The View from the Vicarage: To Bodly Go …

I have spent some weeks in the Acts of the Apostles with the early church, particularly looking for those encounters which were transformative, not just for individuals but the early church as a whole. I have then been reflecting on what that might mean for the church today, the church that was going into lockdown and the church that is emerging. I have been reflecting on what this means for our mission in the name of Jesus Christ and what it means for our communities.

This blog is the last from the Acts of the Apostles as we take on board the learnt experience of St Paul and what he did next. We left him in Chaper 23 in Prison The View from the Vicarage: Take Courage where he was visited by God and told to take courage, since then in Chapters 24-27 he has been varouisly tried, left in prison to rot and even shipwrecked.

It is Luke’s (the Author of the Acts) closing words of this entire book which I hold close to me today, St Paul has been through the mill, anything and everything that could have happened, has happened – this is time to hide surely, he is now under house arrest – yet he is visted daily by crowds and we read in the very last words of the Acts of the Apostles “Boldy and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ”

What an amazing faith, what an amazing example. We have all been battered and scarred by COVID19 some more than others. There are many who have lost loved ones, some who have not been able to say that final goodbye, businesses who have lost incomes, business people who have lost livelihoods, people who have lost hope …..

This is the moment as lockdown continues to be loosened, as the church with the new ministries it has begun, alongside those old ones it may soon be able to begin again can bring hope. The hope of Jesus Christ himself, that hope that kept St Paul faithful.

It is time for us to do this ‘boldly and without hindrance’ it is not a new thing, it is what we have always been called to do. So as we boldy without hindrance take the new things and begin to pick up some of the old let us put them together and let them take us and that hope we proclaim some where new. In the words of the great James T Kirk (well nearly) let us boldy go where we have never been before.

As usual I leave you with an old hymn that sums up that need to bring hope and to do it boldy and without hindrance. Ernest Nycol wrote these words in 1896

We’ve a story to tell to the nations,
that shall turn their hearts to the right,
a story of truth and mercy,
a story of peace and light,
a story of peace and light.

[Refrain]For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
and the dawning to noonday bright,
and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,
the kingdom of love and light

We’ve a song to be sung to the nations,
that shall lift their hearts to the Lord,
a song that shall conquer evil,
and shatter the spear and sword,
and shatter the spear and sword. [Refrain]

We’ve a message to give to the nations,
that the Lord who reigneth above
has sent us His Son to save us,
and show us that God is love,
and show us that God is love. [Refrain]

We’ve a Savior to show to the nations,
who the path of sorrow has trod,
that all of the world’s great peoples
may come to the truth of God,
may come to the truth of God! [Refrain]

Your friend and Vicar

David

The View from the Vicarage: Take Courage

Welcome to my blog, the View from the Vicarage where I have been loosely following the Acts of the Apostles and of course digressing on other matters.

The idea of looking through this wonderful account of the early church was to see what widom it might have for the church as it went into lockdwon – as we see those restrictions lessen we are taken to Chapter 23.

My last blog on Acts The View from the Vicarage: All Gods Children saw St Paul under arrest and on trial and this is the theme of the next few chapters. St Paul is on trial for teaching about Christ, he has offended the Jews and is being questioned, threatened and abused, he is locked up becuase the commander fears for Paul’s life  – given this experience of St Paul he must surely have wondered if it was all worth it.

In a wonderful moement in Chapter 23:11 we readThe following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome

In the dark of night, in danger and despair Jesus comes to Paul and stands near him – the re-assurance of God’s presence is what he needs, to have Jesus at his side in the toughest moment. We can be assured that God is with us too, not necessarily to make it all better, but to travel with us in our time of need and in our time of pain. That may be many things for many people, the coronavirus and its effects  on your life, the reality of the racism that has been brought out into the open recently – it could be a very personal struggle of your own. In these moments the Lord stands near us.

