There is hope for your future

Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Today we remember the children who were brutally murdered at the hand of Herod because he was afraid of losing his power as king.

Here three days after the joy of celebrating the birth of Christ we are drawn back to the realities of the world where violence is the outworking of the need to control and dominate for personal gain.

Today we hear a story of a grown Man being so scared of losing his power, so scared of losing his power to a child, that he orders the massacre of innocent children to try and preserve himself.

Herod would do anything to get what he wanted. To be able to keep what he had.

Jesus born in stable came to sacrifice himself for others, Herod sacrificed others for himself.

In the story we see Joseph receiving a warning from an angel to leave and flee to Egypt to escape the destruction of Herod, Joseph didn’t think twice about listening to his dreams as he had experienced this advice before. Joseph guards and protects the Holy family from the sickening decision of Herod – there was hope for their future.

The Gospel says that Herod was infuriated, that he had been deceived. Herod’s power and decisions had been questioned and ignored, and his wrath came with the spilling of innocent blood, a scene portrayed by the haunting words of the Prophet Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord:

A voice is heard in Ramah,

   lamentation and bitter weeping.

Rachel is weeping for her children;

   she refuses to be comforted for her children,

   because they are no more.

Thus says the Lord:

Keep your voice from weeping,

   and your eyes from tears;

for there is a reward for your work,

says the Lord:

   they shall come back from the land of the enemy;

there is hope for your future,

says the Lord:

   your children shall come back to their own country.

Here after following the star we now see the shadow of the cross emerging from the light.

Jesus born in stable came to sacrifice himself for others, Herod sacrificed others for himself.

Yet in this terrible violence in this awful death we see the hope for the future, the hope for the little ones that we killed by Herod’s wrath, and that hope is Jesus who after his own death went down and brought the children home to him and there was no more weeping and he will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

The message from the Angel to Joesph is a message to us all to keep watch for the Herod’s in our lives, who are the ones that fear losing their power and control that they would do anything to stop that.

Who can we protect who have no voice, who cannot cry out, who cannot fight back.

Jesus came into the world to bring us closer to him, to show us not to follow people who are in it for themselves, who can ignore the weeping and fear of others. Help us Lord to see the hope for our future, to see your hope in us as we live out that hope in the face of the tragedies that are in the world around us. Help us to be your hands and feet, to be the light in the darkness, help us to think of others and not just ourselves.

Jesus born in stable came to sacrifice himself for others, Herod sacrificed others for himself.

Amen.

Prepare the way of the Lord

Yesterday my children and I took a trip into Manchester. It was wildly busy as always streets filled with people especially around market street. It’s pretty much guaranteed around market street to see groups of people asking for petitions to be signed, surveys to be filled in etc and there is always one or two religious street preachers who feel that this is the place to state their theological position on certain matters.

As I walked through with my children we came across three different street preachers. One stated that everyone was brainwashed by Satan with a huge sign, another ran through the crowd singing “he’s got the whole world in his hands” and another was sharing his viewpoint on all sexual relationships.

As today is second Sunday of Advent we think about the prophets that prepared the way of the Lord, and as I observed these three different individuals that I came across in Manchester I wondered why anyone would want to come to church at all if this what people saw every day!

We wandered into St Ann’s square and went to see the sculpture of the homeless Jesus outside St Ann’s church. There in the stillness I watched my son approach the sculpture and put his fingers into the wounds of Jesus’ feet, he peered into the hooded face, and we looked at this depiction of the son of God cold, alone, and vulnerable.

Here I saw the Christmas story and the Easter in one moment.

Jesus born into the poverty of a stable, vulnerable, fragile, wrapped in whatever could be found for warmth, with his tired homeless parents, and Jesus dying hanging on a cross, cold, alone, vulnerable.

The Gospel today proclaims prepare the way of the Lord make his paths straight.

This is the Lord that we are preparing the way for, one who came to us in utter vulnerability, in humility, as Isaiah pours out in poetic proclamation, Jesus is the shoot of hope that came from the cutting down of the tree, the root that stands as a signal to the peoples, and as the psalmist declares, he defends the poor among the people, delivers the children of the needy.

This is the signal that needs to be proclaimed, this is how we prepare the way of the Lord, not by shaming people into tick box criteria, something that John the Baptist sees in the Pharisees and the sadducees, John echos the prophet Isaiah, the axe is lying at the root of the trees of power and control, freedom is coming, and it is time to keep watch by living out the way that Jesus came to us, through indwelling, being with us, drawing us into his humble hope.

After being with the sculpture we continued around town and made sure we spoke to the rough sleepers we came across, we gave money and company, one man had his head in his hands and when we put in some money he looked up surprised. He said he felt invisible, that he mattered to no one, that his mistakes had defined him and his future.

