Voices of Hope – April 18th 2019

“God Will See Us Home” (Part 4) – “God is a Starter-Finisher” by Claire Jones

Claire Jones

I’m a seven new ideas before breakfast sort of person. There are so many good ones to be had: books to be written, projects to be started, groups to be gathered. The problem is, so few of the ideas make it to tea time. I’m quick to lose interest or lose heart.

Fortunately, God does not share this trait.

God’s good work in me started way before breakfast: it began at the moment God first imagined a funny little creature with her dad’s speckled skin and her mother’s stubborn streak. It’s a work he continued as he whispered his love into my young heart; as he offered me freedom and forgiveness through Jesus; as he breathed new life through dry bones; as he called me to join him in all-consuming adventure.

It’s the same work that God has begun in his Church.

Here, strangers are knit together as family. Here, freedom and forgiveness are proclaimed by the unlikeliest preachers. Here, purpose and passion spill out of the door. God has surely begun a good work in us.

And yet… God’s good work is too often marred. There are so many times when my courage gives way.

When my words aren’t enough.

When my love dries up.

When my faithfulness fails.

The truth that I cling to is that God will finish the job. God doesn’t lose interest and he will not lose heart. He is faithful in finishing the work he has begun, and so there is always another chance to get it right. I am a masterpiece, as yet unfinished.

Here too is my hope for the Church of England, my Church that I love and am preparing to serve. God is not finished with us yet. This is our hope, when our courage gives way.

When our words aren’t enough.

When our love dries up.

When our faithfulness fails.

There is another chance to get it right. We are Christ’s workmanship, the love of his life, the house he has chosen, the body he dwells in. And we are his masterpiece that will one day be complete.

A Prayer

Faithful God, thank you for the good work you’ve started in me and in us.

Please give me faith today to trust that you will finish the job.

Give me vision to see how you are at work today. Give me the grace to join in, now and always.

Amen.

Tomorrow – the Revd Peter Leonard, “Being Prophetic”, Micah 6: 8

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Voices of Hope – April 17th 2019

“God Will See us Home” (Part 3) – “Confidence in Christ” by the Revd Jenny Clarke

Jenny Clarke

Fear, uncertainty, brokenness, sorrow. It is something we all carry at times. Even Our Lord sorrowed and wept for His people.

And yet we can have a hope and a confidence in Jesus Christ.

There is much to sorrow for in today’s world, and as people of the Gospel we are urged to carry the hope of Christ to those suffering and in need.

But what about our own pain, and our own brokenness? Sometimes that becomes too much, and we are unable to see beyond it.

Our pain may stem from an internal place. Personal brokenness, illness, emotional trauma and mental health issues are things that most of us will experience at one time or another.

Our pain may also come from an external place. The pain of ongoing rejection, broken relationships, the suffering of loved ones.

The bible tells us that Jesus will take our burden from us, replacing it with an “easy yoke, a lighter burden” (Mt 11:28-30), and yet our brokenness continues, one painful thing is healed only to be replaced with another. In our sorrow we may cry to God asking: ‘Where are you?’ Our brokenness and pain are features of the broken world we inhabit, but it is not permanent.

When we meet Christ and choose to follow him in whatever way we are able, God embraces us into God’s family. God began a good work in us. We each began to be transformed into the person God always intended us to be.

The work has begun, but it isn’t yet completed. It’s a long job, but not one without a definite end date. On the day of Jesus return, the good work, the transformation which has begun in all of us, and in the world, will be completed.

We can be confident of this, that the good work which has begun in us, WILL be completed, our brokenness will be healed, our sorrow gone, our pain released.

In my blunt northern way I imagine it like this.

God’s Diary         01.01.01

1.    Jesus

– appointment – Earth

2.    Fix Jenny and Paul and Sam and…

A Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, who sorrowed and wept like us,

we ask you to share the burden of our current sorrow and the pain of our brokenness.

Help us to remember that we can be certain of an end to our pain,

and that we can be confident of our transformation on the day of your return.

Amen

Tomorrow – Claire Jones, “God Is a Starter-Finisher”, Phil 1: 6

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Voices of Hope – April 16th 2019

“God Will See Us Home” (Part 2) – “The Bigger Picture” by Tracey Byrne

Tracey Byrne

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the death of Jim Cotter, a dear friend and LGCM’s first General Secretary.

As a gay man, deeply committed to truth-telling, Jim knew all about exile, about being cast to the edges, but he resolutely refused to become a victim.   From that place he lived with such searing authenticity and tenderness, through the AIDS epidemic, from a place of dark depression, of illness and healing.  Around 2000 he moved to Wales, near an ancient pilgrim route high in the hills above Harlech, where he welcomed strangers, seekers, poets, pilgrims and friends – few of them from the central powerful places of the church.  He exercised a profound and prophetic ministry, incognito.