As we saw with St Paul though he did not just stand their for re-assurance but bids Paul to take courage, reminding him that his mission is worthwhile, his calling great and he must use that courage to continue.

Courage is something we all need right now, perhaps in re-engaging with life after lockdown, perhaps with our own mental health and the way all of this has affected it. The author Mark Twain reminded us courage is not the absence of fear, it is resistence to it and mastery of it – what better way to master fear than with out Lord and Master by our side.

For the church we are reminded that God stands with us always, and at the height of our difficulty – as we try to move on to the next step of what it means to be church we too are told by Jesus – Take Courage!

In his hymn of 1882 George Matheson understtod what it meant to go through hard times – for anyone going through tough times this hymn is for you:

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.

O Light that follow’st all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
my heart restores its borrowed ray,
that in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
may brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow thro’ the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
and from the ground there blossoms red,
life that shall endless be.

Your friend and Vicar

David

The View from the Vicarage : Corpus Christi

Today is the day the church celebrates Corpus Christi –  the institution of Holy Communion. While it is not my usual church traddition to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi I am very struck by it today.

We last celebrated Holy Communion together on Sunday March 15th, I too as parish priest made a decsion in March to take a Eucharistic fast rather than preside in an empty building, or my home. It has been strange for us all, not sharing in weekly communion, not joining Jesus in the upper room on Maundy Thursday, not breaking bread on resurrection morning.

As a priest it has been an odd time, in March one of the key things that sustains me and my faith had to go on hold, and yet it was a decsion I do not regret and I look forward longingly for the day when we as God’s family will break bread again.

However, please do not mistake not ‘doing this in remembrance of me’ for thinking the significance of Holy Communion is not still with us. The sacrament of the Eucharist is with me and you in every day life, a friend of mine says “Eucharist is the reason I get out of bed in the morning” and I still agree with those words today, in lockdown as a priest who has not presided at Holy Communion since March.

There are two key moments in the sacrament of Eucharist or Holy Communion that warm my heart, and in new and different ways they still do in this time of lockdown and fast.

Firstly when I preside at communion, I take ordianry bread (well nearly ordinary) and ordinary wine, within that service of Holy Communion it takes on a new life, as we consume that bread and wine together it becomes something holy, something wondrous.

That is the reason to get out of bed in the morning even without access to that holy meal, the beauty of the sacrament is that this is Gods will for you and for me, us ordinary people – he wants to take us and make us into something truly wondrous – the people he created us to be.

God wants to transform our word in the name of Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit for it to be something wondrous – that is what we pray for at the Communion table but also when we pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”

Secondly when I distibute Holy Communion it is the great equaliser, whether it is a communion rail, whether people stand before me or I take it to them it reminds us all that we are equal in God’s sight whatever our colour, nationality, sex, sexuality or age.

When those hands reach out for the bread and wine, they are always the hands of someone God loves dearly, someone he would not just fight for, but went to the cross and died for. Even without access to the meal itself this truth rings out this day.

So as I leave you with a hymn for Corpus Christi, dont lament our lack of participation in the meal but trust in its truths and promises and look forward to the day when we can break bread together.

1 Sweet Sacrament divine,
hid in thine earthly home,
lo, round thy lowly shrine,
with suppliant hearts we come;
Jesus, to thee our voice we raise
in songs of love and heartfelt praise:
sweet Sacrament divine.

2 Sweet Sacrament of peace,
dear home for every heart,
where restless yearnings cease
and sorrows all depart;
there in thine ear all trustfully
we tell our tale of misery:
sweet Sacrament of peace.

3 Sweet Sacrament of rest,
ark from the ocean’s roar,
within thy shelter blest
soon may we reach the shore;
save us, for still the tempest raves,
save, lest we sink beneath the waves:
sweet Sacrament ofrest.

