Sunday, July 18, 2010

Circles of Prayer in Streams of Living Water

An arid waste.
No soil.
No growth.
No life.
A desert waste.

no plant of the field was yet in the earth
and no herb of the field had yet sprung up
—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth,
and there was no one to till the ground;
but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground—

a life-giving stream
to water the whole face of the ground
life in all its abundance
life in all its glory
a stream to rise from the earth

It was the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens
A stream would rise from the earth,
And water the whole face of the ground
A life-giving stream

7then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,* and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
And the Lord God planted a garden

Think of a garden.
The most beautiful garden you have ever seen.
And it is as nothing to this garden.
The garden of God’s creation.
The garden of Eden.

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east;
And there he put the man whom he had formed.
9Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches.
1The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah,
13The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush.
14The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria.
And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

A stream of life-giving water
That becomes a river
That branches out
Into all four corners of the world

The paradise of God’s creation … and yet it is spoiled by man’s inhumanity to man.
It ever has been thus.
The garden and that vision of a stream of living water so elusive – out of our reach – spoiled.

How we long to reach that vision once more …

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.When shall I come and behold the face of God?
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

As the deer pants for the water brook
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
Jesus knew what it was to thirst
I am thirsty, he cried out on the cross.
In the heat of the sun,
At mid day
And tired out by his journey
Jesus was sitting by a well

He was thirsty.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. 8

9The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)*

10Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’

11The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’

13Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’

When my soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

When the soul of each one of us thirsts for God
For the living God

We too can echo the words of that woman long ago.

We can turn to Jesus … and say with confidence,

Lord, 15give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty.’

And the water he will give will become in us a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of the city;* it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
10 ‘Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.’ 11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

how wonderful to sit beside that river … in the quietness, in the stillness, and sense God’s presence.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Isn’t this something worth sharing?
In a dry and arid land.
The vision of a river
Streams of life-giving water
Still waters, green pastures
A hope and a presence …

Is there a stream of living water that can pour out from us into the world around us … a world of such need?

There was a moment when Jesus cried out.

It wasn’t his ordinary voice.
There was an urgency about it.
He knew, he knew how thirsty people were
For something more
For that life-giving water.

And so it was he cried out,

‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,
38and let the one who believes in me drink.
As* the scripture has said,
“Out of the believer’s heart* shall flow
rivers of living water.”

What a remarkable cry it was … living water to flow from us into the world around …
This was no ordinary water,
It was the water of the spirit,
The life-giving spirit, that breathes life into the world,
It is the water that sustains,
That strengthens,
That gives new life …

Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water …

’ 39Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive

That spirit of God, unseen yet so very real that gives strength where there is weakness, life where there is no life.

What a difference that would make.
What a task for us to share.

For those streams of living water to flow from us.

What a difference that will make.

We have a vision, a vision to share.

Then the angel* showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life* with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants* will worship him; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.

A Meditation by Judi Marsh
Restoring the Sacred Centre

Lord, help me notice
all the still waters
that you lead me beside.
Restore me;
Redeem me;
Remind me
of the sacredness
that glows in silence
on Holy ground.

Hy-Spirit lead us in singing The Lord’s my shepherd

Janet Partington shares John Pritchard's meditation - the Stream

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pass it on!

I met a man who is known to all the children in Cheltenham … and yet none of them has ever seen him. Mums and Dads, and Aunts and Uncles … and even Grandparents too know when he has been about. They know when he is needed. But few if any have seen him.

And I met him on Thursday afternoon.

It was what you might call a Grand Parental afternoon. I was in charge. A pick-up from nursery … and then a visit to the bank – a fascinating experience steering a push chair with fixed wheels through the queuing arrangement for the post office upstairs in WH Smith’s, up the Promenade, bumping into Joyce Jones on the way, through the Open Air art exhibition – at 1 and a quarter, Grandson, Lake really enjoyed that. Through Imperial Gardens and on to Montpellier Gardens … and a great treat. A roundabout, a swing, a climbing frame and best of all – the railings that you could pretend you were a Lion in a cage.

