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!

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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

 

Blessed are those who are persecuted.

Last night my husband and I decided to catch up and watch Gunpowder on BBC iPlayer. I didn’t really know the detailed story of the gunpowder plot I just knew that on November 5th it was bonfire night. 

As the programme began I quickly realised that this story was meaning more to me than I realised. I watched the priest and his two ordinands hide away after mass in a private house so they would not be captured. My heart was in my mouth when the group sent to find the priest grew closer and closer to his hiding place. It looked like the priest and one of the ordinands were going to be caught, however the other ordinand, hidden in a window seat, made a noise to distract the men. Unfortunately he was found and he was taken away with the lady of the house.

As I sat there watching, I had a huge sense of sadness.  As the story progressed on, the ordinand and the woman suffer terrible deaths with the name of Jesus on their lips as they suffered. I was physically upset with grief for the violent death of Christians and of Christians killing each other. How much our Heavenly Father must weep with such loss!

As I buttoned up my cassock this morning, I still felt heavy with the thoughts of the persecuted in the past and today. I imagined if myself and my vicar had to suddenly hide at church because it was illegal to worship. 

Would I, like the ordinand in Gunpowder do everything I could to ensure Christians could continue to worship in the name of Jesus?

Yes I would.

According to Open Doors, 322 Christians are killed every month for their faith around the world. As we celebrated All Saints day today the thought of those who perish every month felt heavy in my heart. I thought about how they are now safe in the arms of our lord Jesus Christ and how I must remember to be so thankful that I can be an ordinand and not worry about having to hide or fear for my life.

Jesus says “blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12)

My prayer today is for the persecuted Christians around the world and those who have lost their lives in times past due to their calling to follow Jesus.

May our loving Lord hold them close as they rise in glory, in everlasting peace. 

The table transforms us 

A sermon preached for St Mary’s in the Baum and St Chads Rochdale.

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

I’ve recently put my house up for sale, we’ve lived in it for 12 years. In that time my husband and I have had five children and currently him and I sleep downstairs so that the children have all the room upstairs. We’ve slept downstairs for the past three years. We’ve always worked on making what we have go that bit further and that bit longer. Our kitchen table only sits five, so when we all eat together we get a plastic table from upstairs and we all squish together sharing food and laughs.

During this time when we are thinking about stewardship and how we can try and give more, I like to use the image of a dinner table, a table a bit like my own, where we don’t have much, but there are always more seats added even when things are tight.
In the gospel today the king is throwing a wedding banquet for his son. The table is laid out waiting for those who are invited. The king sends out his slaves to tell the people who are invited it is time to come, it is time to start the feast and share in great joy. 

However the invited do not want to go. In the Gospel it says,
“But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.”

The invited turn their backs on the king’s invitation and go back to their business, back to their farm, back to focusing on what they want, what they think they need. It is so easy to become too busy, too preoccupied with the things that are seen to matter. It is very easy to be so busy with the things of what is happening now than the things of eternity. 

Today there is so much pressure to get the right job, the right car, the right social life, the right house.
And Jesus knows all this, and is speaking of his concerns to the man made laws and wants of the chief priests and the Pharisees. 

Before this parable, Jesus had just finished telling them the parable of the tenants where he warns,
“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”

Jesus uses today’s parable as of a way of explaining his warning to the Pharisees and chief priests and we are to heed the same warning, that with all this noise of modern living, of man-made expectations and desires, it is impossible to hear the calm, soft invitation from Jesus.

As the parable goes on, we see the king telling the slaves to go back out and invite anyone to the feast, good and bad.
Everyone is welcome to the table and the king makes sure that this is the case.

However, as the wedding banquet begins, the king sees a man who isn’t in the right clothes, he has been invited, he is there, but somehow he has missed the dress code. 

He has come to accept his invitation, but is unaware that the table which he is invited to is transformative and reclothes him in a robe, clothed in Christ.

The man is asked, “How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?”, The man was speechless. 

He is speechless. After his fight to succeed in life, through the countless noise of expectation, so secure in his own clothes, in his own merit that he is lost for words that he would even be questioned.

But hold on you say, everyone is invited, good and bad, so why is this man being challenged? We must remember that Jesus is the way the truth and the life, that the table he invites us to transforms us from the inside out and as we live in communion with Christ, we become clothed in him seven days a week, not just on Sundays, not just when we are in church, we love our neighbours 365 days a year, we don’t just put on Christ on a Sunday morning and then on a Monday pop him on the coat peg.

You see everyone is welcome to the feast, everyone is welcome to the table but the table changes us. 

In todays New Testament reading Paul says,
“Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you”.

Wearing the right spiritual clothes is about becoming more like Christ, and by doing so, others will see Christ through us.

Everyone is welcome to the table but the table changes us.

We are transformed.

We become guests at the most joyous feast imaginable.

The questions I wanted to pose for us as we step out into another new week are,

How easy is it to not hear Jesus’s invitation because we are so focused on what we want? 

How easy is it to become engulfed by the consumerist nature of the world? 

How do we as Christians fight against the temptation to strive for what we think we need for a good life instead of listening to God’s will?

Finally How can we make space to keep hearing that quiet consistent invitation to the feast, to the table where we are changed from within, washed through by his blood, fed by his broken body, dying to sin and raised up in his resurrection in glorious apparel. 

We must remember that our invitation to the banquet is constant, the dinner table will always extend, more chairs are always added. 

We must remember that it’s in our hearts that our King calls us, that is where Jesus invites us to step forward to his table.

So this morning as we share in communion let’s make a space to re-hear our invitation to the table and thank God for this invitation to share in his endless joy and love.

I’ll finish with Paul’s words from the New Testament reading,
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”.

Amen 

Rough Wood

25912D07-9F0D-4109-A379-0C20E5DFA661I sometimes forget,

that the cross wasn’t smooth to hold,

it wasn’t polished,

it wasn’t shiny gold.

.

It was rough wood,

that carved into shoulder,

a heavy burden,

for the beholder.

.

Not perfectly cut,

or varnished into place,

yet filled with arms open,

eternal divine embrace.

.

And yet I dare to wonder,

why my hands are feeling sore,

whilst picking up my own cross,

palms bleeding and raw.

.

And when I feel uncomfy,

or lost and out of depth,

I think of Jesus stretched out,

struggling for breath.

.

Because this is His cross,

not gilded and pristine,

but rough wood that we share,

on his shoulders do we lean.