4 Sweet Sacrament divine,
earth’s light and jubilee,
in thy far depths doth shine
thy Godhead’s majesty;
sweet light, so shine on us, we pray,
that earthly joys may fade away:
sweet Sacrament divine.*

Your friend and Vicar,

David

* Francis Stanfield. Public Domain

The View from the Vicarage: Trinity Sunday

On Trinity Sunday, every year I realise the impossibility of ever doing God justice by talking about him.  Today I have not focused on the Trinity as much as the mystery, the question and the poetry of it all.

Todays Old Testament Reading from Isaiah 40:12-17 & 27-31 holds for me that great mystery of God – it is there I want to spend some time this morning.

The prophet says:

Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counsellor?
Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?

The prophet starts by pointing to mystery, to big questions that cannot be answered –  I too am tempted to hold on to the questions rather than try out a neat explanation.

Yet the world cannot cope with mystery. We have as humanity always tried to apply reason and logic, everything must be explained away. The theory behind this approach to life is to  give us with wealth, security and with control.

Yet here we are in the powerful United Kingdom with deaths of over 40,000 from COVID19 – here we are seeing racism and protest still exploding onto the streets of the world – today is not a day to neatly explain things away. It is not just COVID19 and the murder of George Floyd, just look at the map of history, unfurl it and you will find that our instance on logic, on reason and that desire to explain everything away has brought two thirds of the world famine and strife, this way of life has brought war and prejudice, this way of life has given us debt and stress.

Even before our current crisis we could walk the streets of our cities where homeless people sleep, by going to any major city where people are trafficked from poorer countries into the sex trade, where people live in fear of the next bill, in fear of their parents, in fear of theory husbands, in fear of their lives.

I wonder if we are missing something, maybe it is time to live with the big questions as the prophets did of old. Time to hold these questions in tension we turn to scripture, the Bible the inspired word of God – not as  a set of answers, but poetry, beauty, and mystery. A mystery that points to a God beyond our imagining, beyond our questions, our logic and our reasons.

The answer to the questions of mystery asked by the prophet in our reading this morning is this:

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

The answer is poetry itself, a poetry that highlights the majesty and the mystery of our creator, our redeemer and our sustainer of this Trinity Sunday.

It joins the poetry that starts with creation in Genesis that moves the songs of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Psalms and the prophets.   We hear the poetry when Mary finds she is to bear the world it’s saviour and when Simeon, meets him – and now Lord you let your servant go in peace.

This is wonder, it is mystery and part of the very nature of serving God.

This Trinity Sunday I wonder if we might stop trying to find all the answers and hold on to the questions, love the mystery – take the words of scripture and let their poetry sing and then transform you.

We live in and in a world of heartbreak, disease, poverty inequality and injustice remember the poetry of the prophet  his words  are for you this morning:

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

A Trinity Sunday hymn for you as we hold the mystery

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
Which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
Though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
Only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
Perfect in power, in love and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity. *

Your friend and vicar

 

David

*Words by Reginald Heber (1783-1826). Music by John B. Dykes (1861). Public Domain
CCLI 285604

The View from the Vicarage: All Gods Children

Welcome to my blog, we have been walking through the Acts of the Apostles and today we arrive at Jerusalem with St Paul, he has said tearful goodbyes and has been told to expect hardship and imprisonment as he does Gods will.

In Acts Chapter 22 we have the details of Paul’s defence as he has been arrested and taken in chains to the barracks by Roman Soldiers. The defence is eloquent and speaks of Pauls upbringing, his training his zealousness as a Jew, his conversion and his ministry. Yet the moment for me that really stuck home today is when the Roman Commander finds out that Paul is a Roman Citizen, he is alarmed that he and his soldiers have treated a citizen of Rome in such a terrible way.

The Acts of the Apostles is full of such moments where equality is challenged,  encounters that begin to point towards unity and we have looked at some of those over the last few weeks.

Today we stand in a hard and difficult world, on one hand we have COVID19 bringing our communities together in new and exciting ways despite its tragedy and cost in lives, on the other we see the evil of racism in our world.

