,

to dream dreams,

to see visions,

to step out in faith,

to be swept up into your great purposes,

to be worthy of our inheritance

as heirs of the promise.

The Good Bouncer!

Psalm 23

John 10.1-4

My old school song was in Latin. And when I was taught it in primary school, we weren’t even given a translation.  So, even today, I can recite it at break-neck speed without the first idea of what it means. A tribute then to the memory of youth. A similar feat can be the ultra-swift recitation of the 23rd psalm. Since many of us were forced to learn it by heart. Yet the danger is the same as with the school song, words without understanding.

Modern_Bouncers

By Xxinvictus34535 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Let us then take time today to tease out this, the most famous of psalms. Let us take time to meet it afresh not as a memorising chore but as a friend. Let us indeed find within its refreshing depths, meaning that will get us through to those green pastures and quiet water flowing by.

 

Of course, the key word in the 23rd Psalm and indeed our lesson from John’s gospel is ‘shepherd’. Now this conjures up those overly sentimental portraits of Jesus carrying a lamb in his arms. Yet this meek and mild image is somewhat misleading. For, in the Old testament, the descriptor ‘shepherd’ was often used for a king. Therefore, we should perceive from our psalm not just God’s promise that we will get through that valley of darkness but that he has the means of doing so.  In fact, it is his rod and staff that comforts, protects and gives us peace of mind. In our personal reflection on this psalm, then, let’s swap the shepherd motif for one of a commanding power guiding us into righteousness. The right way of helping to spread tables with food, of providing overflowing cups of clean water and of ensuring safe dwelling places. That indeed means restoring the soul of a community so that we all fear no evil.

 

Let us now leap forward many centuries to meet the mind of the writer of John’s Gospel. Here again the image of the shepherd is invoked. And once more, the picture of a rather strangely Anglo-Saxon Jesus carrying an adorable lamb comes flooding into mind. Yet, once again, I must counsel caution. Ok we should continue to hold onto the powerful king concept, but I am also aware of a fly in the ointment. Since, the 1st Century Jewish listener to Christ’s teaching would have other views on shepherds. It a point I don’t often raise at Christmas. The reason being no nativity play would complete without the traditional appearance of small boys adorned with mums’ tea towels.

 

But a two thousand years ago in the Holy Land, shepherds were viewed as outsiders. They lived rough wandering lives in the hills, they didn’t go to the synagogue and they could not observe Jewish rituals.

 

Therefore, we could make our lesson from John more contempory by reading Jesus as saying – I am the good bouncer. No one comes through to God expect via my security. Some other places have real thugs on the door but with me you are safe and will be secure inside.

At first this reading is disconcerting. But then with some thought, not least of the events of the past few weeks, we can get a fresh feel for that level of comfort Christ is offering. Put directly, he is someone who rushes towards danger when everyone else is running away. Someone who will fearlessly intercept the bad before injury is caused. The person who will push into the smoke and flame to carry us to safety no matter the pain and risk to themselves.

 

Here then is an image for us to carry into the next week. The vision of a powerful and courageous Christ as our rescuer and protector; the idea of him being our fourth emergency service.

 

Talking of the fourth emergency service, I believe that the Automobile Association used that catchphrase in their advertising a few years back. I have to say, I have just paid my annual subscription that organisation and it wasn’t cheap. But when you need them, you need them. So it is with Christ the king Shepherd and Christ the guard Shepherd.  Therefore, we do need to pay our subscription. We do need know what Christ offers and be part of his security team. Moreover, need to keep in touch ready to call in any emergency.

 

There is a story told of an old vicar being asked to party. He went along but to his dismay the other guests were the rich and famous. Not surprisingly, he felt like a fish out of water. Suddenly someone had the idea that all should take part in the entertainment. A well-known pianist played entrancingly, a celebrated singer gave full voice and a great actor recited. He had just played the role of a saintly missionary and repeated the 23rd Psalm version from the script. Then it came to the minister’s turn. He protested he knew nothing except the 23rd Psalm and that had already been done. Everyone demanded he did something. Then our actor stood up and said – I knew only the Psalm’s words but you know the Shepherd himself.

 

Let us then know words less and the shepherd more. Let us talk less shepherding and rely more on the shepherd. Let us dine now with the shepherd as King and protector. For then alone will we not want for more.

 

Amen