His words stuck with me, how in this world can we have people who feel invisible? How can we have children going to bed at night cold and hungry, how can we have an epidemic of loneliness, isolation, how?

I don’t have the answers to how to fix any of this. But Jesus does. The prophets saw that he was coming, someone, a king, one who baptises in fire and the Holy Spirit.

That fire, that majesty, is the zeal, the want, the urge to do something to engage with the mission of God, to lift up the lowly, to defend the poor, to deliver the children of the needy.

This is the king that we prepare the way for, the one wrapped in rags for warmth, in the stench of a stable, the one stripped and beaten, pierced and hung, this is the king that we prepare for the one who gave everything for love.

The earth will be full of the knowledge of the lord, the path made way of hope.

The hope that burst from the womb and the tomb.

The love that came down and opened his arms wide upon the cross.

In this second week of Advent can we think about what trees that we need to cut down in our lives to enable a clear way for Jesus to come?

What new shoots are waiting to sprout from those stumps?

What stones are waiting to be split by the Lord?

What placards do we need to put down and which people can we pick up and hold close?

Prepare the way of the Lord.

Amen.

Beautiful stones

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When I was a little girl I loved nothing more than to throw stones into the sea. My grandparents used to take me to the sea front at Llandudno and I would spend a long time picking my choice of stones from the huge piles on the shore. My favourite stones were the ones that looked like all the others but had a little bit of sparkle hidden inside of them. I used to hold them in my hand and rotate them and see the sunlight transform them into something beautiful.

When I read the Gospel set for today my attention was caught by the first sentence describing the temple being adorned with beautiful stones. Jesus is stood outside the temple and in the verses before has just watched a widow place all she owned into the temple collection, Jesus declared how she has given more than anyone else because that’s all she had.

After this, Jesus gazes at the structure of the temple and foretells its destruction. I imagine him standing there visualising the kingdom that he has come to build and seeing each of the beautiful stones that adorn the temple as the people, us, the living stones built together to make a spiritual house.

Here in today’s reading and in the offering of the widow, we have this rich imagery of beautiful stones and offerings to God, and Jesus standing in front of us calling us to embody these things.

How do we become beautiful in the eyes of Jesus?

It’s got nothing to do with how we look or what we wear it’s about whether people can see the sparkle inside us, the light that is Jesus Christ within us. The hope that he brings, the hope that he spoke into the existing foundations of the temple he gazed upon. 

The challenge for us is Can in these times of political turmoil and uncertainly, we be the light in the darkness. 

Can we offer the glimmer of hope in a time that threatens to control the hopes and aspirations of all, that tries to monetise all aspect of the coming season, can we be the voices that call out for us to slow down and gaze on our Lord like the way he hopes and gazes upon us as beautiful children loved and built up by Him.

Jesus warms us to have endurance against these times of trial, that we don’t lose our light when we are pressurised, stressed, fearful, and bereft. When these times come he is the one who strengthens us when we offer ourselves wholly, with everything that we have to give to Him.

It is in this abandonment of ourselves that our beauty shines through, like the stones I found on the beach in Llandudno that looked ordinary until the sun shone on them, 

let us be the glimmer of hope that is Jesus Christ within us, let us be the living stones, the beautiful stones that adorn our spiritual house as the body of Christ.

Lord help us to find that hope within us today and give us strength to be able to radiate that light everywhere we go this week.

Amen 

Holy Mile

Pilgrims leaving the slipper chapel

As part of the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage we all walked the Holy Mile from the slipper chapel to the Anglican Shrine. We were all given rosaries, I had my own and the idea was to pray the mysteries as we walked.

As soon as we started off walking it began to rain but we carried on. I led a full rosary of the luminous mysteries and it was surprisingly tiring. As I walked barefoot dodging the larger stones on the road, I was concentrating on how many Hail Mary’s I’d said, and having my voice loud enough to lead a large group who were also walking around me.

The rain became heavier and the tarmac spikier and once we entered the Main Street through the village the tarmac smoothed out.

There was a sense of relief, but also a feeling of immense joy walking barefoot on the waterlogged ground.

Entering the village

I looked up at the bunting that was hanging between the buildings and felt my voice become louder reciting the rosary. Here we were walking the Holy Streets of Walsingham proclaiming the heavenly words that the Angel spoke to Mary. It was beautiful and my eyes prickled with grateful tears of joy and love for this most wonderful place.

We entered the Shrine for Benediction outdoors. The rain was really coming down now, and the bells sang with joy as the blessed sacrament was processed onto the altar. What else was there to do but kneel on the soggy grass as the rain continued to fall.

Candle cups

We lit our candles and knelt in the presence of the Lord, rain continued streaming down over our faces and hands and feet, like a fresh spring of water that brought joy and refreshment.

