Monday, June 25, 2007

Help us to change

God help us to change.

It is good to be away on leave. Down by the sea, I arrived to find that a storm the night before I arrived had swept away most of the beach. It is a weird feeling to be walking along what is left of a beach, one you have walked hundreds of times before, and to be about 2 metres lower than you should be. Your head is where your feet ought to be. Two metres of sand got swept away in this storm.

So I've been walking on the beach, and going to church. Part of my holiday is to go to church.

Going to church is, in my experience, a risky business. You never quite know what agenda God has for that day, or for you personally. Do you know the feeling? Sunday morning, it’s out of bed and off to church. Normally it's not a big decision to go to church, because I’m the vicar, and things might become a bit grim if I didn’t turn up. In reality it is a delight to worship our great God. Nevertheless, one of the things about going to worship Him, is you never quite know what He'll be up to.

Two things hit me at church this week. One was the readings. There was Jesus’ deliverance of the demoniac who was infested with a legion (thousands) of demons, and another was from the books of Kings about the flight of the prophet Elijah after his show-down with the prophets of Baal.

What took me aback was, at the end of both readings, there is a command is ‘Go back’. I said to the preacher afterwards that it was a bit rough to come on holidays and have not one but two readings tell you to ‘Go back’. I’d only just arrived!?!

Anyway, I could relate to the Prophet Elijah. He flees, exhausted, and spends time eating, drinking and sleeping before God sorts him out on Mount Horeb. Yes, that is something I can relate to at the moment. Elijah didn’t have an eroded beach to walk on out there in the desert, or else I’m sure that would have been in the story too.

The other thing that struck me at church was that the congregation was growing, it was full of life, and it was happy. There was a prayer in the weekly bulletin, which they quaintly called the ‘pew sheet’. (Actually it should have been ‘pew sheets’, because I got three pieces of paper. But that was all. I did feel a bit naked coming in without getting a prayer book and hymn book. The welcomers saw my hand reaching out for a hymn book, and proudly assured me I wouldn’t need one: everything would be on the big screen. And so it was. And it was great.)

Anyway, the pew sheets’ prayer read: Parish Mission and Evangelism Prayer. “God help us to change. To change ourselves and to change our world. To know the need for it. To deal with the pain of it. To feel the joy of it. To undertake the journey without unerstanding the destination. The art of gentle revolution. Amen.”

What a great prayer. Yes, change does bring joy. It does bring pain. It does take courage. You can never anticipate completely in advance where it will take you. It begins with us, and reaches out to others. My only quibble came at the end. I thought: truly blessed are those who can keep on changing God-wards in ‘gentle revolutions.’ My own experience is that there can be so many of those storm-tossed God moments when the whole beach gets swept away.

It was very encouraging to see this small country church coming alive. May all our churches be able to pray such prayers, to the honour and glory of the Name of the Lord.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

What do we love the most?

A deep problem with the west today is that we appear to have lost our capacity to love others. We love things more than we love people. We love our own ideas more than we love people. We love our money, possessions and fame more than we love people.

We love the idea of freedom more than we love setting people free. We love gratifying our feelings of compassion more than actually doing something for those in need. We speak highly of the emancipation of women, but continue to imprison them in the distorted, contorted body images of the catwalk We love the idea of choice, but deny the unborn the right even to breathe. We love our freedom of speech, but are indifferent to the victims of pornography. We love our cherished, ever-so correct political stances, but are indifferent to the people whose lives are wrecked by them. We give to others as if we were scratching an itch, and not as if we are sharing of ourselves. We love to be thought well of. We love to be right. We love to know that others are wrong. We love to preserve our own world view, even at the cost of the freedom of others. We love our own comfort above all. Our happiness is our highest goal.

My thoughts today have been stirred by watching a preview of the film Amazing Grace, telling the life-long battle of William Wilberforce against slavery. He loved others enough to dedicate his life to countless millions of ones he would never see: human beings sold into slavery.

If you can get to see this film, do so. It is a story of one man's Christian convictions, and the cost and fruit of his decision to remain true to them. St Mary's indeed has a special interest in William Wilberforce, because it was William's nephew George who bought and donated the first piece of land to start St Mary's almost 150 years ago. St Mary's will be organizing a viewing at the end of July - if you are interesting, contact us via