The murder of George Floyd and its aftermath leave us deeply troubled, we as a world have not learnt the most basic of lessons – we are all God’s children, we are all citizens of the same humanity, created in the image of God himself. White supremacy is nothing short of evil, black lives matter.

As Christians we must shout from the roof tops that we can do nothing less than treat every human being of every colour race and creed as made in beautiful image of God. We are all God’s children and anything less unacceptable.

We must also begin with ourselves, we often have buried in ourselves forms of discrimination that are shaped by the society we have been brought up in, this is known as unconscious bias. We must repent of our own short comings but also we must stand up in the name of Jesus Christ, in the name of justice and let the world know this is not how it should be.

Let us start with ourselves as we pray for unity, start with our own hearts as we yearn for the healing of evil that is racial discrimination and let us offer our prayers for all Gods children everywhere. Dr Martin Luther King Jr said, “In a real sense, we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Therefore, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

In the words of Bishop Michael Curry we must all make “a daily decision to live in the way of love … when we all do that, we win.”

I leave you with a hymn some people of around my age may remember from school, written by Sydney Carter in 1965 its speaks of what a global family, being all God’s children might dare to look like. WE need to be global neighbours right now – all God’s Children.

When I needed a neighbour, were you there, were you there?
When I needed a neighbour, were you there?

And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter,
were you there?

I was hungry and thirsty, were you there, were you there?
I was hungry and thirsty, were you there?

And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter,
were you there?

I was cold, I was naked, were you there, were you there?
I was cold, I was naked, were you there?

And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter,
were you there?

When I needed a shelter, were you there, were you there?
When I needed a shelter, were you there?

When I needed a healer, were you there, were you there?
When I needed a healer, were you there?

And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter,
were you there?

Wherever you travel I’ll be there, I’ll be there,
wherever you travel I’ll be there. 

And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter,
were you there? *

Your friend and Vicar

David

196 Sydney Carter Reproduced by kind permission CCLI 285604

 

 

 

The View from the Vicarage: Pentecost

Welcome to my blog, we move back to the day of Pentecost as we celebrate the birthday of the church and the promised gift of the Holy Spirit In Acts 2:1-21

This year of all years I am struck by the coming of the Spirit upon the gathered few, who met in safety. We as a church are meeting in safety, we are using technology and social media, and the Holy Spirit is still with us, with you and with me.

When the spirit comes to those believers it will change their lives; everything will take on new meaning; their lives will become open to the pain and suffering of others but also the hope of a world transformed.  This is their story yet it is ours too.

We are called to enter into the continuing drama of God’s new creation in the world. To enter into the realities of this world with all its hopes and greatness and all it suffering and disaster. Even though we cannot meet together just yet, we are called though our prayer, care and witnessing to be his church even in lockdown.

Pentecost is the moment when God Breathes again; in his first breath he moved over the waters of creation, that same breath of God, which hovers over the womb of Mary, the same breath that Jesus gave to his disciples in the upper room.

The breath of Pentecost transformed tired and disciples into a people full of confidence and boldness and it still does, it ushers in a new tomorrow, it ignites hope, it unites humanity.

Commenting on Pentecost St John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople in 4th century said “It is not for lack of miracles that the church is stagnant; it is because we have forsaken the angelic life of Pentecost, and fallen back on private property. If we lived as they did, with all things common, we should soon convert the whole world without any need of miracles at all.”

Pentecost and the breath of the Spirit helps the believers to overcome self-preservation and greed and leads them to live the way of Jesus. Speaking in different languages was a moment where all who could hear could receive this new message, in their own tongue as we see barriers overcome by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy  Spirit breathes across national boundaries and interests, structures and differences to bring together a people, seeking to live in the power of the new creation – a new tomorrow; giving courage to ordinary people to break with traditions, to be open to the new, to let truth invade into their own experiences of reality and reach out to the world around them.

