Hands pressed

Hands pressed into the wounds of Christ,

feeling the flow of heart beat,

with each wave of warmth,

closer we meet.

Could with every breath,

I learn to hear your ways,

fingers slip into nail bed,

I am dismayed.

Crown rains crimson rivers,

emulate my dirty tears,

I cry for my own comfort,

yet only you soothe selfish fears.

O beautiful saviour wounds divine,

grace pierced wide,

hold me safe,

and find me when I hide.

Hands pressed into the wounds of Christ,

close your fingers around mine,

feel the flow of heart beat,

O sweet love divine.

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Who then is this?

I’ve always been someone who can sleep anywhere. Having five children has helped this because grabbing a nap between feeding babies was essential when they were little. I have snoozed on trains, cars, chairs, floors, grass, and boats. There is something very peaceful about sleeping in nature, smelling the earthy tinge of the grass, the perfume of the plants in the air, hearing the various bird song and feeling the warmth of the sun on the skin.

I can imagine how peaceful Jesus must have felt when he nodded off in the boat with His disciples. The Sea of Galilee is notorious for its beauty but also for the quick change in weather.

In Gospel today we hear and imagine the idyllic boat journey of Jesus and the disciples. Imagine being on that boat with Jesus. Conversation would be flowing between the disciples, they would have been at ease because a few of them were expert sailers, I like to imagine Jesus nodding off hearing the voices of His disciples mixed with the sound of the sea beneath the hull and the moving of the air as they sailed along.

For the expert fishermen in the boat, discerning the weather was certainly part of their skill set, they would have been able to read the water conditions, see the weather fronts appearing, and know when it would or would not be safe to sail.

However in this scenario none of the fishermen saw this storm coming, it seems that they noticed that Jesus had fallen asleep and then the weather suddenly changed and it surprised them. The gales swept down onto the lake and the disciples were soon overwhelmed and panic stricken.

My active imagination wants to suggest that the storm was not a naturally occurring instance, that there was some link between Jesus falling asleep and suddenly the disciples were vulnerable.

The vulnerability of the disciples in the storm because of not being alert, makes me think of Jesus praying continuously in the garden of Gethsemane before His passion and Jesus finding the disciples asleep overwhelmed with grief.

Jesus says to them “why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into a time of trial” Could it be that Jesus realised from this experience with the storm that the disciples would be vulnerable to spiritual attacks like He himself experienced in the wilderness where the Devil tried to tempt Him?

Whatever the source of this storm might be, the disciples were not prepared, they began to panic were probably quite amazed that Jesus was still asleep, and woke Him up.

Jesus, fearless and peaceful calmed the storm, and said to the disciples, “where is your faith?”

When Jesus asks them “where is your faith” I feel that Jesus is prompting them to remember to pray in times of trouble and have confidence in those prayers that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit will hear their call for help.

As the disciples are saved from their seemingly impossible situation they glimpse the divine nature of Jesus that has broken through and turned the chaos into order and the disciples are amazed and terrified.

They say “who then is this that he commands even the wind and the water, and they obey him?”

There is a glimpse of the beginning of creation in this revelation of Jesus’s power over the water and the wind. In Genesis we hear in the beginning, the spirit or wind of God hovered or swept over the waters and God spoke and said let their be light.

The disciples knew in their hearts that Jesus was indeed special, but in their minds, after witnessing this control over the wind and the waters they then realised that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, the word of God, and the light of the world.

It’s the reoccurring conversion of the mind that opens up our hearts further and deeper to know and realise and receive the love from our God. Jesus who was fully human and fully God could sleep on that boat in perfect peace because He Himself knew that His prayers would be heard and that He was safe.

This encounter of Jesus calming the storm shows us how important being prepared for storms that can appear out of nowhere is. We become prepared for these storms with our faith, through prayer, through confidence and trust in God’s deliverance and provision, and an awareness and acknowledgement of the battles we can face with evil.

As we encounter storms in our own lives, we cry out for help knowing that we might perish, that it might be this storm that will be the end of us.

