Monday of Holy Week

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

John 12.1-8

A Prayer for Ukraine

God of peace and justice,
we pray for the people of Ukraine today.
We pray for peace and the laying down of weapons.
We pray for all those who fear for tomorrow,
that your Spirit of comfort would draw near to them.
We pray for those with power over war or peace,
for wisdom, discernment and compassion
to guide their decisions.
Above all, we pray for your precious children,
at risk and in fear,
that you would hold and protect them.
We pray in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
Amen.

 

Birds

A ‘Thought for the Day’ for Black Cat Radio, February 2022

Did you take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch last weekend? I wasn’t able to, but I often have in earlier years. The idea is to count birds in your garden or a park so that we can get a picture of how birds are doing. Shockingly, we’ve lost 38 million birds from UK skies in the last 50 years, so it really is vital we do all we can to look after our birdlife.

I’m not at all an expert on birds but I do enjoy seeing them. I have bird feeders and a bird bath in the garden, and it’s really increased the numbers we get. It’s mostly sparrows and starlings, but also some blackbirds and the occasional robin or blue tit. It hasn’t taken much to get more birds into the garden, and they really brighten the place up. They also got me laughing when I saw a small starling squeeze itself with great difficulty in and out of a guard that was supposed to only allow entry to sparrows.

The natural world needs our help these days, with the problems of climate change and the loss of places for wildlife to live. This is important to many Christians because we believe that God made this world and loves it and has put human beings in charge of taking care of it. In fact, there’s a scheme to encourage churches to become more environmentally friendly, and lots of churches have taken it up. Churches are moving to environmentally friendly electricity, reducing water usage, putting up bird boxes and creating wild areas in churchyards.

All of us can help to look after the world we’ve been given and try to pass it on to future generations in a good condition. There’s a lot of natural beauty all around, and it would be really sad to lose it. Nature is also good for our mental health and that’s more important than ever these days.

I know it’s a bit late for new year’s resolutions, but there’s no law against February resolutions, so can I suggest seeing if we might all be able to make some change to help wildlife? Even just a saucer of water might make all the difference and help us fulfil our role as carers of the natural world.

Take care
Mel

Light in the Darkness

Christmas Eve 2021

This sermon is partly based on an article by Nick Baines, which you can find here.

Isaiah’s mad idea

Nearly three thousand years ago Isaiah wrote words that must have sounded like nonsense to his audience: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.”

It sounds lovely in a setting like this, but what about when we leave here and go back into everyday life?

Well, Isaiah was addressing people who were fearful about the future.

They belonged to a small territory which was always under political, economic, and military threat from neighbouring powers.

The question these people faced every day was how to ensure their security and freedom in an uncertain world, in which the future was often shaped not by themselves, but by others.

Each day was a bit of a gamble.

Isaiah, though, wants his people to remember who they are, what they’re about and where they’ve come from.

And, running through their story, was an apparently ridiculous idea that, however dark their circumstances became, the light of God’s presence couldn’t be snuffed out.

Not just God’s presence when everything was going well for them, but when the darkness descended, and the future seemed to be shutting down.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

 

A challenging time

This time last year I was here recording this service in a nearly empty church as we were in lockdown, at the end of a challenging year.

Then 2021 came along, promising much before delivering little.

Promises of a return to ‘normal’ gradually got forgotten as the world came to terms with continuing uncertainty and new Covid variants.

We continued to learn that human beings cannot control everything and are not invincible rulers of the world.

Infections, illness, bereavement, death, isolation can’t be organised according to convenience.

But the interesting thing here is that this is exactly the sort of world Isaiah wrote in and into which a baby was born in Bethlehem.

The story of Christmas is not essentially about making us feel comfortable, but, rather, about God joining us in our difficult world.

The real world we know and enjoy and endure.

Darkness is part of that reality and can’t be avoided.

This in itself sounds a bit miserable, but the Christmas story continues to surprise us.

For it invites us to look for the light that is there when the going is tough, and the gloom seems all-powerful.

One of the radical challenges the grown-up Jesus would bring to his people was simply this: don’t just look for the presence of God when all is well, your problems are solved, or you think all is going to be OK in the world; look for the presence – the light – of God even when the darkness persists.

In terms of Jesus’s first friends, this sounded like: “Can you spot the presence of God in your world even while you remain under Roman military occupation, your freedoms are curtailed, illness is all around and the chances of your children surviving infancy are pretty low?

 

God wins

This is why I think Christmas should be a great celebration.

It rejects the idea that darkness always wins.

It dares to see past appearances to angels bringing good news, a young woman giving birth to the Son of God under enemy occupation, shepherds dropping everything to come and see, foreigners setting out on long journeys to bring gifts and worship.

This isn’t some fanciful story just meant to make us feel good; rather, it takes the world seriously, looks tragedy in the eye, and still insists that this is where God is to be found.

The people who first heard the news that God had come into the world weren’t the ones you’d expect.

They were people whose work meant they couldn’t meet all the religious requirements that were expected of them.

They were foreigners and pagan stargazers who didn’t even come to the right place at first.

They were the local people of this small place called Bethlehem.

These weren’t people who had found all the answers, but they knew the daily struggle to survive in a difficult and confusing world.

And it was to them that God appeared in Jesus, interrupting the routine of the everyday and hinting that the darkness doesn’t get to have the last word after all.

And it’s to us that God appears now.

In darkness and in light God appears, to the tired, the confused, the worried, and the unsure, as much as to the confident, the eager, and the happy.

God is still here, constantly fighting with us and for us against the darkness, bringing light in unexpected places and in unforeseen ways, just as he did among the people of a Middle Eastern village.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us, and authority rests upon his shoulders.

Thanks be to God!