Benediction in the rain

The rain extinguished the flames in our candle cup lights, but soon we found another flame to ignite it again. Through rain soaked eyes the blessed sacrament glowed in the fading light of the day. Minutes turned into hours as time lost all meaning in the symphony of the rain dropped orchestra.

Love rained down

Soon the bells rang again and the time of adoration finished, and just as quickly so did the rain.

Did we experience the Holy Waters of Walsingham sprinkling on us from above, instead from the well?

Did Our Lady of Walsingham stand next to Our Lord and watch, as trembling hands clutched onto candle light, as tired knees and feet bowed down in awe?

Oh blessed pilgrims we were, that on such a sweet night we were washed in Holy love.

Ask and it will be given to you

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Asking for help isn’t always easy. 

How many times have people said to us, if you need anything just ask, I’m just a phone call away, call round and we can talk, how many times have we just nodded in acknowledgment but not really taken it seriously? 

I know I have done this myself, and I’ve sat at home thinking should I take up that offer of help or will I be intruding and making myself vulnerable in the process.

Recently my personal situation has made me realise that asking for help and actually being able to accept it has been difficult, but in doing so I have experienced such amazing Grace from wonderful friends and colleagues. 

There is a fear in asking, it means stepping into that moment where we ask, and wait for a no, like the man who needs to borrow those three loaves waits for a no, and he gets one, but he is persistent, and that is the glory of the beautiful Grace of God.

In the Gospel today we hear Jesus telling us to be persistent, persistent in asking Him for help, asking the Father for His love, and asking the Holy Spirit for guidance. 

But it’s hard to persist, whether it’s the culture today or how we’ve been brought up, we’ve been taught not to nag, not to burden others, not to ask. But here Jesus cuts through all that social etiquette, he acknowledges that the man who wants to borrow the three loaves will receive them not because of friendship alone but because he is persistent. 

This parable is so relatable, I can imagine myself saying the same things if a friend came to my door and I was in my nightie, the kids were in bed, and I’d locked up the house. But I’d help because I would know it must be urgent for such a disruption. 

The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, he gives them the words to use but shows them to be persistent, to not give up, Jesus says “at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” And here we glimpse the key to personal prayer, to not give up, to be persistent in our prayers but in our prayer life too. 

This parable prophetically speaks into our attitude towards prayer, Jesus knows that we are fallen and fragile, even his own disciples fall into the temptation of sleep because they are overwhelmed with grief whilst Jesus was praying in the garden of Gethsemane, he calls them to wake up and pray, a message for us all for prayerful persistence when faced with personal suffering, grief, and the enormity of the evil that goes on in the world.

There is a stark reality of Jesus’ command to us to stay persistent to prayer in our daily lives, even when we are tucked up in bed and then realise we’ve not said compline, or reflected on our sins, or given thanks for the day. 

Do we roll over in bed thinking we can catch up tomorrow or do we feel the need to be persistent in our prayer life. 

Jesus says, commands us to Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. It’s certainly worth getting up out of bed to finish the day in prayer, to be persistent and to modal a holy persistence where our relationship with our Lord matches His persistence to keep forgiving and redeeming us daily.

We can see this pattern of Holy persistence present In the genesis reading, where we hear Abraham being persistent also with God, asking Him questions regarding God’s decision towards Sodom, Abraham asks and asks and asks, to point of where if this was a human conversation between you and I, I’m sure you would have said enough! Shut up! But not our God, he listens with patience that is immeasurable, responds in ways we couldn’t fathom, shines His grace on us unconditionally.

There is something here in this teaching that calls us to put away our pride and feelings of shame when we ask for help. Gods love blows through the boundaries set up by pride and shame, He shows us how to love like Him, freely, simply, letting our hearts be formed by His Sacred heart. My favourite model of beautiful simple love is where on the cross Jesus gives His blessed mother Mary and John to each other, as Mother and Son, united in pure holy love, breaking through the boundaries of human ideals and expectations. This is what Jesus calls us to do as we ask, to break through our rigid humanity to sit with Him regardless of what we think we should be doing.

Sometimes It is hard to do to open our hearts fully in prayer but Jesus addresses this and gives us words to help us persist, because sometimes when we pray we don’t have the words, we cannot format a sentence that articulate what we actually need. 

This is where prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Jesus prayer hold us is prayerful holy persistence. The safety blanket of repetitive words that hold us close to the Lord, that allow our hearts to communicate, the inner groans of need that cry from within, that our humanity fights to hold inside to preserve ourselves.

My prayer for you all this week is to be persistent, hold this teaching of Holy Persistence turning to the Lord again and again and again, to challenge ourselves to pray even when we feel that we would rather be doing some other task. 

Let us be patient in times of trouble and never cease praying, giving thanks to our Lord with our whole heart, ask and it will be given to you, for the Lord has overridden the law and cancelled every record of the debt that we had to pay, he has done away with it by nailing it to the cross, be persistent in the never ending, beautiful, merciful, unconditional love of our Lord, because he is persistent with us.