We see the water seeping in, we feel the roughness of the waves, we are engulfed by the clouds and the winds that narrow our view, forcing us to look downwards and inwards to the situation. The enormity of the situation sucks us in, we are pounded from every angle, there is no way out, we cannot see a future, we are perishing, we are finished.

Who then is this, who changes all this in an instant? Who rebukes the wind, stills the waves, clears the air, and all that is left is calm.

Who then is this, who widens our perspective and frees us to now look up and outwards, there is now hope, possibility, a new chance to move forward again.

Who then is this who stands strong in the changes that we feel today as I move forward from this beautiful place.

It is our beautiful God who takes the helm of the boat, points us forward out of the storm and sets us off again on fresh waters.

My prayer for you all for the future is to keep looking up and outwards, to be prepared with faith, to stay awake through prayer, through diligence with the scriptures, through friendship and authentic Christian witness and love.

Remember that we are a storied people, it’s our stories that meet Jesus’s stories around his transformative table that makes a church, and it’s that transformative power that will build Jesus’ church, because no one who meets Jesus face to face would want to be anywhere else but in His house and His presence.

I thank you all for letting me love you, because without love we can never know and rest in the true heart of God.

Amen.

Blessed are you

A sermon for Christ Church Healey

Last weeks Gospel saw Jesus showing the disciples what trusting and believing in him could look like. The experienced fishermen were exhausted from fishing all night and having no fish to show from their efforts. They were really sure that casting their nets out again would be fruitless, however Peter decided to trust Jesus and throw out the nets again. To their surprise their catch of fish was extraordinary and Peter was convinced that Jesus was the man to follow.

This week we hear Jesus gathering His chosen twelve disciples and beginning to teach them. They weren’t alone though, people in the areas around who had heard about Jesus’ healings and miracles gathered to listen to Him. It says in the Gospel that people were trying to touch Him because they knew that great power came from Him.

In the midst of all this hubbub Jesus began to teach His beatitudes, blessings and woes that make a mockery of the world’s values, they exalt what the world despises and reject what the world admires.

Now I can imagine you all thinking, yes we’ve heard these words before, blessed are the poor etc we know we know, rich bad, poor good, but what does that really mean for me right here now?

Have these statements of Jesus just become a few words that we rattle off like the Lord’s Prayer, I can understand how a load of people stood on a dusty hill could find these things useful but are they even relevant today?

Let’s have a look and decide for ourselves:

Blessed are those who are not certain of themselves or built up on human ego, who rely on God for comfort and provision. They do not have everything they need from possessions or comfortable wealth.

Blessed are those who are hungry for the bread from heaven, for the living water that Jesus provides, those who trust in the Lord and those who’s trust is the Lord

Blessed are those who cry because of the evil that is happening in the world, who weep for the hungry children because their families are struggling to make ends meet. The people who feel sadness for the state of the environment, the people who weep for the children and families who are victims of knife crime.

Blessed are those who face trouble, face a bumpy ride, face being excluded from the mainstream world because they follow Jesus. rejoice in this and leap for joy because that is what happened to the prophets.

Now for the woes, an expression of regret and compassion not threat:

How terrible that you are rich because you have received your consolation and cannot see the glorious provision of God.

How terrible that you are full and satisfied now by the work of your own hands, that you have everything and require nothing else, that you have no need for God because you can provide security and comfort yourselves, yet you will be hungry for your soul yearns to be united with God.

How terrible for those who can laugh now, who are carefree and content with their possessions and goods, who can feel relieved that they do not struggle like others, for when the shallowness of this satisfaction dries up, it will be filled with remorseful tears.

How terrible that everyone speaks well of you all the time, who glide from one group of people to another, for prophets are uncomfortable to be around and ask questions that others do not, they speak truth to power and this upsets the comfortable.

Can we see how these words of Jesus are so relevant for us today?

These beatitudes are not a political party broadcast, they are not meant to favour one class of people or another, they are not meant to be wielded by people who have their own agenda, they are to teach the disciples, us, what it looks like to follow Jesus and enter the narrow gate into His kingdom.

