The breath of the almighty

I have fondness for this windy weather. Autumn is my favourite time of year, low sunsets, crisp days bathed in colour, deep glossy conkers on the ground. When I think about the wind I think about the Holy Spirit, the breath of God. One of my favourite passages in the bible really articulates the indescribable wonder of the breath of God.

“But it is the spirit of a person, the breath of the almighty, that gives them understanding. It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right.” Job 32:6-9

I often imagine the impact of the breath of God on a person. Is it a physical experience that blows you off your feet, does it blow strongly behind you so you walk faster whether you like it or not, is it like the cool minty breath of a freshly brushed mouth that catches all your senses with a refreshing blast. Is the breath of God a whisper of scripture in your ear, or is it like the air filled bellows blowing the fire in your heart, igniting the flames with more oxygen, a surge of heat and desire. Is the breath of God like that breath of fresh air when you experience something new and inviting, does it blow gently over your closed eyes when you are exhausted, when you can feel it but you are just too tired to wake.

When I was a girl I found a large bird’s feather and attached it to a pole so I could use it as a guide to see how hard the wind was blowing. The post was attached to a shallow brick wall in my grandparent’s garden, and I would stand on it with my arms open letting the wind blow through me. I would spent many hours in the garden in silence with just the symphony of the trees lulling my busy mind. I think about that feather blowing in the wind, so delicate yet so hardy, an object that moves with the bird yet moves with the wind also.

Perhaps when it comes to receiving the breath of God we are meant to be a bit like the feather. We move in our own way yet we are guided and influenced by the wind. We are delicate yet so hardy and God knows this, his breath changes with the way we are feeling. We are uplifted and aerodynamic with a strong wind, yet cared for and thought about when the sky is still.

Whatever the forecast, God is constant and always there, his breath is the breath of life, blowing love, hope, and joy into all of us.

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Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost

Written and delivered as the talk at St Thomas Werneth.

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

In April this year my husband took me and our children to his friend’s farm. I was excited. Not only were we going to have a bit of an adventure, we going to see his brand new lambs that had just been born. I hadn’t met a real life shepherd before. I’d only seen the glossy ones that they show on BBC1’s country file, all clad in matching jackets and mudless wellingtons. 

The weather was typically British, the wind was whistling, the rain was coming down but my family and I were so excited to be on the tuffty Saddleworth hills we didn’t feel the rain or the wind. We squelched up a soggy hill and met Dave the shepherd. He was rosy cheeked with his crook in his hand. He was well weathered, his clothes were accessorised with the landscape, grass stuck out of his boots, hay on his jumper, dried mud was his sunscreen. It seemed like the weather had no impact on him, he was there to do his duty and look after his beloved sheep and their new additions. 

As we entered the first field the sheep recognised him immediately. They trotted up to us and mulled around their feeding trough. He fed them and they were a blur of chocolate and white noise. After they were distracted with the food, Dave led us to see the lambs. He had a great system of identifying the new borns. As soon as a lamb was born he would put a plastic red coat on them. He explained that by identifying the lambs he could see if any had become separated from the flock and their mothers.

Whilst we were walking around his farm we saw a bright speck of red. The little plastic coat of the small lamb was blowing in the increasingly rough weather. Dave suddenly changed his walking pace and made the uneven, beveled ground look like freshly laid tarmac. He effortlessly scaled the hill until he reached the tiny lamb tucked down low in the long grass sheltering from the wind. He softly scooped up the lamb, tucked it under his arm and located the mother and reunited them. The mum and lamb baared at each other in acknowledgement and relief. 

In today’s Gospel we heard Jesus describing to the Phrasiess why he sits and eats with sinners. The parable of the lost sheep is such a simple but effective way to understand how Jesus cares and loves every single person in the world. Like Dave the shepherd who I mentioned before, Jesus actively looks for those who have gone astray, or those who are indeed lost. There is a small detail in the description of finding the lost sheep which I love. “When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders” 

The act of laying the sheep on his shoulders and carrying it back is one of complete love and devotion. Maybe we can reflect on the time that Jesus had found us? I remember feeling so lost and asking for Jesus’ help. I was at the bottom of the pit, far from the flock, but he picked me up. At first I was so surprised by his act of love that I couldn’t move forward. This is where he picked me up and placed me on his shoulders. I wonder if you can remember a time where Jesus picked you up and carried you back to better pastures, back to his beloved flock. There is one thing for certain though he is always searching, always looking out for us, and like sheep who wander away easily we are always in need of our good shepherd.

The joy that Jesus feels when we are returned is shared through heaven! What an encouraging thought! We are so valued, so loved, so cherished that there is a party in heaven when we are found! This is reflected in the way that Jesus in the Gospel today had been sitting and eating with sinners. His celebration of their repentance and turning to the kingdom of God is shown by the sharing of food, a heavenly celebration brought to earth in the form of sharing bread and wine. A celebration that would become the centre of Christian worship, the Eucharist, the thanksgiving for Jesus saving us and returning us to his flock. 

