Enlarge our hearts Lord

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

Finding extra room is difficult. Before I moved to Rochdale my family and I lived in a small three bedroom terraced house. Choosing wardrobes and chest of drawers that would fit was always a challenge. I learnt the use of loft beds and that Swedish furniture company was so handy to have down the road from us.

But one day though the furniture situation was critical and no amount of furniture shuffling could solve the problem.

We had to make a choice.

My bedroom was given to the children and so began a long season of sleeping downstairs.

It is amazing how we adapt and make room, there’s been so many occasions where my little house was absolutely brimming with people, but no one was turned away, spare chairs were found there was always the possibility of expansion.

It was love that made the expansion possible.

In today’s readings we hear the disciples being told by God to make room for the gentiles, and we hear Jesus telling the disciples to make room to love each other.

It is hard enough to find room in a small house but finding room in our hearts is even more difficult.

There is a certain amount of risk that goes into allowing ourselves to open up our hearts and love. We are putting ourselves at emotional risk, that old phrase about warning us not to wear our hearts on our sleeves rings true in today’s world, where success and continual improvement are the benchmarks of a satisfying life.

It is hard to make difficult decisions when the heart is involved.

When the heart is involved we are called to exercise patience with one another, to let love and relationships grow not at the rate that we deem acceptable that fits in with our lives, but growing at the pace that the Holy Spirit calls us to follow.

Peter experiences the immediacy of the Holy Spirit showing him a vision that he is to eat with the gentiles and share the Gospel with them. Peter did not have time to think about it much futher than the reaction to the vision, we see and hear in the reading in Acts “the spirit told me to go with them and not make a distinction between them”.

The Holy Spirit is saying enough with these boundaries that are hindering the flow of love, it is time to make extra room in your hearts.

Peter had to exercise patience with himself, not to ignore the Holy Spirit, he had to suddenly make room for the Gentiles in his heart, with the love that Jesus had told him to share. It certainly was worth the risk. He says “who was I that I could hinder God?”

My heart is pulled and aches at the declaration from Peter, “who was I that I could hinder God” and “the spirit told me to go with them and not make a distinction between them”. Inside me I feel that familiar feeling of worry, the worry of falling in love, that there is always a risk that it is going to hurt.

However, whatever I do, whatever we do when we serve others I hear these words spoken over us. Do not make a distinction between them, love one another, just as I have loved you.

Where the love of God is concerned, The Holy Spirit is a gift of love breathed onto the disciples by the risen Jesus, we do not make a distinction.

This direct and empowering command from the Holy spirit, its immediacy is the same that blew into the room and landed with tongues of fire filling the disciples with the fire of the Holy Spirit.

We can see that when the fire and love of the Holy Spirit blows we must act, we must start to enlarge and make room in our hearts for others.

It is not a case of shuffling around the furniture to fit something else in, it is literally the opening up of another room where more love can dwell.

The thing is, we cannot do this on our own. In both readings God is present speaking His word of love, in the Gospel we hear Jesus saying to the disciples

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love on another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

People will know that you are my disciples because you have made room in your hearts for my people.

We have to let Him into our hearts to be able to have our hearts continually expanded by His love and in turn enabling us to make room in our hearts to love others.

I don’t know if anyone has seen or heard about the “Thy Kingdom Come” initiative that takes place every year between Ascension Day and Pentecost, where we commit ourselves to daily prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

I saw a video last night recorded by Archbishop Welby that has a Message from His Holiness Pope Francis, Pope Francis speaks of asking the Holy Spirit to enlarge and widen our hearts as we all have a problem, and that problem is that our hearts tend to shrink, they become smaller and close, it is a problem that we can’t solve by ourselves, only the Holy Spirit can solve it.

The readings today and the message from the Pope points us to committing ourselves to asking the Holy Spirit to come and move and expand our hearts, it is time to push the boundaries of who we love and to take a risk in the name of Jesus.

I spent a lot of time in hospital with my Mum this week and I saw the Holy Spirit at work, enlarging hearts of those who were suffering with the worry of a loved one being ill. I sat in the waiting area alone in the High Dependency Unit for hours, yet other people who were also visiting spoke to me, listened to what was going on with my Mum and I in turn did the same. People contacted me through text and social media and in the middle of that long silent waiting, I felt my heart push against the lure of closing in on itself through loneliness and despair.