It is to open up the eyes and minds of all the people listening that living and this world is bigger than you and me, that it is about being a community who calls upon and relies on God.

If we go back to last weeks Gospel story that I started with this morning, Peter was very sure in himself and in his knowledge as a fisherman that there was no point in casting the nets out again.

Let’s investigate Peter’s reaction to Jesus asking Him to cast out the net with the message we have heard from the woes,

In Peter’s mind he had a right to question Jesus:

1) Peter was rich in his own provision of knowledge,

2) he wasn’t hungry for anymore knowledge because he knew everything he needed to know about fishing,

3) he was probably laughing inside of himself when casting out that net because he knew it was pointless,

4) He was looking forward to being proven right and the other fishermen praising his knowledge instead of Jesus.

When those fish came into the boat squirming and breaking the nets he fell to his knees in repentance for trusting in only himself. Then he was blessed.

Blessed because

1) he knew he needed to rely on Jesus because he had knowledge that only he could provide

2) he was hungry to know more about Jesus and what that meant for the world around him

3) he weeped for his misjudgment but then was overjoyed in Jesus’ grace

4) he left everything behind which would have caused some upset and aggravation towards him, that Peter guy must be mad!

After the beatitudes Jesus moves onto teaching about love, we can see that the conversion of the heart comes with the conversion of the mind. When our minds are opened to the ways and blessings of God our hearts respond.

This is my last sermon here with you all as I am leaving and moving to another placement. My prayer for you all is that you keep eyes fixed on Jesus, because he will tell you to do things that you might think are crazy ideas, but like the disciples you are blessed, you are hungry, you are poor, you weep and you are insulted, but rejoice and leap because the kingdom of God is near and your reward is great in heaven.

Amen.

Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

A sermon for Christ Church Healey focusing on their MAP process

What was your favourite job before Jesus brought you here? My favourite job was seeking out and finding all the dandelions that had invaded my grandads garden. That was my job when I came to stay with them. I had my own gardening gloves, a trowel, and bucket to collect them in. I receive thorough training from my grandad and he was always happy when I produced a good crop of them especially the big ones!

Today after hearing the calling of five of Jesus disciples we are thinking about what skills and gifts did Jesus know we had before we even realised it? And how does being good at plucking up dandelions or having any other job paid or unpaid relate to the kingdom of God?

What I love about the readings today, is that when Jesus calls Matthew, Simon, Andrew, James, and John they were all working in normal everyday jobs. Simon, Andrew, James and John were fishermen, to be a fisherman you had to be strong, patient, tactful, be able to interpret the weather and the waters, they also had to be committed, confident, be able to work as part of a team, and loyal. When we look at the skills that it takes to be a fisherman we can see why Jesus thought that these men would be excellent for the work that He was calling them to do, to be fishers of men.

What fascinates me about the call of James and John is that when Jesus calls they drop the nets that they have patiently been mending. Now I’m no an expert at mending nets, or even knowing what it takes to carry out this activity but I know that it certainly wouldn’t be easy and it was one of those jobs that was part of the daily routine that had to be done. No effective nets equalled no catch of fish. So the act of them just dropping their nets and leaving their Father was a big event.

It made me think about the nets that we might be patiently mending, some of things that we have tried to fix over and over again that have given us sore fingers and a sense of mundanity. I wonder what things we are trying to hold onto that Jesus is calmly asking us to put down and folllow His plans.

You see putting down the nets is a sign of something new. The fishermen had learnt their skills probably from their Father, skills that were important and Jesus in their calling acknowledges these but also says it’s time to move on and try things His way.

I can’t imagine the look on James and John’s Fathers face as they left their unfinished work and left Him in the boat. Was this a foreshadowing to the reality of their work as disciples that the work will never be finished, also leaving their Father in the boat that the idea of family was now much more fluid that just those who were related by blood, that their future family were those who were living in the Spirit, in Christ answering to their spiritual Father.

As we know in the church there is always work to be done, but what are our nets can we put down to follow Jesus’s call, what relationships/friendships are we holding onto that maybe need more fluidity where we start to live the reality of us all being brothers and sisters in Christ.

