Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Jeremiah 23: 1-8

Jeremiah lived at a time when the Jewish people were under attack from their enemies, leading ultimately to Exile.

The loss of their land and heritage, their national pride and standing among the nations was a deeply traumatic experience for Judah and Israel.

Whether it’s for political or economic reasons, to escape persecution or ethnic cleansing, the experience of forcibly having to leave your homeland is painful.

The situation of migrants and refugees is generally one of displacement and distress.

This was the case for God's people, and it’s what many experience today.

The mass movement of refugees – or asylum-seekers – who now number many millions worldwide, is becoming an increasing global problem.

Migrants are forced to live in a second-choice world. They carry the scars of loss: the loss of belongings, of cultural identity and relational networks.

Do we care ?

God does.

In his Son he identified personally with all who suffer – including refugees. Joseph and Mary were forced to flee with the infant Jesus to Egypt to escape King Herod's fury. The holy family became political migrants.

But through Jeremiah, God promised to bring his people home, under his protective covering. He would rescue them from their enemies, heal them and deliver them from their fears.

Jesus came so that we might experience deliverance from our fears, and salvation from all that oppresses us.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Luke 2: 1-7

We will soon be in the season of Advent, a time for quiet reflection and preparation for Christmas.

Well, that's the theory!

In practice, this is the busyest time of year for many people - especially those who put on red costumes, and play the part of Father Christmas. I read recently that a shop manager had sacked Father Christmas, because he was wearing trainers. The manager said that he wanted his grotto to be neat and tidy, and provide a pleasurable experience.

Perhaps some people wish the churches would tidy up their Christmas scene, the Crib. The baby should have a proper cot, not an animals’ feeding trough. The walls should be draught-proof. The family should have their own room, not shared with cows and sheep.

But to tidy up that scene would be to take away its meaning. Jesus was born in a messy, bleak environment. He DID live in a chaotic, confused world. And the discomfort of his birth was nothing compared with the agony of his dying.

The point of the Crib is to remind us that when God chose to come and be part of our lives, he did so in a manner that showed us he didn’t expect VIP treatment. He came to be part of human experience at its toughest and most demanding.

This gives us a reassurance that lasts well beyond Christmas. Few of us have lives which go to plan and leave us untroubled. The fact that Jesus experienced the same kind of messiness that we do, gives us confidence that when we seek God’s support in dealing with our troubles, he knows what we’re on about.

Magically tidying it all up is not usually what he does, but the Crib guarantees that he will be with us in our confusion, and help us through it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hebrews 12: 1-3

I'm just back from a three-week break in Scotland and the Orkneys. All of us need a break from the routine of life, and a chance to re-charge our batteries, otherwise we can become weary with the unceasing demands of home and work, and all the things that life throws at us.

There comes a time, for most of us, I’m sure, when we long for some freedom, rest and peace, so I'm relieved that the Bible recognises that we get weary, and invites us to do something about it.

Isaiah wrote: ‘He gives strength to the weary... even young men grow tired and weary... but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength... they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not be faint.’

Jesus issued a similar invitation: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’

In the passage I suggest we read, the writer to the Hebrews gives a similar invitation, to think about Jesus, so that we will not lose heart and grow faint.

In Greek, this literally means ‘set your whole mind upon Him and be fully occupied with Him’.

This is an invitation we would be wise to accept each day, whether or not we need a holiday.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Violence, Looting and Riots in our Cities

Loving God, you call us into community, and we only become truly ourselves as we are there for others.

Forgive us our brokenness and heal the hurts of communities damaged in the recent troubles in our cities in the United Kingdom.

We pray for an end to the violence, looting and riots that have brought fear, terror and destruction to local neighbourhoods across London and other UK cities. We pray that the underlying reasons for the riots can be quickly, fairly and properly addressed and that the Government, the police and local communities will work together to rebuild trust and security.

Help us to repair the harm done to neighbourhoods, buildings and relationships and to rekindle hope.

Give to the Church in areas of trouble the courage and creativity to be there for others, and to be part of your gracious work of restoration and recovery.

We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, who is our peace and who keeps breaking down the barriers that divide us from each other.

We pray in faith, trusting in our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Psalm 24

Today is Ascension Day.

This Psalm is about the worship of God by his people, in the Temple at Jerusalem. It’s made up of three distinct parts:

First, worship of God, the creator and sustainer of the earth and all that it contains.

Then it asks who will, who can, go up to worship him ? ‘Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord ? And who shall stand in his holy place?’ The worshipper should be a person with clean hands and a pure heart,who does not direct his thoughts to wrongdoing or swear deceitfully. Such a person God will bless.

Then we come to the so-called ‘Gate Liturgy’. In some symbolic way God is being brought into the Temple. This may go back to the first time that the Ark of the Covenant was taken in procession into the Temple. Perhaps there was a festival to celebrate this, and also, maybe, to re-enact God’s entering his holy place.