This is the call of Pentecost to us. With the coming of the Spirit upon the gathered few, who meet in safety and collected holiness . We are living in challenging times right now, we are seeing tragedy all around us and yet we are at the beginning of something new, as a world, as a society and as a church.

I leave you with my favourite hymn of Pentecost by the founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth:

1. Thou Christ of burning, cleansing flame,
Send the fire!
Thy blood-bought gift today we claim,
Send the fire!
Look down and see this waiting host,
Give us the promised Holy Ghost;
We want another Pentecost,
Send the fire today!

2. God of Elijah, hear our cry:
Send the fire!
To make us fit to live or die,
Send the fire!
To burn up every trace of sin,
To bring the light and glory in,
The revolution now begin,
Send the fire today!

3. ’Tis fire we want, for fire we plead,
Send the fire!
The fire will meet our every need,
Send the fire!
For strength to ever do the right,
For grace to conquer in the fight,
For pow’r to walk the world in white,
Send the fire today!

4. To make our weak hearts strong and brave,
Send the fire!
To live a dying world to save,
Send the fire!
Oh, see us on Thy altar lay
Our lives, our all, this very day;
To crown the off’ring now we pray,
Send the fire today!

Your friend and Vicar

David

The View from the Vicarage: Persistent Patience

Welcome to my blog as I take a walk through the Acts of the Apostles and offer some short reflections on what I believe it may be saying to us as a church and as individuals, particularly in this time of change and of transformation and in a world of restriction and limitation but with new beginnings on the horizon.

After spending time with Paul in Athens The View from the Vicarage: Into the Marketplace and then in Corinth The View from the Vicarage: Sticking to Religion we find ourselves with Paul in Ephesus in Acts 19:1-22.

There is much that could be picked up on in this passage, there are amazing encounters, conversions and demon possession but those are not the things which I have reflected on, for me it is the underlying theme of all that is happening through Paul.

In verse 8-10 we read “Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.”

Paul does not turn up like a guest preacher for a day and move on, this is not a quick tour, this calling of St Paul, of the early church is one of real commitment to place, to people and to Jesus Christ. Not only is there a real commitment, there is a real patience. Despite opposition Paul stays 3 months before moving on from the synagogue.

The commitment of the early church seems to me to be a ‘persistent patience’ they have ground breaking, world changing good news and to share that requires this ‘persistent patience’.

After 10 weeks of lockdown we all know how frustrating life can be in very new ways, but alongside that we have all learnt to live with a persistent patience as we have stayed at home, saved lives and protected the NHS.

As a church we have felt those limitations on our worshipping life very keenly. We cannot meet together, we were unable to celebrate Easter together, we have not been able to share in the meal Jesus gave us since March 15th at St Matthew & St Wilfrid’s. Yet we have learnt new ways of pastoral care, reached out to new people online and above all learned that virtue of persistent patience. As we move on to our new tomorrow we will need to practice that even more – things will not go back to the way they were in our churches for some time to come, we will need to find new ways of doing things and may have let go of others.

The early church grew exponentially and became the church of Jesus Christ by practicing persistent patience, we need to practice that persistent patience as we seek to move on to that new tomorrow while recovering our identity as the people of Jesus.

This year in the Diocese of Durham we planned 2020 as a year of pilgrimage, little did we know what kind of pilgrimage we would be on – as we move on together in this new world I leave you with a wonderful hymn all about pilgrimage and persistent patience by John Bunyan:

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
He will have a right
To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.

Your friend and Vicar

David

 

The View from the Vicarage: Sticking to Religion

Welcome to my blog as I travel through the key moments of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles, if you have been travelling with me we were last in Athens with Paul before taking a detour back to the Ascension. Today we move from Athens to Corinth as we find Paul wrapped up in more controversy in Acts 18:1-17.

Corinth was always going to be a difficult gig, it was a huge commercial city that came with its own sense of arrogance, a place that would not be told. It was also a hive of sexual immorality. This is a place where Paul becomes scared, he speaks out in the name of Jesus Christ speaking to the Jewish believers about their messiah – they reject him with such vehemence that he feels he must leave.