In times where we feel that we must protect our hearts at all costs, we run the risk of them becoming smaller and closed off.

When we reach out and communicate, when we reach out and love, pushing against the boundaries that the world, society, culture sets for us, when it feels like we have nothing left to give, here is where Jesus calls us to make our hearts grow in His love.

Jesus says loves one another just as I have loved you, make room for Him and in turn make room for his people, don’t make a distinction, just radiate the gift of love freely given by the God who loves us more that we could ever know.

It is time to stop shuffling the furniture around, it is time to make another room, it is time to step forward in patience born through fortitude, strengthening our hearts within the brokenness of the world that tempts us to withdraw and keep safe our love.

Through brokenness we saw God’s greatest act of love, let us re-enact that love and listen to the Holy Spirit blow through our boundaries, who was I that I could hinder God?

Amen

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You know that I love you

When we feel a loss it is quite likely that we go through the motions of doing something that reminds us of that person, or situation.

When I was little, my Grandad treated me like a princess. In the mornings when I stayed over I would wake up and scramble into my Nan’s bed. We would wait excitedly under the covers for the familiar sound of the tea set rattling and tinkling as my Grandad made his way up the stairs with a hot tea pot of tea, gorgeous china mugs and a selection of shortbread biscuits. This is how we would start every weekend morning. All three of us would then sit in bed, enjoy the first cup of tea of the day and laugh and share stories.

My Grandad would clear away the tea set and my Nan and I would get washed and dressed for the day. When we came downstairs, a bacon sandwich would be waiting for us. My Grandad who was obsessed by my safety, would cut the bacon up into tiny pieces so that I wouldn’t choke on it. He still did the same as I grew older.

If I want to invoke memories of my Grandad, this normally involves me making a cup of tea with shortbread biscuits and then following it with a bacon sandwich. I’ll sit there thinking about his voice and what he would say to me and I miss his love for me deeply.

When I think of Peter suggesting that he and the disciples go fishing, I imagine that they might be doing a similar thing. Peter must have been missing Jesus, although he knew that Jesus was risen, it must have been difficult to not have the presence of Him around every day like they had become used to.

I can imagine the yearning for Jesus’ guidance as they cast out their nets through the night and found that there was no fish. Peter who was desperately clinging onto his memories of Jesus, was now right back at the beginning where he was called by Jesus, empty handed, tired, naked, and not sure what to do next.

But in this place of sadness and desperation, Jesus’ voice cuts through and John recognises it and tells Peter. Peter must have been so sad and overwhelmed that even he could not recognise the familiar voice and command of Jesus. But once he did he set off into the water following his heart and not his head.

Jesus calls us to do that, to know deep in our hearts when His love is calling. We can jump in headfirst because we can hear the glimmer of hope that we are loved and cherished and that no matter how awful things become, He is stood at the shore, at the break of dawn bringing light into whatever darkness, whatever situation that is troubling us.

Peter says to Jesus, “you know that I love you” and it is in the receipt of that love that Jesus commissions Peter to feed His sheep.

It is in that place of love where Jesus calls and commands us to love each other, it is in that place of love where Jesus forgives and transforms, it is in that place of love where Jesus provides and nourishes.

It is why when we celebrate the Eucharist we take back into ourselves what was given out by Jesus. Over and over again we remember and reenact, over and over again we look up and out to the shore and see and hear Jesus, we jump into the water and swim out to Him and are fed by the food that He gave us, and by the love he freely gives out, bringing us back to Himself and sending us out again.

Lord you know that I love you, now send us out to do your will and work.

Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.

I’m a tactile person, I like hugs, I like my hands to be held, I like to touch my hair when I’m talking, I love sharing the peace with people, I love feeling the warmth of others.

Touch can seal the deal when making new relationships, whether that is shaking hands, hugging, a kiss, or a shoulder pat.

However sometimes we have to believe that the relationships that we make and have are real without anything tangible happening. The story of Thomas and his doubting of Jesus’ resurrection is one of my favourites.

I know myself I have been slow to believe that something is real because I have not seen it or been able to touch it. Putting your faith into something that cannot be “felt” is risky on the heart and on the mind.

Jesus appears to the other disciples first who are locked away in fear and in hiding. He comes to them, shares His peace and shows them His wounds. I feel like in this place of fear and anxiety, that Jesus appears right in the middle of it all by showing them the wounds that he has got. This moment is a meeting together of wounds, the fear of the disciples and the damage they have felt to their hearts over the brutality of Jesus’ death and the physical wounds that Jesus bore for them.