Into the Garden Art Gallery for a taste of modern art – will he be an artist when he grows up, I wonder? Some might say he could have done better .. but I actually wouldn’t say that.

And then back past the back of the old telephone exchange, round by the Playhouse and into Sandford Park, a conversation with the men removing the kind of water cress that has taken over the ponds. One man had looked after those ponds for years, and then he retired last year and no one has taken on his job. But two people were doing it now. Wonderful! Across College Road and round the park … no, not to the playground. But to the back entrance to the Lido café. For a lovely cup of tea … and apple juice.

And there he was standing against the counter.

Weather beaten, his white van parked on the grass of the park. The conversation began with the weather and then quickly moved on … so do you look after the park. There are 53 playgrounds in Cheltenham, he said, and he was the one person to look after all them all and see that the play equipment. One man looking after all that equipment. And he had just returned the new bus – that’s brilliant, I said, it’s Lake’s favourite. And it’s brand new. Only been there since April. It will seat 10 and more youngsters and you can sit at the wheel and drive the bus! Wonderful.

That’s what I made through the winter, he said. So what are the place names on the bus – there are about four of them the children can change. Why aren’t they ones we recognise from the Cotswolds, I asked. That would be too dull, he said. One is where I was born in Cornwall, another is where my son lives outside Leeds, another is a place in France I go to on holiday.

Do you know, I said, one of the people in our church Marion Taylor who helps co-ordinate all the flower arranging lives in a flat overlooking Pittville Park. Her husband was an aero engineer at Staverton, and the country’s leading engineer on the Dove, an amphibious aeroplane. When he died Marion arranged for a replica Dove to be installed in the chidlren’s playground. For children to fly.

I made that, my new friend, informed me, I got all the specifications off the internet and made sure that the word Dove was there – not just painted on but gouged into the wood so it wouldn’t come off. And I have just given it a once over

And now I’m working on a tug boat but I haven’t decided where to put it.

Isn’t that wonderful. One man … no one ever sees him, but everyone knows when he’s been there. And the difference he makes is immense. And the impact he has on children immeasurable.

We owe him a big thank you.

And you don’t do all of that just because it’s your job.

Somewhere around there – is a passionate commitment to children …

I guess that’s one of the things we all celebrate today on this occasion.

A passionate commitment to children.

Friends, family – godparents – all come to this special occasion because the children in our lives matter, and for today, these two, Jamie and Matthew matter the world.

It’s also one of the things that has driven this church from the very start.

Within 25 years of its opening its first building was too small and a bigger church building built – but the first building on Grosvenor Street was then used for the next 80 years for children’s work. Sunday school, Day School, all sorts of youth groups, within 6 months of Scouting beginning nationally, home to Scouts, and then to Guides. And when in 1932 those two buildings were replaced by this building it was built in such a way as to combine on one site a church with rooms that can be used for children’s work. And they are well used through the week- from our new Baby Café on a Thursday morning, through Toddlers, to Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, Guides, and then on Tuesday evenings our own Transformers group and on Sunday evenings Hy-Tec. And we are just putting all the plans together for our summer holiday club in the week leading up to the Bank Holiday.

Big commitment – lots of people make it happen behind the scenes. It is important.

What is it that we want to pass on to these children as a church family?.

Fun and games, a safe place to play, love, care. All of this is important.

There are four things I feel passionately about and I want to share …

The starting point for me comes in something Jesus said when he was put on the spot during the course of a heated argument he was having …

Mark 12:28-31

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ 29Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’

Love God – for me that begins with an incredible wonder and awe at this incredible world we live in. I am up for hunting for fossils, looking at the stars, looking through a lens at an incredible world in miniature. A sense of awe leads me to the sense of one greater than anything I can see – the God who is above all, and beyond all and in all. That sense of wonder and awe and a sense of something beyond. That’s something I want to pass on.

Love your neighbour. If this is God’s world we care for it … and we care for one another in it. Everything else follows on from that. Let’s look out for each other. Be there for each other. Help each other all we can. Love one another. And there’s no bounds to who your neighbour is. The most unexpected person, the least likely person, the least likeable of people. That’s something to explore, and develop and tease away at.