In a dream God speaks to him, reassures him of his protection and convinces him to continue this mission, We know from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians that this never became an easy task. Paul goes on to preach to the gentiles in Corinth and is hauled before the proconsul by the Jews in an attempt to quieten him for ‘speaking against the law’

In the court case that ensues Gallio the pro-consul refuses to listen, he absolves Paul and gives him the protection of Roman law and the freedom of speech which will form a precedent that will later see the Roman Empire accept Christianity as its own religion and transform the Empire completely.

The opposition in Corinth in both this reading and the letters seems to stem from the fact that believing in Jesus is going to change the way people feel, work, act – that you cannot say you believe and not let it impact upon your life – in essence this Christianity is too much cant we just stick to religion.

The church is often told to ‘stick to religion’ and not speak out and yet the very act of sticking to religion IS to speak out and challenge the world around us, why? Because there is a better way to live and be, a way that looks to the other, that cares for the earth, that seeks to challenge the unjust structures of our society. God loves each and everyone of us, he created us in his image and there is so much more to life for us all, Christianity is life changing and world changing.

For William Wilberforce ‘sticking to religion’ meant speaking out against the transatlantic slave trade that dehumanised millions, most of the foodbanks in the UK are run by churches or church partnerships, this is because ‘sticking to religion’ means feeding the hungry and speaking out against poverty for the Christian Church.

That is the church we must be in our day, there is nothing new under the sun, it was the same for the prophets, for Jesus and St Paul – we need to ‘stick to religion’ by reaching out in love and in challenge to a world that is hurting, a world that needs to know Jesus as it’s Lord and Saviour.

So I leave you with a hymn as always:

Jesus Christ is waiting,
Waiting in the streets;
No one is his neighbour,
All alone he eats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I am lonely too.
Make me, friend or stranger,
Fit to wait on you

Jesus Christ is raging,
Raging in the streets,
Where injustice spirals
And real hope retreats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I am angry too.
In the Kingdom’s causes
Let me rage with you.

Jesus Christ is healing,
Healing in the streets;
Curing those who suffer,
Touching those he greets.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I have pity too.
Let my care be active,
Healing just like you.

Jesus Christ is dancing,
Dancing in the streets,
Where each sign of hatred
He, with love, defeats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I should triumph too.
On suspicion’s graveyard
Let me dance with you.

Jesus Christ is calling,
Calling in the streets,
”Who will join my journey?
I will guide their feet.”
Listen, Lord Jesus,
Let my fears be few.
Walk one step before me;
I will follow you. *

Your friend and vicar

David

*©1988 WGRG, Iona Community, Govan, Glasgow G51 3UU, Scotland

The View from the Vicarage: Ascension – COVID19 Hope

Today is Ascension day, if you have been following the blog my apologies as we skip back to Acts Chapter 1:1-11 to think about what this day means and what it means for us in a COVID 19 world.

Ascension as we follow the reading seems to be all about power and victory – but what does that mean as the death rate has soared and families have been torn apart by loss and grief?

The disciples are hearing words about power that is to be given to them but the power that comes with Ascension is to be given away not hung onto.

Jesus never clung to power. He was not surrounded by public adoration, he trod a difficult path that involved significant sacrifice. We have already seen in our studies of the Acts of the Apostles that the church still grew, despite opposition and suffering. We see that the disciples who seemed selfish and foolhardy were willing to lay down their lives, confident in the victory of Christ.

Ascension is about power and victory – but not as the world sees it. The outcome of life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus is that do not have to be trapped in the despair and disease of our world any longer. It means that there is only one inevitability: the promised return of Jesus

The Christian path is a path of suffering because the path of Jesus was a path of suffering. Not miserable suffering, but a path that is full of the presence of Christ and also the presence of suffering and difficulty

So many have been taken by COVID19 the daily briefing bring their agonies to us direct, yet this need not to be a path of lonely suffering, for the church is a family of witnesses to the reality of Jesus. People staying at home has saved people’s lives, and people have done so much to support communities, foodbanks, neighbours because suffering is healed by being part of community, by supporting one another and for us that means in the name of Jesus Christ.

