A grain of wheat

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

Yesterday my husband and I decided to go for a walk up around Watergrove reservoir. It was around 2pm between the intermittent snow showers that were blowing in and out. As we scaled up the hill towards the wind turbines it seemed that we were inbetween two weather fronts. To our right the once clear and blue sky that had allowed us to see Manchester in the distance was now filled by a thick grey blanket. To our left, the wind turbines were now not visible as the strong wind swept the snow fall across the burnt orange tufty land.

We stopped to admire the dramatic scenes listening to the rhythmical turning of the turbine blades and the increasing howling of the snow glazed wind. As we turned back to walk down the long causeway pack horse route, a clap of thunder ripped through the sky above us. With the snow falling, the wind whistling, and the thunder roaring it was quite an intense situation.

As I walked quickly through the immense sound of the thunder it made me think about the gospel reading today. As Jesus is fortelling His death to the Greeks who had asked to see Him and the disciples who were there, a voice came from heaven saying, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder.  

Imagine what it must have been like to hear the voice of God ripping through the sky as if it were like thunder. The crowd around Jesus were already in a dramatic situation, they were hearing a teaching that was difficult for them to understand. That the man in front of them was not only going to die but those who wished to follow Him would also have to face the same journey. 

The Greeks who asked to see Jesus seemed to have got a lot more than they bargained for! They wanted to see the man who had been healing the sick, feeding the five thousand, raising the dead, perhaps they wished to witness His miracles first hand so they too could say they had met and been with Him. However instead they witnessed the uncomfortable information of Jesus’s impending death, confirmed by God himself.

The Greek’s presumed experience of Jesus is quite reflective of how we wish to see Jesus. We wish to see Jesus on our terms, that when we call on Him He can tick off our prayer todo list and we go home feeling pleased with what we’ve received and turn up next Sunday. 

However Jesus is the son of God, the one who rebukes demons, who raises the dead, heals the sick, turns the tables in the temple, stands up for the poor, empowers women, values children, the one who died for us, He is the grain of wheat that dies to become the bread of life and when we meet with Him we are changed. We are changed into His likeness, that from His death we are re-born to bear much fruit that brings God’s kingdom to earth, that brings hope, love, and joy to His people.

There is a real temptation to be consumers of God’s life, gathering what we need, from the fallen grain of wheat, and then carrying on with our own agendas and routine. When in fact Jesus longs to meet with us, and be with us not just in the transactions of His endless love but in the stillness and quietness of our hearts.

Today we ask to meet with Jesus as we begin Passiontide, which is the final two weeks of Lent commemorating the increasing revelation of Christ’s divinity and His movement toward Jerusalem. 

We set our faces to the cross just like Jesus does in accepting His Father’s will, He cries out, Father will you glorify your name? 

And like the thunder that ripped through the heavy laden sky yesterday, God roars through our hearts His plan for us, to be lifted up with the precious body of Jesus on the cross, confirming that He is our God, and that we are His people. 

May we through these final weeks of Lent, draw closer and know our God through the sacrifice of His Son, give thanks that our sins will be no more, reaffirm that our old lives are put to death, and open our hearts to be formed and purified, kneaded and shaped into the bread of life, from the grain of wheat that fell to the earth and died for us.
Amen 

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Swift wings


The silent flight of my soul’s delight,

on swift wings thy burdens lie,

breaking through the deep darkness,

come to me Lord, oh fly.

.
On my journey you softly walk,

with bare feet red and sore,

you hold my heart and when you call,

on my face with reverence fall.

.
Oh sweet Jesus shield my soul,

with dazzling clean white wings,

and from the garden do you appear,

to settle and comfort all things.

.
Break the silence precious Lord,

with the flow of water and blood,

wash clean my heart and my eyes,

let me be yours as I truly should.

Listen to Him 


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

Today we celebrate the transfiguration where Jesus took three of the disciples, Peter, James, and John up a mountain and they witnessed the full glory of the man that they had left everything to follow.

The story of the transfiguration appears in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke just after Jesus foretells His death and resurrection. In the passages before the transfiguration, Jesus is showing the disciples what is to come, that what He has been telling them, is actually going to happen. That Jesus really is the Son of God. And through the witness of the transfiguration His glory is seen for all.

Jesus’s clothes become whiter than the whitest possible white. I wonder what the brightness of this must have been like, and the image I return to is the light produced when the sun shines off the surface of water on a clear day.
We can imagine the scene, stood at the edge of a lake, beautiful clear water radiating the bright high skied sun of midday. The intense light that bounces off the water is mesmerising, transforming the water into a dazzling crystal light display.