The next thing I want to pass on to children through church is the space for some extra dimension in their lives. I feel passionately that our children need a sense of a spiritual dimension. For children growing up the world is full of noise, sometimes that noise can be troubling. It is full of busyness with a busy round of activities to do and things to go to … there are things to learn and to grow. It’s great seeing the things that they do in nursery, and engaging with others. Lake met a little girl from nursery on the bus. She just wanted to kiss him … he wasn’t into that at all. Then to school … and it’s a round of learnig and growing. But great pressures. Testing regimes, exams, schools pressured into giving first priority to the league table. The world children are growing up into is a scary world … not least with everything that’s going on at the moment.

And all those responsible for children recognise in some way or other the need for something deeper. Scouting has recently published a booklet for leaders – Rising to the Challenge – exploring spiritual development in scouting. At the beginning the booklet quotes the purpose of scouting ‘to contribute to the development of young people in achieving their full physical, intellectual, social and spiritual potentials.”

Under spiritual potential the identify five key principles.

develop an inner discipline and training
be involved in corporate activities with others
understand the world around them
help to create a more tolerant and caring society
discover the need for prayer and worship, both personal and shared.

That last one is the one I feel is valuable – and I want to share. And we share it in all sorts of different ways.

The thought that we can in prayer link in and relate to the God we hold in such awe – that this God is there with us in our praying. I like the activity of all that goes on in children’s work … I like the quiet too.

Transformers finishes by bringing the children into this space. There is something special. It’s the way most Sundays finish for me … as I come in at the end of Hy-Tec – and join in the finish. Worship with the band – and then a circle around the table – in the dark. And the quiet.

And that prayer is important.

Something to pass on to children … the notion that we can chat with God, as Becky put it, that God is close …

And that brings me to that final thought. For me all of this is wrapped up in one person whose story is very precious and can make a real difference. Jesus. What he teaches makes a difference, but also his presence with us, a friend. Can’t see him – but somehow we know he’s around. And he invites us to use words that I was taught as a child, taught at school, and words that are precious. The family prayer – worth passing on

Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name - that’s the awe and the wonder
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven - that God’s values take hold
Give us this day our daily bread - that daily needs are met
And forgive us our trespasses - the God we believe in is loving, forgiving
As we forgive those who trespass against us – a forgiveness we reflect
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil - a God who protects and guides us
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory – awe and wonder
Forever and ever. Amen. - is where we finish


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Restoring the sacred centre ... peace! be still!

As you walk down the steps from the ruined abbey on the cliff top above Whitby, you come to the parish church. It is unique. Built by shipbuilders from the port at the foot of the cliffs, as you look up at the ceiling you are looking at the underside of the deck of a boat from one of the boatyards.

Felicity introduced me to a link to a cycle of prayer for the countries of the world that over the years I have found helpful. It bears the logo of the World Council of Churches, a boat on the sea.. It is an image taken up by churches together in this country too.

I like that image.

It works in all sorts of ways.

But today I want to explore one particular way.

And it starts with that wonderful account of Jesus asleep in a boat as he crosses the Sea of Galilee.

Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’

Leaving the crowd behind.

Jesus came to make a difference to the world. His mission was to reach out wherever there was need. IT was something he could not and did not want to do on his own. He had called the twelve to follow him, to be his disciples. He had just shared lots of stories with a massive crowd of people all of whom were anxious to learn more, to receive his healing ministry, and to discover the wonders of the kingdom of God.

There was a buzz of excitement as Jesus, with the the twelve shared with the massive crowd so much.

But there came a moment when it was necessary to leave the crowd behind.

And leaving the crowd behind they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.

I wonder whether there is an image there of something of what church is about. As followers of Christ our task is to be involved in the world, in the neighbourhood, be it with friends, neighbours, in work. In whatever setting we are in part of our commitment as Christians is to live out our faith, to embody this wonderful love of God. We are involved as it were with the crowd – with all those needs. Think of needs, people you are concerned for, issues that challenge you, the issue we have had shared with us today from the Knole and Langley House trust. It is a mass of needs – a crowd that sometimes feels as if it crowds in on us.