The disciples are lifted and healed from their fear by Jesus’ appearance. Thomas has yet to feel that healing and expresses his doubts clearly and frankly even when the other disciples say to him that they have seen the Lord.

How can Thomas let his heart dare to believe that Jesus is actually alive?!

How can he allow his heart to feel the light footsteps of hope dance inside of him bouncing off every part of him like fire filled fireworks?

Thomas needs to be able to reach out and touch Jesus, to feel His wounds, to help the wounds inside of himself meet with Jesus’ wounds.

There is something powerful about how Jesus’ wounds can meet with our own, palm to palm, foot to foot, side to side.

How many times have we felt that we are so wounded that we are beyond any help, yet here in the middle of doubt Jesus gently takes Thomas’ hand and says “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side”.

Such trust and love is sealed in the pierced palms of Jesus, he says do not doubt, just believe. Perhaps these are the words we all need to hear when we are tentative to reach out and show Jesus our wounds and let Him show us His.

Through all of this it’s the exclamation of faith that seals the deal on the relationship between Thomas and Jesus. It’s not just the touch, it’s the love that pours out from the wounds that poured out His blood on the cross.

Thomas’ expression of love and the realisation that he could dare to let his heart believe that Jesus is alive, is beautiful,

“My Lord and my God”

Reach out, put your hand into His, do not doubt, just believe.

Jesus took off his outer robe

I don’t know if anyone has noticed but the modern world has become much more about self-service.

I walked into my bank the other week totally confused that the bank looked like a coffee bar. All the tellers had gone and had been replaced by self service machines. There were copious amounts of sofas, colourful house plants, modern slatted screens, and a man with an iPad that said I could wait for twenty minutes to transfer some money. I asked him where the tellers were and he said oh they don’t do those transactions anymore.

I sat on the modern minimalistic sofas with a group of other bemused people, it was the sad equivalent of an adult crèche that no one really wanted to be in.

I realised that today self service was now becoming the norm. In supermarkets we wrestle with the joys of the self scan checkouts. When we phone up companies they are automated. When we check in at hospital we scan a barcode. We report crime online. We speak to MPs on Twitter.

Jesus took off his outer robe

It’s like culture today is tearing us away from serving each other face to face. Perhaps it is because it takes too much time. Society is moving at a much faster pace year after year. People are having to adapt to that pace or face being left behind. By removing human interaction we can get what we want faster, without fuss, and without seeing any other people. In reality we are missing out on important relationships and what it looks like to be a community that works together and serves each other.

Jesus took off his outer robe

Today on Maundy Thursday we reenact and remember the most personal and humbling service and lesson from Jesus as he washes his disciples feet. Jesus takes off his outer robe to begin and this action has much to say to us today. That love has to do with complete self giving to another.

What outer robes are we wearing when we are out and about in the world. What barriers are we putting up that stops us from stooping down and serving our fellow human and giving ourselves to each other.

Is it pride, or is it just not expected of us anymore?

Cultural boundaries are becoming the outer robes that we are wearing today, and our need to do everything ourselves is pushing away the building of love and deeper relationships and giving of self to others.

Jesus took off his outer robe

Even in Jesus’s time what Jesus did by assuming the role of a servant was shocking, Peter articulates this quite clearly by saying to Jesus that you will never wash my feet! How often have we felt this when someone offers to serve us?

I did it just last week, a friend offered to help me out and I found myself telling them no! Fortunately they knew me enough to ignore me – but it is so easy isn’t it?!

It’s so easy to head to the self service checkout instead of having to let someone do it for you isn’t it.

And wouldn’t that be a thing if we actively chose to let people serve us and for us to serve them.

Jesus took off his outer robe.

Peter changes his mind after Jesus says that if he doesn’t let Him wash Peter’s feet then he has no share in Jesus.

Peter immediately becomes less self serving because he knows what he will be missing out on by following Jesus. Peter realises that to be in love, to be in Jesus’ love he has to give himself completely to Jesus because that is what Jesus is doing to Peter and the other disciples as he washes their feet and institutes the communion feast, the bread and wine, become His body and blood. Jesus. Here in complete self giving of Himself to us is the risky Holy love that ultimately ends in His execution on the cross for all of us.