What is encouraging from the stories of the callings today is that Jesus is saying that all our past experiences in work are useful to His mission. So that Saturday job in a cafe when you were a teen, Jesus sees this and knows this is useful, that part time job in the supermarket is useful to serving the kingdom of God, the years that were spent caring for a relative or a close family member, Jesus knows you are pastorally gifted.

None of our life experiences are wasted. Myself I have twelve years of working at Sainsbury’s under my belt that have certainly come into use during my training.

Also what is encouraging is none of these jobs of the disciples that are mentioned today were high flying prestige jobs, they were everyday jobs and that is good news for us, that where we work or even if we don’t work anymore Jesus recognises the worth of the person inside, worth is not calculated from the amount of hours that are worked, how much someone earns, or even if they have a job, in Jesus eyes He has the job for us and that is being part of His mission for the world.

Jesus tackles this notion of having to hang around with people who seem to be decent or have the right credentials. He succinctly reminds the Pharisees that He has come to save sinners and that is where He will be, not rubbing noses with the elite or those who deem themselves to be better than others. Jesus reminds us that church is a place for sinners, a place where we follow His call to come and follow Him, to be shaped, renewed, healed, and nurtured by the Holy Spirit to do the Fathers will.

As you continue your journey is thinking about the MAP process and what the vision of both churches may look like, remember that perfection is not what Jesus is looking for, He is looking at what you all have to offer and then blessing those gifts and transforming them into something amazing. Just like the little boy who offered his bread and fishes to Jesus to feed the five thousand, this small offering was transformed into a an outpouring of food that left all satisfied. And don’t forget afterwards the crumbs were collected and nothing was wasted. Every crumb that you can offer is and can be transformed by Jesus into feeding thousands.

I pray for all of you today that the Holy Spirit May come afresh and show you all the skills that you have gathered through your lives, and maybe that if something is illuminated by the spirit, offer that at your meeting.

Jesus called His disciples to be hands on, fishers of people, collectors of sinners, what nets could be left as you all move into this new phase of your life and mission at Healey.

Jesus says come follow me.

Let us drop our nets and walk into this new journey together.

And the word became flesh and lived among us

As Christians we are story tellers, shaped by the stories of Jesus and the stories He shared. Today we tell the greatest story ever told, the moment where the Son of God was born from a Virgin in an old stable surrounded by shepherds, animals, and angels. We know the story well. We see children sing and perform it every year. St Francis of Assisi is attributed with the first ever play of the nativity when he celebrated Christmas at Greccio in 1223. Acting out and telling the story of Jesus’ birth is our testimony of God’s amazing and beautiful love for us.

When we tell stories of Jesus. We are messengers of the divine dance between God and His people, we deliver the message all around dancing on beautiful feet as described by Isaiah in our first reading. We bring a message of peace, of hope, of good news, of salvation. We sing for joy. We lift up our voices because the Lord has comforted His people, for God so loved the world that he gave us His only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

You see, Jesus, the incarnation, always was the plan. In the Gospel reading today we see and feel a similar structure to the beginning of creation in Genesis 1. They both begin with the phrase “in the beginning”. Jesus, God’s grace is not an add-on, but the very shape of the universe from the start. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and without Him not one thing came into being. And the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory as of a Father’s Son, full of grace and truth.

A theologian called John Duns Scotus says that Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity, Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God. You see God already knew that He loved His children dearly, for God so loved the world He sent His only begotten Son.

Jesus came to lead us back into a participation in that love. To show us the way to walk in our lives that would reconcile, that would bring us back into a relationship with Him, a relationship that we walked away from in the beginning in the garden of Eden, where our own ego became our Lord.

The incarnation, where God lived among us, is a divine participation between God and His creation. Jesus is not a bit human and a bit of God, He is fully God and fully human. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born from Mary. A wholeness of holiness. This story of divine participation is not a solo journey, one cannot by Holy by oneself, we have to be whole, a whole community, like the gathering of people in the stable.

