Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Man Sat On The Wall

I enjoyed a sunny dog walk in the late morning today.  As I neared home, I met a Muslim taxi driver who parks in the road outside the church. We've met before and exchanged pleasantries.

Today our hellos led to something more. We sat next to each other on the wall and talked candidly and openly. The wall didn't divide us. Instead, it was a place that allowed us to meet as equals, as fellow pilgrims.

He talked about his Muslim faith. He spoke about seeing himself more as a cultural Muslim now, but those stories and traditions are part of his own story and therefore have enormous depth and meaning for him still. He talked using the language of a spiritual seeker - he spoke how he valued meditation and I spoke about how contemplation and silence are a strong strand within my own faith and I suspected within some Islamic traditions too. We talked expansively about the similarities and differences between Islam and Jesus' way.

We touched on who Jesus includes and excludes - especially how Jesus sought to reach out to those on the edge socially, culturally and religiously; on Jesus' response in scripture to other faith traditions; on shared stories in our scripture; and the three words for love in Greek and how as a Christian I'm called to consciously choose to enact agapé to all. I spoke about Jesus showing that by washing his disciples' feet - something which seemed to move and impress my new friend deeply. I spoke about how Christian faith, for me at least is not about assenting to propositional theology, but about following the Way, living a lifestyle. How do I do what Jesus did or say what He said?

He spoke about how peaceful he found the Garden of Remembrance in our churchyard and how he liked to sit on the bench there. I spoke about that place being somewhere that gained meaning by being a place of memory and story, but it also being a place where people have ultimately encountered God as we have entrusted those who are beloved to His care and keeping.

I invited him to sit there any time, but also to feel free to sit in church. This invitation seemed to move him again. I talked about that peacefulness he feels being the presence of God.

One of those amazing chance encounters that remind me of Jesus encounter with the woman at the well. Here was someone thirstily seeking the water of life.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Addressing the District Council.

Tonight I had the privilege (& I mean it) of addressing Three Rivers District Council before their meeting and leading them in prayer. Here's what I tried to say.


One of the privileges of ministering in the Church of England is the parish system. This means I have a responsibility to look out for the welfare and wellbeing of all who live in Mill End, Heronsgate, West Hyde and Maple Cross. Sometimes that will involve speaking up for the people in the communities I serve, especially when they are faced with injustice. Sometimes that will involve working with you (as councillors). Sometimes when those in most need are affected through the loss of community facilitates (whether that be bus routes or community sports facilities) that will involve me speaking out.

I was reminded of all of that when I was at a meeting in Maple Cross last night where we discussed extending the reach of the Rickmansworth foodbank and establishing a new Community Cafe to seek to provide a hot meal to local families who otherwise wouldn't easily have access to that during school holidays.

You might say that as a representative of the church I should stay away from decision making like that as it sounds overtly political. But I cannot but seek to when the one I follow, namely Jesus, calls me to love my neighbour as myself.

The way that Jesus teaches its all about relationships with neighbours whoever they are, whether they are refugees, asylum seekers or EU nationals.

One of my heroes of faith, Desmond Tutu once said 'the Gospel for a hungry person is bread.' Bread could be housing, education or access to health care - it's about practically meeting the need of those most in need in our communities.

I look forward to continuing to working with you to ensure that those in greatest need get support because Jesus tells us to and because it's the humane thing to do.

Let us pray.
Almighty God, you have created the heavens and the earth and made us in your own image: teach us to discern your hand in all your works and your likeness in all your children; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Living God, deliver us from a world, counties and communities without justice and a future without mercy; in your mercy, establish justice, and in your justice, remember the mercy revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Stranger In A Strange Land - Reflections on Psalm 137

Psalm 137
1By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, ♦
when we remembered Zion.
2As for our lyres, we hung them up ♦
on the willows that grow in that land.
3For there our captors asked for a song,
our tormentors called for mirth: ♦
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’
4How shall we sing the Lord’s song ♦
in a strange land?
5If I forget you, O Jerusalem, ♦
let my right hand forget its skill.
6Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you, ♦
if I set not Jerusalem above my highest joy.
7Remember, O Lord, against the people of Edom
the day of Jerusalem, ♦
how they said, ‘Down with it, down with it,
even to the ground.’
8O daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, ♦
happy the one who repays you
for all you have done to us;
9Who takes your little ones, ♦
and dashes them against the rock.