What next?  Well what could be more important than the message Jesus’s followers are left to proclaim?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

It seems that ascension has set our destination, and our mission to change our world; we are never to despair, we are always to endure, we must not forget to rejoice and remember to celebrate while still patiently enduring suffering – knowing that the victory of Jesus the Christ is certain.

Today sees the beginning of Thy Kingdom Come a time of prayer from Ascension to Pentecost where we pray that more people will come to Jesus – so here is the challenge: think of five people that you want to know Jesus and pray for them – pray that they may know the light his presence and promises sheds on this harsh and difficult world.

I leave you with a hymn as usual, this time from the early 1700s by hymn writer Isaac Watts:

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
does its successive journeys run,
his kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
till moons shall wax and wane no more.

To him shall endless prayer be made,
and praises throng to crown his head.
His name like sweet perfume shall rise
with every morning sacrifice.

People and realms of every tongue
dwell on his love with sweetest song,
and infant voices shall proclaim
their early blessings on his name.

Blessings abound where’er he reigns:
the prisoners leap to lose their chains,
the weary find eternal rest,
and all who suffer want are blest.

Let every creature rise and bring
the highest honors to our King,
angels descend with songs again,
and earth repeat the loud amen.

Your friend and vicar

David

The View from the Vicarage: Into the Marketplace

Our reading today takes as to Athens with St Paul, in Acts 17:16-34 we find St Paul engaging with the Jews in the Synagogue ‘as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there’

This encounter in the market place leads to an incredible conversion of some of the philosophers who wanted to hear more about Jesus and how he related to their own understanding of God. The philosophers take St Paul to the meeting of the Areopagus (an early aristocratic council) to quiz him over his teaching. Paul responds:

“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”

St Paul then spoke of this God:

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.  ….. For in him we live and move and have our being.’

This conversion only took place because the conversation took place outside of the Synagogue. St Paul had to go into the market place to hear the concerns of everyday folk and not just the institutionalised religion of the day. St Paul engaged with all rather than staying on safer ground, rather than sticking to the way all things had been and were done.

Today is St Dunstan’s day, Dunstan was an Archbishop of Canterbury who lived from 909AD to 988AD and is particularly known for his reformation of the church and early monastic life. It was St Dunstan that asked questions about doing things in a new way, about a changing church for a changing world – he like St Paul was not scared to try new things in order to reach people in the name of Jesus.

Right now it seems like we have had the changes the church is going through imposed upon us but I believe God is blessing us through them. As we broadcast online services we are more in the market place than we have ever been, even if we do sorely miss our sacred space.

As we move on the lesson today is from the early church and St Dunstan, we need to embrace this new world, we need to change things as the world changes but without losing sight of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So as we take our wary steps into the market place to a world that Jesus loved , died and rose again for I leave you with a 17th century hymn by Nicholas Brady and Nahum Tate that re-assures us of Gods presence “through all the changing scenes of life”

Through all the changing scenes of life,
in trouble and in joy,
the praises of my God shall still
my heart and tongue employ.

O magnify the Lord with me,
with me exalt his name!
when in distress, to him I called
he to my rescue came.

The hosts of God encamp around
the dwellings of the just;
his saving help he gives to all
who in his mercy trust.

O taste his goodness, prove his love!
experience will decide
how blessed they are, and only they,
who in his truth confide.

Fear him, you saints, and you will then
have nothing else to fear;
his service shall be your delight,
your needs shall be his care.

To Father, Son and Spirit, praise!
to God whom we adore
be worship, glory, power and love,
both now and evermore!

David

Your friend and vicar