The shepherds were told to participate in this Holy moment by the angels, the wise men were also asked to join. The animals in the stable themselves witnesses of God’s creation being in witness to God’s presence in the hay that He made himself, that He felt on His fragile newborn skin.

On this Christmas Day we remember that we are here to participate in the nativity story, we are gathered here to be the community crammed and squashed into that stable where love came down to meet us face to face.

In the season where we rush around buying gifts to show each other our love, we need to remember that we do not need to, or even think that we have to buy our way into being able to see Jesus. All we need to do is what is happening to all of us today, to participate in the glorious story of the nativity. There are no tickets for the best seats, because in God’s eyes we are all in the best seats to witness His glory and to experience His love.

His love for each and every one of us is not dependent on VIP access, all it is dependent on is us being able to dare to believe that this love, this Holy and relentless love is here right now. We are not sat outside the gates of paradise, we are not excluded by guards of our own making. All we have to do is to accept and believe that God loves us and He yearns for us to walk up to the side of the crib and breathe in the newness of life that is provided by Him. He beckons us to smile into His wide open eyes, to swoon over His tiny hands and feet, to realise that that feeling deep inside us, that feeling of deep peace and explicable joy is Him in us and us in Him.

This is why the nativity story is so important and so relevant today. It is the moment where we as humans become entwined in the history of God’s story. It is where the cosmic being of God who causes the mountains to melt and the waters to part, weeps when He is sad, mourns when His friend dies, suffers in the hands of humans, shouts out when He is in pain, cries as a babe in the arms of His mother. He came down to participate in our lives. And in this very story, on this Christmas Day we do the same. We participate and then like John go out and testify, to share our story of our encounter with Jesus.

By going deep in any one place, we will meet all places. When we go deep into the nativity story, we meet the very essence of God, we’re invited into the heart of God, this is how God works; this is how God is. The entire system of the universe is revealed in the beautiful form of a baby. We meet Him with no boundaries, no splendour. Just you, me, and Jesus, asleep in the hay.

This is Good news. Very Good news.

On this Christmas Day I pray that we continue in the divine dance of participation, that we may walk a little lighter in this Christmas season knowing how much all of us are so deeply loved. And if that feels challenging, or something that you have not considered before, take those first steps towards the crib today and gaze at the glory of relentless love.

To all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gives power to become children of God.

Amen.

The refiner’s fire

My Nan always had a large stock of fine jewellery. When I was a little girl I would sneak into her room, quietly and slowly open up her jewellery draw, and gaze upon the glistening items inside. It was like looking at a draw of glass sweets, different colours catching the light, set in different precious metals. She used to catch me every time wandering around the room with three necklaces on, five rings on each hand, and big dangly earrings, sometimes I’d even have on a pair of her shoes. I didn’t really like dressing up, I just like pretending to be her. She had a long relationship with jewellery. Her mother had a huge stash and when she died I remember sitting in the upstairs room of a jewellers as she sold the lot. For my Nan jewellery wasn’t just something to wear, it was something to fall back on in times of need.

Sometimes life feels like it couldn’t get much harder. That every turn produces another problem, another issue. We often think can we withstand anymore? What more could happen? As Christians we here about other Christians being persecuted around the world, we see churches being closed and different management schemes put in place to keep us going. But surely we have a breaking point! Does God hear us when we call out?

On the second Sunday of Advent we think about the prophets. The voices in the bible from people who’s calling from God is to exclaim the passion of God. Their voice cry out vocalising the pain and the strain of God’s people, but also speak what is in the heart of God.

In the advent story we hear the heart of God through the words of John the Baptist crying out for God’s people to prepare the way for the Lord. This process to prepare for the Lord’s coming is shaped by God and described by the prophet Malachi as like a refiner’s fire.

Now growing up around a women who loved precious metals I took an interest in how they were made. The process of refining silver so it is of the correct standard to make jewellery is called cupellation. Basically the silver is placed in a cuple (a flat, porous dish, probably made from clay in biblical times) then heated to a high temperature that enables the impurities like lead, copper, and tin to be vaporised, or absorbed into the cuple, and skimmed off the surface of the molten silver.