I wonder if seeing the transfigured Jesus was like this? 

Jesus the living word, the life giving water, the light to lighten the gentiles, reflecting God’s glory.

On that mountain the gate between heaven and earth was opened and the disciples saw Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus. Moses representing the law, Elijah the prophets, Jesus as the living word.
As I thought about Jesus standing between the law and prophets I thought of the words we say during a BCP service from Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” 

This, the greatest commandment, love your neighbour as yourself, is the transfigured world that we live in, the world that can be transformed by loving each other.

Jesus in His revealed glory transfigures us all, as we live out the gospel life we are inviting God to dwell with us, we are opening up our hearts to Jesus, Emanuel, God with us.

Jesus radiates His glory from us, that we could be that moment for someone, the transfiguration of their faith, where they glimpse God’s glory from loving our neighbour.

Peter didn’t want the experience to end and wishes to set up shelters for Moses and Elijah in a typical hospitable human response. And suddenly a cloud descends. 

I can only imagine what it felt like to be on top of a mountain, one moment being able to see for miles around, to suddenly being engulfed by a thick mist.

Last weekend I went to Grasmere with my husband. On the first morning of our stay there was a thick cloud of mist that had rolled down the side of the mountain range and rested delicately on the surface of Grasmere lake. 

The stillness that the mist brought was peaceful but not only that, it had completely hid the dramatic hill scape that surrounds Grasmere. 

On the following morning, the sky was perfectly clear and as I stepped outside to walk to the edge of the lake I gasped with astonishment. The mist that I had seen the morning before had completely hid the glory of the dramatic hills all around us. It felt like a blindfold had been lifted from my eyes.

I can only imagine that this experience was similar to the disciples as the cloud was cleared with the voice of God ringing in their ears, This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ 

Listen to Him.

And they look around and it is just them with Jesus and everything is suddenly so clear.

For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The face of Jesus Christ who gazes on us in His revealed glory, who longs to be with us.

As we walk towards the beginning of Lent this week, let us hold the mystery and the glory of God who dwells with us, our lord Jesus Christ close to us and may the clouds around us be lifted, our faith strengthened, our eyes opened, and our heart set on fire with love for Him.

Amen 

Why are you sleeping?

I’ve been reflecting recently on ministry in churches that are smaller in attendance numbers and the negative connotations that come with being a “declining congregation”. There’s a golden figure that churches are seen to be able to run with and anything under puts them in danger zone.

What does it mean to a congregation when they are placed in that zone? Well there can be different reactions. One view is that the identification of the danger zone creates a shock that moves them into pulling their socks up……..another is that an already worried and tired group of people become overshadowed by the enormity of the task in hand.

I’ve shed many tears over the decline of the church. I live next to a church which is in the process of closing, I went inside for their weekly morning prayer and stood in front of the altar and was overcome by sorrow. A sorrow for the people who need to hear the good news of Jesus, a sorrow for missed opportunities, a sorrow for a place of worship that is near to being silenced in an endless sleep.

I began to think about the silence of Jesus praying in the garden before He was taken away. He returns to His disciples and he finds them sleeping, 
“When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’ Luke 22:45-46

The disciples were exhausted from sorrow.

Is this what is happening to the church? Are congregations so battered and bruised by well meaning Diocesan mission plans, that they are falling asleep with sadness? 

Is prayer beginning to be pushed out of the way because congregations in the danger zone are so exhausted that they have forgotten the deep rooted hope inside them that is Christ?

I heard a seminar from Bishop Atwell at my theological college residential. He spoke about Christians being an oak tree flourishing in winter. That this certain type of oak can sustain itself through the winter and still be leafy because of its deep roots. Those deep roots that are grown through regular prayer and spiritual sustenance provided from the Christian communities we live in. The Bishop said that Clergy are exhausted and burdened with the pressure of being seen as entertainers. That people have lost the confidence in the joy of worship. That worship has become a commodity not the precious time of meeting and dwelling with God.

I feel that we are slowly falling asleep with sorrow whilst our Lord Jesus prays for us.

We are slowly falling asleep as He is dragged, beaten, flogged, and pierced on the cross.

But, the thing about sleeping is that we can always be woken up and Jesus says to us:

“Why are you sleeping?”
“Get up and pray!”

So that is what we can and need to do, let us awaken from our sorrow and hear our saviour’s voice.