There comes a moment when we need to leave the crowd behind and gather together with those who share our Christian commitment. We need to get into the boat.

Let’s see church, this place, as that boat. And the key thing is that we have Jesus with us. His presence is with us.

But as we gather in here we are not unaware of the troubles around us in our world. Sometimes we can be even more intensely aware of those troubles. If we had not come this morning, we wouldn’t have learned about the Knole, we wouldn’t have been thinking about those in prison and their needs. We are conscious of a world around us in turmoil.

A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.

It seems like that. And when we are aware of the troubles in the world we sometimes wonder, where is Jesus?

It is telling in this story - he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.

The reaction of those disciples is the reaction we can sometimes have.

They woke him up and said to him, Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing.

Where is Jesus? We want to wake him up. Shake him vigorously.

Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing.

He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, Peace Be still.

Then the wind ceased and there was a dead calm.

But the real world is not like that.

Or is it?

I believe that there is something that can happen here in this place as we ‘leave the world behind’ are aware of the storms, and summon Jesus to be with us.

That voice of calm can speak into the world we find ourselves in.

Peace! Be still! can be so real.

Drive down the motorway and around the services what you don’t realise is that you drive between two major prisons. To the left is Leyhill, an open prison. John Hunter, now turned 80 and still in ministry at our church in Frampton is part of the chaplaincy team at Leyhill. He started there more than 20 years ago when he had to do a placement on our training course for ministry and he chose to do it at Leyhill. It was moving to see the chapel and the role it plays.

On the opposite side of the motorway is Eastwood Park a major women’s prison. It has a noisiness, a troubled feel to it – a large proportion of those in prison there have mental health issues. But it too has a chapel.

As in Leyhill, though in a different way. It is a haven. A space where people can come. Find a listening ear. A space for thinking, for quiet and prayer. Moving to see the space that is created. In each of our prisons – seeking to give a space. The value of the chapel – in restoring the sacred centre. On both sides of the motorway, that chapel is a place of calm, where those words Peace be still are precious.

This too is such a space. In all sorts of ways. One of the things we do is to host a couple of ‘anonymous groups’ Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous. Playing a key part in helping people cope with their addictions, the people who find those groups such a help are appreciative of somewhere to meet. One of the groups invited me to join them for their time together.

They clearly valued the space they had. For them it was a haven. And the meeting had a deep spirituality to it, as they shared, listened and reflected. Each group follows that twelve step pattern pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous with its emphasis on seeking a power and a strength from beyond ourselves.

They touch something more that we are about.

Those in prison. Those imprisoned to an addiction. The value of a place of peace in the middle of a stormy life.

But not just them. Not just those over there. This is something to make a difference to each of us.

We each need a place where we can leave the crowd behind. Be in the presence of Christ. And hear him say, Peace be still.

The Brewing of Soma is a strangely timely nineteenth century poem about those who seek religious experience through various drugs, not least hashish or cannabis. Into a world that sometimes seeks religious experience in ways that can be harmful … maybe we need to hear again that still small voice of calm.

The fagots blazed, the caldron's smoke
Up through the green wood curled;
"Bring honey from the hollow oak,
Bring milky sap," the brewers spoke,
In the childhood of the world.

And brewed they well or brewed they ill,
The priests thrust in their rods,
First tasted, and then drank their fill,
And shouted, with one voice and will,
"Behold, the drink of gods!"

They drank, and lo! in heart and brain
A new, glad life began; . . .
The naked Santon, haschish-drunk,
The cloister madness of the monk,
The fakir's torture show

It is easy to fall into the trap in church of seeking to replicate the feelings, the sensuousness, that longing for experiences in what we do

And yet the past comes round again,
And new doth old fulfill;
In sensual transports wild as vain
We brew in many a Christian fane
The heathen Soma still!

But actually we have something quite different to receive and to offer.

Let’s join in singing the last part of that poem …

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard
Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word
Rise up and follow Thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love!

With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
And noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
Thy beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
-Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be numb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

John Greenleaf Whittier

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light