God’s preparation for the coming of His son is described by Malachi as the refiner’s fire, that He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver. This means that being a Christian and walking along the journey with God refining us as we go is tough! We are heated to become more malleable, and things of us evaporate, yet every time we come through challenging times stronger and shinier.

Because silver is shiny and it reflects the beautiful light that catches it. And that is our role as prophets in the modern word. We shine like the purified silver, allowing the words of God, the working of Him in our lives to shine His light around the world.

Being a prophet means speaking up and speaking out, speaking truth to power, challenging situations where you see things are wrong, speaking up for those who have no voice who God calls us to protect and build up. We speak this truth of God as we proclaim the story of Jesus’ birth against a Black Friday narrative where shopping and gifts and greed try to frame the Christmas we know and love.

We shine like purified silver in the light of our Lord, but our refining process is not over, God is always transforming and working us into something beautiful. And that is what He did in bringing His Son to us, when love came down in astonishing beauty – foretold and proclaimed by the prophets – and we carry on this tradition today, proclaiming the coming of the Lord, preparing that way, and reflecting His love in everything we do.

We are my Nan’s jewellery draw, we shine out and draw in others to see what it is like to be us, to be Christians, to radiate the light of God’s love.

May this advent be a time where our love for our Lord may overflow more and more, that in times of trouble and stress we stand in confidence that in the refiner’s fire shapes and moulds our hearts into something beautiful, aflame with love for the Christ child, making us stronger and shinier in the face of the world.

Prepare the way of the lord, he is coming soon!

Amen

Do whatever He tells you

Like the sharpness of the cold on a winter’s breeze, pain and disappointment pierces through all goodness. How can a place that holds the invitation to the Holy mysteries of God, be part of His own crucifixion?

The cross that is paraded and worn, becomes a justifiable place where people are nailed to it as they follow Christ. Yes we all have our cross to bear but are we meant to be crucified by those who welcomed us in His name?

Jesus himself faced the same journey. The same people cheered and praised Him who screamed and cried out crucify Him crucify Him. Maybe this is part of the Christian journey we all take…part yes, but all experiences? Maybe no.

Where is the justice for those who are facing the dual crowd? Both sides of a disagreement can ask this question, does God choose who to listen to? Perhaps the answer in this is to take the sides down, to silence the loud seeking for justice. When these barriers are down now there is silence where God can act – is this justice? A human ideal of justice is where retribution can be seen and paraded. A clear sense of this was wrong so this happened.

I’m not so sure that God’s kingdom works this way. God’s kingdom seeks to draw all together and anything that begins to separate it is sin. Justice can be seen by a different perspective – God’s justice seeks to bring all together through His son, the Spirit herding the sheep, but what of the goats? Is justice realising that there are predetermined sheep and predetermined goats – or is it realising that they are just different because they look different, yet in closer inspection are able to be drawn together because they all have a beating heart?

But what of that pain caused by His Holy Church that ignores, belittles, casts out, and pierces the heart of its members by members of the same body? Mary knows of this pain that pierced her heart also. She saw her Son’s friends leave Him on His journey to the cross, she saw them deny Him, she saw the red raw anger from the people who welcomed Him. And what did she do? She bore it all trusting in His justice, His promise. After all, it was Mary that told the servants at the wedding in Cana to “do whatever He tells you” – so this is where we begin.

Mary saw that the wine was gone and much shame and hurt would be coming towards to Bride and Groom from the same crowd that had celebrated their marriage. Mary saw and acted. She saw and told her Son and He listened and overcame their shame for them – justice delivered in quiet and unspeakable Grace. That is the hope that breathes into the piercing sharpness of hurt and division in the church, where members with the same mouths extol praise and spit anger and admonishment.

So we begin with Mary who saw the change in the crowd coming, who identified it to her Son, who with silent unspeakable Grace transformed the situation to one of blessing.

Mary says ” do whatever He tells you” – she was and is right.