Pride, expectations, boundaries, culture, society, all go out of the window when responding to Jesus because he cuts through all of these things with calm delicate vulnerable serving love.

He models a new shape of love one that is hands on, soaked in water, and poured out in wine and broken bread. A shape of love that cries out for us to seek out each other and to love each other. A shape of love that compels us to give a complete self-giving to one another.

Jesus says I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

By stripping away our outer robes, we are entering into the love that Jesus commands us to dwell in, to just “be” in because it is a love so amazing so transformative that everyone will look up and take notice and know and see that Jesus is present through and in us.

Jesus took off his outer robe

There is nothing convenient or quick about stepping away from modern comfort and society of self service, it requires effort not just to do it but allowing other to serve us too.

We cannot be blinded by comfort thinking that is all we need. We cannot be blinded by the shallowness that is provided by the illusion of comfort, just like my experience at the bank.

We can’t be seduced into thinking that we can rush through to Easter past Good Friday because it takes too long or makes us feel uncomfortable.

Removing our outer robes, getting down on our knees, rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty for the sake of others is the depth of love we must wash in.

Maundy Thursday strips back everything that doesn’t matter, and this is reflected in the dramatic stripping of the church too, so that we are left with the starkness of Christ alone and power of his cross on Good Friday.

It isn’t in the grandeur of the items around us that Jesus is known, it is in the rough wood of the heavy cross that held his body, it is in the crude iron nails that pierced his flesh, it is the crown of thorns that rained his blood onto his face.

Jesus took off his outer robe, for you, for me, for the whole world, and we must be bold enough to do the same for His sake.

Amen

I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.

This week I went on retreat with college to Foxhill. It was my first silent retreat and I was looking forward to spending some time with the Lord in the beautiful scenic surroundings.

We were fortunate with the weather with the sun beaming down and even though it was chilly, walking around the grounds was breathtaking.

When it came to dinner, we all sat together in silence and started to eat. I never realised that trying to eat in silence for the first time would be so interesting. Things ticked on by until certain events that really weren’t funny started to be hilarious. Daft things like cutting into food and it going flying now seemed to be the funniest thing ever, filling up someone’s water and splashing it everywhere was comedic gold. The harder we tried to remain serious the funnier became.

Trying to stop a laugh is actually really difficult. Once I started to snigger the rest of the laugh started to break through, a giggle turned into a chuckle and that grew again into full out laughter.

Typing it out sounds ridiculous that I an adult could not eat a meal in silence without laughing, but there was something beautifully joy-filled about this.

We were so enjoying being soaked in the silence and in the presence of our Lord that His boundary breaking, transformative joy was pouring through us.

I personally was bursting with joy over the retreat and the harder I tried to suppress it the more it seeped out.

This story of my giggly silent retreat came to mind as I heard the liturgy of the Palms this morning. Jesus says in response to the Pharisees asking Him to silence His disciples “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Jesus is correct! How difficult it is to try and suppress the wonder of Him and the joy and glory that He provides and brings.

But how confusing it is that we as Christians sometimes find it difficult to articulate our faith!

Jesus says that we cannot be silent because even the stones will cry out, and that is what happens. We end up seeing His glory being witnessed and proclaimed in different ways. If one place is silent then another with cry out.

If a place where Jesus’s love and glory is seen that is not expected, are we meant to stay silent? We have to remember that Jesus breaks through everything and that means our human experiences and expectations, the Pharisees struggled with this and wished silence could cover what they were witnessing. Let us hope that we try and not do the same.

Palm Sunday has always been special for me. On this day in 2014 I waved a paper palm leaf made by my children as people around me sang. I wasn’t singing myself but slowly, during that moment I felt an overwhelming feeling that God loved me and that He had a plan for my life and it started right then. My mouth was opened and the stones inside of me began to cry out – proclaiming the glory of the King of my heart.

On my last day of my retreat I spent time watching the silken pearlised petals of a Magnolia tree slowly fall to the ground. The beauty of the tree stood proudly, but soon the tree would be bare and the petals would be gone.

This image reminded me of the journey that we begin today towards the cross, slowly the palms that were so beautifully waved are put down and left to rot into the ground, as Jesus was hung left to die on the cross.

But we know that death did not win and so like the Magnolia tree, leaves begin to grow again and wave and proclaim, that every tongue will confess, every knee should bed and all the stones will cry out that Jesus is Lord.

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.

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.