Get up and pray.
Get up and pray for a renewal of the spirit to fall a afresh on our churches.
Get up and pray for God’s will to be done.
Get up and pray for the fresh feeling of hope and possibility inside us, Christ in us is the hope of glory.
Get up and pray, it is time to wake up and worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

For nothing will be impossible with God 

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

I spent some time looking through art work of the annunciation of the virgin Mary whilst reading the gospel that we heard today. 
I really loved seeing all the different artistic impressions of Mary saying her precious phrase, Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

Some of the paintings portrayed Mary looking studious reading scripture as the angel appeared, in one painting Mary looks like she had just awoke to an angel at the foot of her bed, but my favourite painting was of Mary kneeling in a relaxed way, sitting back on her heels with her hands rested upturned on her knees, her eyes are soft and looking upwards filled with peace, as a golden light shone onto her face and around her.

What I love about the painting is the way the artist has managed to communicate Mary’s utter abandonment and devotion to the message she has just received. 

There is nothing else depicted in this painting but Mary and the golden light, and I think this is a wonderful portrayal of a deep encounter with God.

Over the past four weeks of Advent we have been waiting and preparing for the coming of our Lord in his humble crib. The moment where heaven touched the earth, where God dwelled with us as a beautiful newborn baby.
Today we wait on the precipice of that glorious event, remembering the moment where a young woman said yes, yes to God’s will and call on her life. A call that not only changed her life but changed the lives of all. 

And here we all are, saved by the precious baby grown and born from Mary’s womb, and here we all are on this Christmas Eve morning, in the time of her labour, in a church dedicated to her, a church that proudly shows the colour of Mary throughout the year.

But what does Mary’s annunciation, her acceptance of God’s will and call on her life mean for us here in Rochdale today?
I believe that we can encouraged by Mary who stood firm in her mission, who took on a call that would challenge her socially, physically, mentally, and spiritually. 

We can be inspired to have the same courage that Mary herself had. To stand firm in the message that we bring, the Good news to all here Rochdale.

We are called to be open to God’s will just like Mary was, that on trembling knees we can stand firm in the hope that is set within us.

We are called to display the mothering role of our God, the God that gathers His people under His wings, the God that shelters us, the God that chose to come and dwell with us. We can be encouraged by the love that Mary sets out for us to see, that in the bleakness of the stable, joy is found.

For we know that joy comes through pain. I imagine Mary being in labour having to ride a donkey, or even walking, and it makes my body ache in sympathy.  

For Mary experienced that raw pain again as she watched her son die on the cross, to see him rise again and fulfil the message that was delivered to her. “For nothing will be impossible with God”

We can hold this passage close to our hearts as we walk into the new year with changes happening around us. Mary reminds us that we can be hospitable to the extraordinary, that if God’s angel arrived into this very church today, that we could listen and say yes to His will.

For nothing will be impossible with God.

You could say that our two churches, St Mary’s and St Chad’s are waiting for our own annunciation, that moment where a message is delivered in dazzling glory.

That we are in a time of waiting, we are changing, learning, growing.

That soon we will see and experience the refreshing life giving waters that began the birth.
And what can we do to ready ourselves for this labour?

We can remember that God’s ways are not our ways, and take courage from Mary that she recognises this fact and still said yes. She asks questions when the angel speaks of God’s plan, Mary asks How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The passage also says that Mary was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. But Mary knew deep in her heart of God’s plan and we here today can be encouraged by her discerning and trusting nature.

We can also do what Mary was doing in the painting I showed us earlier.

We open ourselves up to God and we talk to Him. We pray and we listen and we pray and we listen some more.

We do the dishes, we do the shopping, we change the beds and all the other normal tasks that we do, but with Jesus inside us as the hope that grows with hearts on fire with love for Him.

Mary always points to her son, the one born to save us, who’s body and blood was shed for us, who’s life we celebrate coming to dwell with us.

Let us take courage and inspiration from Mary and stand firm in our faith, let us travel together as brothers and sisters into Christmas and tomorrow when the Christ child is in the crib, let us keep his love firmly rooted in our hearts, so that we, filled with the hope and love of Christ, can give out the good news to all. 

We can be hospitable to the extraordinary, 

for nothing will be impossible with God.

Amen.


Image found on Pinterest.

I will give you rest

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

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. I spent one of the weeks studying in a conference centre in Swanwick with my theological college. We did 4, 1hour and a half lectures a day, covered three modules and worshipped three times a day. 

It was a brilliant week. One of the best moments of the week was on Tuesday where we had the afternoon off and my friends and I spent the time praying. Straight after the last lecture in the morning we stumbled across a fellow ordinand who was struggling with an issue in his placement. We asked if we could pray for him and soon he left feeling refreshed ready for a meeting with his formation tutor. 

The rest of the afternoon was similar, it felt like God had lined up various people for us to meet with and I was one of them. I experienced some deep emotional healing from some baggage I’d been carrying for a few years. As my friends prayed for me and another played music on the piano it felt like time had stopped. That time had no hold on us, the kingdom of heaven, the peace and the newness of life in Christ was tangible.