But it’s possible to re-read Psalm 24 as a psalm about Jesus: ‘Who shall ascend (to) the hill of the Lord ?’ This is Jesus going back up, at the end of his earthly ministry, to the place where God lives: ‘his holy place’.

Jesus is qualified to do this, because he, above all human beings, has clean hands and a pure heart. He has never set his mind on wrongdoing or sworn deceitfully.

He goes to receive justice and blessing from God. The gates and doors of heaven are told to open to receive Jesus back in.

Who exactly is Jesus ? He is a glorious king (because that is what ‘king of glory’ means) returning from a mighty victory.

This is where the Christian reading of the Psalm makes sense - for God is there, inside the ‘holy place’ - ready and waiting in heaven to bless.

But the one who is entering now, returning from his earthly mission - this Jesus, king of glory: he too is God ‘The king of glory IS the Lord of Hosts.’

The psalm gives us a vehicle to celebrate our risen and ascended Lord, both Man and God.

But Ascension is not just for Jesus, just as resurrection is not reserved for him. The whole point of his victory is that we should share its fruits.

The Ascension is the completion of Jesus’ story - birth, growing up, ministry, passion, death, resurrection, ascension. The story is complete - except for our part - our acceptance of his salvation, our following where he leads.

The carol reminds us that:

For that child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in Heaven above;
And He leads His children on
To the place where he is gone.

The great promise of the Ascension is that, after death, and in spite of death, we shall go to live in heaven. The details of when, or how, are not ours to understand, but in Jesus we have a sure and certain hope for a world, and a life, beyond this one.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Psalm 51: 1-12 and Isaiah 1: 16-18

I’m no artist, but I do enjoy dabbling with paint. For the last few years I’ve been experimenting with acrylics; before that I always used watercolours.

Whenever I look at a blank sheet of paper I feel a mixture of excitement and anticipation. I see the paper’s whiteness, its texture. It offers so many possibilities, but I’m often reluctant to start painting, because it could be the beginning of something good or (more often) a complete failure.

When I do begin, the first washes of watercolour usually feel good. That lovely blue running boldly across the sky, the texture of a cloud edge on the rough paper, and above all the happy accidents – the gifts when one colour runs into another just right.

More often, though , it begins to go wrong. The more washes I put on the muddier it all gets. The more I try to correct it, the more faults I see. I can’t seem to realise my original idea. Yet another spoilt picture. Another sheet for the waste-paper basket.

The story of my life. Getting up each morning, looking forward to the day. And what I make of it depends on what I put into it, what other people contribute and those happenings which are God’s gift. And they’re the most important, and the most reliable.

But above all, the thing which gives hope to each new day is the clean sheet in front of me, given through God’s grace, God’s forgiveness of my past failures.‘Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow’ says the Psalmist.

The Lord, speaking through Isaiah says ‘Though your sins are scarlet, they may yet be white as snow.’

Lent is a time for new beginnings, a time for putting our past failures behind us, for asking God for his forgiveness, and then starting out with him again, with a clean sheet.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Numinous illuminous

The stained-glass poured its
Semi-precious light upon the altar,
Rainbow colours washing over
Sheets of sacred scripts,
In that numinous moment
When the transcendent becomes immanent.

In the rows of bowed heads,
One, fixed in a beam of light,
The lustre of her hair the
Radiance of glowing copper.

Later, extinguishing candles, an
After-image burnt into my eyes,
I heard ‘Let there be light’.
It was so. And it was good.

© David East 2011.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Revelation 7: 9 – 8: 1

Silence doesn’t work very well on radio. I believe that some radio stations have a back-up system which automatically transmits music in the event of a long silence, which it presumes is a technical fault.

So the first ever broadcast of a Quaker act of worship on Radio 4 had hardly any silence, certainly compared with what would be expected in a normal Friends’ Meeting.

In ordinary life too, silence is normally taken to imply ‘a technical fault’. Something must be wrong if silence falls in the middle of a conversation, or if someone present is not contributing verbally to what’s happening.

That passage from the Book of Revelation tells us that, at the end of time, ‘there was silence in heaven’. It comes at a moment when it seemed essential just to stop the noise and absorb the enormity of what was happening.

Nothing else - not words or music or any activity - does justice to the occasion.

A silence in the middle of a conversation, whether in a group or on more intimate occasions, can be a time simply to be present and enjoy the moment, to absorb what’s happening or being said.

Silence, in the presence of God; time to be still and know who he is, is even more important.

Perhaps today we might resist the temptation to prevent a silence developing, to break into one that’s started, or to put pressure on somebody who is being silent to speak.

It may not work on radio, but in our relationships and conversations - and especially in our time with God - silence can make a valuable contribution.