Amen 

I must turn aside and look at this great sight

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Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord.

This year in my back garden we have blessed by an abundant pilgrimage of gorgeous butterflies. They are not there all the time but when the sun is out suddenly they appear swooping and darting above my head. 

Their beautiful flame red wings flash in the sunlight, they manoeuvre through the air effortlessly and sometimes are joined by a partner. 

They twist and twirl in a seemingly endless dance spiralling higher and higher. It is fascinating to watch, their darting display is irresistible I have to stop whatever I am doing and just sit and admire them. 

Moses in the Old Testament reading today has a similar experience. He is minding the flock of his father in law, he has wandered through the wilderness and suddenly he sees the bright red flames of a bush that is on fire but it is not being consumed by it. 

What a sight to behold, imagine standing there watching the flickers of flames seemingly using up the kindling of the bush but nothing happening to it.

Moses turns aside, stops what he is doing and invests his attention to this miraculous event. God notices that Moses has stopped what he is doing and has gazed all his attention on what God is doing, and God calls him.

This is a brilliant model for us to see how God does things and inspires us to pay our full attention to what He is doing. 

How often do we hear stories of people’s lives being transformed by God but we turn a blind eye, perhaps become cynical, perhaps even disbelieve that God would do such a thing?

How often do we sit in the pews and hear the word of God, how often do we see the Eucharist, yet we do nothing, we say nothing, the altar is aflame with the passion and love of our God and we sit there unimpressed, we have not turned aside to witness the glory of our God right here in front of us.

Yet here in this story we see Moses stopping what he is doing and he watches and he listens.

God then tells Moses to take off his sandals because where he is is Holy. 

We can learn from this command too, we can take off the things that make us feel comfortable when we worship because wherever God is present and doing things, that place is Holy.

How might we take off our sandals when we are in the presence of our God?

Can we dare to worship with more passion, can we approach the altar with joy and thanksgiving, can we say that something has touched us, or God has spoken to us. 

Taking off the worries and things that can hinder our ability to proclaim the beauty and amazing things of the Lord is difficult. But God says to Moses take off your sandals, because where you stand is Holy, it is Holy because God is there, it is Holy because God is doing something, and we are to turn aside, to look afresh on the all consuming fire that is our God.

The thing I love about the burning bush, is that it is not consumed, and this is another lesson for us, when we feel that everything around us is pressing in, when things are tough, when life is difficult, we are not consumed by it because the God who sustains holds us through it all. We are not burnt up, we are still under pressure, but we are held in such incomprehensible Grace that we can see the light that the darkness cannot overcome.

At the end of this, Moses is sent by God to do His work, Moses is afraid, he knows his weaknesses, he doesn’t believe in himself, but God does, God says I will be with you. I will be with you. I will be with you when it is tough, when you are feeling overwhelmed, but God is also with us when we fail to notice what he is doing. He is patient, and all we need to know is that somewhere God is doing something that we cannot see, we need to be attentive, to keep our eyes open, to listen intently to Him, because in that seemingly non eventful moment, like the butterflies that twist and dance in the sun, there waiting for us is something to catch our eye and draw us into whatever God is doing. 

He is waiting for you, waiting for you to take notice, waiting for you to turn aside, and gaze on the flames that dance by his command.

This week, try and take notice of what God is doing, perhaps it won’t be as spectacular as the burning bush, but whatever it is, God is waiting for us to take notice, to listen deeply, to pay attention, to gaze on His Glory and His grace, Moses said Here I am, let that be our prayer to God this week, Here I am.

Amen 

 

 

Little girl, get up!

There’s something deep inside that has haemorrhaged for twelve years.

Myself being consumed without my consent.

Consuming me every day,
no one could help me,
I tried a few times to cry out for help,
but it wasn’t the right time.

It was just costly.

Then I saw you and I believed that if I could just touch your hem,
if I could just feel your love then I knew that I could be healed.

And I was.

And it stopped.

And then I stopped.

And now I felt death.

I lay there watching the world go by and you took my hand and all you said to me was “little girl, get up!”

And slowly I did, part by part I began to move and soon I realised I was now more alive than I’d ever been before.

You healed me.
You released me from my prison.
You transformed my heart.
You made me worth something.
You showed me love, proper love, not consumerist love, just pure transcendent unconditional love.

Now:

I pray when I want
I sing when I want
I dance when I want

And it’s all for you,
My Lord and my God.

And I’m so thankful,
I have no adequate words to speak.

All I have is the smile on my face, the sparkle in my eyes and a new heart that you put in me.

With a Holy Kiss you brought me back to life, you raised me from the dead, you breathed your spirit into me.

And I will serve you with every breath in my lungs and every beat in my heart.

You saved me.

Little girl, get up.