Today’s gospel reminds us of the liberating power of the good news that Jesus Christ brings us,

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ – Matthew 11:28-end

It’s very easy at this time of year to pile on expectations on ourselves, jobs that need doing, shopping to buy, relatives to entertain, services to plan, presents to wrap, food to cook. 

Christmas can be exhausting and it builds up and up and suddenly we feel like we are walking around with a weight that we cannot see and cannot let go.

Jesus reminds us that everyday we have the opportunity to call on him in prayer and leave our worries and anxieties at his feet at the cross. 

Leaving our burdens with Jesus and letting Him change us from within is an amazing experience. After my afternoon of prayer, we as a whole college shared in a Eucharist with healing and anointing. The air was thick with incense and our prayers and worship rose within the heavy scent. Each person left that service feeling relief from the burdens each were carrying, also with a fresh call for all to embrace the rest and wisdom from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Isaiah calls out to us to pay attention to the Lord’s liberating love,
Have you not known? Have you not heard?

those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

 they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

   they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:28, 40:31
Like eagles we can soar, free from the chains of sin, free from our heart’s deepest secrets, free from hurt that grips us and hinders us from living a life that is filled with Christ’s light.
As we approach the third Sunday in Advent I pray that we can all find that sacred space where we can prepare for the coming of Jesus in his humble crib. 

 That we, like the shepherds, are so amazed by the arrival that we drop everything and follow that light. 

That we eagerly enter the simple stable, and on our knees peer into the crib watching the hope that sets us all free sleep in peaceful slumber, feeling that everything and everyone will be well.

Amen

Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom

Today is the last Sunday of the church year and we celebrate Christ being king.

Not a typical king that my children would think of with plush robes and golden crowns, but a king who wore a crown of thorns and dressed in simple clothes and sandals.

A king who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.
A king who leads his sheep into green pastures, who holds his sheep in his pierced hands.
A king who’s feet walked on water and then dangled bleeding from the nails on the cross.

The people called and cheered for Jesus to be crucified because he hadn’t lived up to their expectations, he wasn’t the kind of king and saviour they had hoped for. They were blinded by their confusion of Jesus’ upside down kingdom, where the last are first and the first are last.

On the cross we saw that anyone is welcome into Jesus’s kingdom, the criminal who hung by Jesus’s side at the crucifixion saw Jesus for the King he actually was, he said “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom”.

Those words uttered in that man’s dying breaths “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom” stirred up in me the wonderful power, glory, and love that comes from our thorn crowned king.

Today is also known as “stir up Sunday” where congregations would be reminded to get their Christmas pudding mix stirred up, so it would be ready for Christmas Day. The prayer set for this Sunday asks our lord to “stir up our wills to bring forth fruit, the fruit of our good works”

Stirring up is a interesting action, a dictionary definition states that to stir up is to to affect strongly; to excite.
In the book of common prayer, the stirring up action is also present. One of Cranmer’s goals whilst creating the prayer book was for ministers and congregations to be stirred up to godliness by God’s word.

He also wished to stir up dull minds to the duty of remembrance to God.
You can read these great bits of advice from Cranmer in the preface at the beginning of the book of common prayer.
But why is all this stirring up important?

In the gospel today we hear that when Jesus comes, he will sit on the throne of his glory, and when he does he will make a judgment, his judgement alone, and will separate the sheep from the goats.

But what things is our king looking for when making his judgement? What does he require us to do?
He says:

Feed the hungry

Water the thirsty

Welcome everyone

Clothe the naked

Care for the sick

Care for those who are on the outskirts, those who have fallen away from the path.

This is what we need to do to join Jesus in his kingdom and to do it without prompting, to do it with love for our fellow neighbour.

These are the fruits that we grow when we open up and let Jesus be the king of our hearts.

Today we think about advent which begins next Sunday, the period of preparation to welcome Jesus when he arrives into his humble crib. The word Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus meaning coming.

I love the idea of us all going home today after listening to the set prayer and stirring up the fruits that will be enjoyed on Christmas Day. I imagine seeing the jewelled fruits in the bowl moving around with the incense of Christmas rising. I wonder if Jesus himself looks with joy and happiness as he stirs up our hearts seeing all the things we do as his people.

I pray for you all this week that Jesus will come and stir you all up in his love, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you. his faithful people, whom he loves and cherishes.

Let us remember the words of the man who hung on the cross next to Jesus, let us do everything in our king’s name,

Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Jesus remember us when you come into your kingdom.

Amen

Listen to the sermon here