Jesus uses another parable to help the flummoxed Pharisees try to understand. Perhaps he chose the use of a lost coin to help them relate more to the money and stature that they held close to their hearts. Once again Jesus is saying that God is actively searching for us, the light that illuminates the floor to find the coin is Jesus, guiding and calling the lost so they can be reflected by his light and his love and they can be held in the palm of the hand of our Heavenly Father. 

I think Dave the shepherd, who I mentioned before, had thought about the use of light reflecting on the bright plastic coats of the lambs in his field making them easier to find. 
Reading the Old Testament passage in the book of Jeremiah also shows the need for the light of God in the world. The prophet says, “I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void, and to the heavens, and they had no light.” It seems that the people have gone astray in the reading, and God is looking for them in the desolation. The people are chastised for not having understanding, for wandering away, but God is still actively seeking, still looking for the lost, still bringing his loving light, which is confirmed by the parables told by Jesus.

There is one thing that we can take away from the stories we’ve heard today. That Jesus has an unconditional, equal love for every person. Jesus shows equality and spreads a message of love, not just for the holy, but for everyone, regardless of their sins, their past, their gender or sexuality. Jesus sits at the table with everyone who repents and turns to Christ. There is always an empty seat waiting for those who are lost, who are yet to be found, who have wandered away from the flock. And like dave the shepherd, Jesus searches in any weather, at any time of the day to find those who are in need of his fatherly care.

Amen 

So think about him. Then you won’t get tired. You won’t lose hope

This week has been one of those weeks that has taken every drop of energy that I have. From worrying about my husband’s new job, to thinking about if we have enough money to feed us all, to parenting and guiding my five little fireworks who are growing and changing by the day.

I’ve been heavily rooted in prayer this week. I’m a regular pray-er, morning prayer is done locked in the toilet for a bit of peace and quiet, night time before bed, and throughout the day when I feel like I want to or need to talk to God. But this week has been different, prayer has been a cry out for help, a questioning of why things are so difficult, why do certain things happen and God is apparently silent.

But is he silent? The truth is I don’t know. But in the midst of chaos this week, Jesus has stood next to me in the kitchen whilst I stir my cup of tea for too long with worry. He was sitting next to me on the sofa after I felt cross with myself for losing my temper with the children. He was there in the night when I couldn’t sleep. How do I know this? I know this because there is no rock bottom when Jesus is involved. When you are in the pit he gives you a firm place to put your feet so you will not side down any further. My feet were firmly rooted in prayer and I did not slide down.

I had a realisation on Saturday night that I would have to stand in front of a congregation of people and assist at the communion the next day. How on earth can I stand there after feeling like I am the worst sinner out there, how can I stand there and lead with energy when I have none. How do you minister to people when you yourself have had a terrible week?

These thoughts were heavily on my mind as I pulled up to the church. But from somewhere, deep inside me a bubble of energy began to grow. And the more I thought about Jesus and how I had come today to repent, to worship, and to adore, that bubble grew. I thought back to my favourite gospel story the feeding of the five thousand. My favourite message from that story is that nothing is wasted. This reminder of Jesus taking our gifts and experiences and transforming them into something amazing, and that all of our experiences aren’t wasted filled me with hope and joy. My stressful week isn’t wasted in my exploration of ministry, if anything it showed to me that I do and will rely on Jesus in times of stress. I stood at the front filled with energy and thankfulness that I could be in this position serving our Lord and the people in the pews with all my flaws and my questionable singing!  

My imperfectness also keeps me grounded with everyone else. I am passionate about being in touch with the real world, a place where people talk about how they can get to the end of the week with only ten pounds in their purse. I’m blessed that I can share a conversation with my neighbour who popped round telling me that she had been living on tinned soup for dinner. I myself have only had a few cooked dinners this week so I could empathise and completely understand. I can listen when parents are having a tough time with their children and they are exhausted. In the midst of all of this I can feel God and see him trying to help us all. 

These testing times are God breathed and it is a time where I can be mature in my faith and not see it crumble away. I took advice and comfort from Hebrews 12, “So think about him. Then you won’t get tired. You won’t lose hope” 

A huge cloud of witnesses is all around us. So let us throw off everything that stands in our way. Let us throw off any sin that holds on to us so tightly. And let us keep on running the race marked out for us. Let us keep looking to Jesus. He is the one who started this journey of faith. And he is the one who completes the journey of faith. He paid no attention to the shame of the cross. He suffered there because of the joy he was looking forward to. Then he sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. He made it through these attacks by sinners. So think about him. Then you won’t get tired. You won’t lose hope. Hebrews 12:1-3