Aside from the challenging images in the latter verses of the psalm, verses which the ASB (Alternative Service Book - an earlier version of the Church of England’s liturgy) bracketed off, I was reminded today as I was at a Quiet Day led by our Bishop on the Psalms, that the verses of Psalm 137 speak to the contemporary church.

It also made me think of a certain Iron Maiden song...

The writer picks up on the idea of being far from home; somewhere which is unknown. There is a lack of identity; a dislocation from the community’s story; where language and customs are meaningless and all this is held by a small group. It feels vulnerable and precarious.

The danger, in those occasions, is to give up. To hang up our lyre as it were; to no longer sing the songs or retell the stories; to allow meaninglessness to prevail.

The writer looks back to a former time in Jerusalem where this all made sense and the exiles were home. The issue with living like that is that we end up longing for former things. '... God is not the God of the dead but of the living...' '... Behold I make all things new...'

How do we live as exiles - as people of monotheistic faith in a pluralist and sometimes hostile landscape - live without looking backwards? How do we live in the now shaped by the God who was, who is and who is to come? How do sing the songs and tell the story now, without wishing to give up?

What scripture speaks into that? The Emmaus road account - walking away from Jerusalem into a new reality where Jesus is not dead but alive? The burning bush - from there Moses is sent by God on with God’s people.

The Psalmist talks with passion about not forgetting Jerusalem and the associated stories and centre of faith to give confidence to their present.

What of the church in 21st century England? Are we in exile? In many ways we are in a strange land. A place and time where the stories and songs of our faith make little sense except to a smaller community. Do we entrench? Do we give up? The psalmist would encourage us not to. We are to remember the heart of our faith with its customs and songs but to live in the present - the eternal moment that Elliot hints at in Little Gidding - knowing that the One who was and is and is to come is there too.

It leaves me with thoughts about faithfulness and about discipline. There is no hint in this psalm (or in Judaism per se) of the need for evangelism. There isn’t a sense from the psalmist that they better seek new recruits in this strange place of exile because unless they do they will die. Rather the psalm, for the Christian, hints at a return not to a place but into a relationship - with God - through Jesus Christ. What does this psalm say in a church driven by a growth agenda and Renewal and Reform?

God of our pilgrimage,
you sent your Son to our strange land
to bring us home to you;
give us your songs to sing,
that even in our exile
we may be filled with the breath of the Spirit
of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

A Growing Faith. A Growing Church.

I'm thinking a lot these days about church growth. I am convinced that the church grows when God wills it. In some senses that's the stop and start of it.

There are things that we can be engaged in that open us up to being formed by God and therefore open to growth ourselves. As St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:6: '...Paul planted, Apollos watered, but it is God who gives the growth...'

We should be disciplined and diligent in prayer. Prayer places us intentionally in the presence of God and as we share our hopes and dreams with God, so He shares His with us. Prayer can happen anywhere - on our own as we walk the dog; with others in a small group; dwelling in silence together listening for the voice of God. If you're unsure how to pray why not join me/us across the week (Monday 7.30am12noon/4pm; Tuesday 8.45am/12noon/4pm; Wednesday 8.45am/12noon; Thursday 7.30am/12noon/7pm & Saturday 9.30am.) You can find the liturgy we use available here or here.

Immersing ourselves in Scripture enables us to become more familiar with the story of our faith and thus building resilience and confidence. Engaging with Scripture also opens us up - along with prayer - to the ways and purposes of God. Reading scripture for scripture's sake is a good thing, but then to spend time with others' wisdom (through Bible notes or a course or conversation) forms us in faith.

The Sacraments.
The Sacraments are about revealing outwardly the grace of God at work within us. Thus seeking Baptism and Confirmation; partaking regularly in Holy Communion; offering and receiving prayer for healing by anointed with Holy Oil; looking to be reconciled with those whom we have let down and with God are all about building and reshaping relationships. Traditionally, the church talks of Sacraments of Service, which will usually refer Ordination and Marriage. Those two sacraments are not for everyone and they are a specific and particular call - but service more generally, seeking to put our faith into action, to serve and love one another is fundamental in following the way of Christ, and shaping community.

Faithfully living this way forms us in faith, calls us to be disciples, keeps us attentive to our Teacher, and opens us up to being signs of the Kingdom where God sets us.