Towards the end of his life,  Jim was offered and accepted the post of priest at Aberdaeron, where the poet R S Thomas had once served.  From his place of abundant exile Jim had been called to a new, and all too short, phase of his pilgrimage.  As far west as it’s possible to go on land, Jim exercised an extraordinary and unexpected ministry, as gently subversive as ever.  “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.”

Sometimes, caught up in the machinations of the institution, we can forget the bigger picture.

The God of surprises is waiting, incognito, to draw us on, to welcome us, to heal us, to give to us all those things we never dared dream of, even from our place of exile and despair. And that God of surprises has plans for us too.

A Prayer

Restore the years, O God, that we have lost,

that the locusts have eaten.

Give to us the future we thought we should never see.

Even when we feel exiled,

locked in, despairing,

move secretly within us and among us

and without our realizing it

keep us moving on our journey to your city.  Amen.

Jim Cotter

1942 – 16 April 2014

Tomorrow – the Revd Jenny Clark, “Confidence in Christ”, Phil 1: 6

 

 

 

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Voices of Hope – April 15th 2019

“God Will See Us Home” (Part 1) – “Clearing the Smog” by Jeremy Marks

Jeremy Marks

1952: The year of the Great Smog in central London, where my parents had their first home, is vividly remembered by my mother for the terrible air quality. You could not go out because visibility in daytime was down to a couple of feet; you could not open a window or the room would soon be filled with smog. Ambulances could not run; all private and public transport stopped except for the underground.  Five days of dense smog killed 4-6,000 people whilst another 100,000 were severely affected by respiratory problems.

The government was forced to take decisive action. Eventually. Four years later, the Clean Air Act was passed, but the changes were too slow to prevent another smog ten years later. Fortunately my parents took the decision to move out of London to a more healthy environment.

The deadly impact of the Great Smog was immediate and very dramatic.

More insidious but no less dramatic, is the toxic spiritual smog in our country today. This is profoundly unsettling. National turmoil created by Brexit has been the catalyst to spawning deep divisions in our society. News reports full of endless speculation and polemic do nothing to help matters. This has resulted in profound disillusionment and frustration for very many people.

In stark contrast, disciples of Jesus Christ who seek to follow his teachings, have an eternal perspective not confined to this life with its many disappointments and traumas. Instead we place our confidence in God’s goodness and eternal sovereignty.

But to benefit from this knowledge we must have an unambiguous strategy – to guard our hearts from the toxic effects of our national attitude of cynicism and hostility.

In his letter to the Philippians, St Paul gives a clear strategy to eschew this kind of scepticism and negativity. Throughout Scripture we are instructed to “Rejoice in the Lord always”; to rise above our national malaise and live in hope now and for the future.  Striving to make strategic changes to the situation, however much relief that might bring temporarily, is no solution.

Authentic change begins with the heart!  Rarely do we see the need for change in our own heart attitude – the very essence of repentance – until we’ve exhausted all our own schemes and the mounting crises all around us become so overwhelming that we are forced to stop in our tracks.

Then we might begin to see the things that are good, true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. These excellent, praiseworthy qualities can be seen everywhere in God’s world when our eyes are open.  To “think on these things” provides the oxygen we need for our souls.

The Great Spiritual Smog begins to clear as we open our mouths to share the divine perspective.

The decision to live with a clean heart and wholesome outlook is ours; nobody else can make that for us. It is the outworking of a pilgrim’s resolve to follow Jesus Christ – the Lord of all.

And it is the way of peace.

A Prayer

Thanks be to God for the gift of life and and breath in us; for those good relationships that we have and the abundance of opportunity every day to love and encourage others, and thereby make the love of God known to all. 

Through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen 

Tomorrow – Tracey Byrne, “The Bigger Picture”,  Jer 29: 11

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Donkeys, Leaders and Fairy Tales

by the Rt Revd Dr David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

david-walker

What a mess to be in!

The metropolitan elite, secular and religious, is totally out of touch with the mood of the wider population. Caught up in its own petty power plays, it blunders on, disconnected from the anger endemic in the rest of the nation.

Ordinary people feel, with good reason, that nothing ever gets done to benefit them. Nor does it help when those who do articulate a different future, one that breaks free from the shackles of subjugation to foreign powers, seem to have little to offer beyond a vague return to former glories.

Maybe what’s needed is a populist leader. Someone untainted by past compromises and connections. Someone who can latch onto their religious and cultural identity. A leader who puts things in simple and straightforward ways. A person with a natural, charismatic authority. Someone who will shake everything up.

Better than the current load of donkeys!

If there’s one clear, consistent message from every fairy story in history, it’s to be careful what you wish for.

It never turns out the way it was expected. The tale twists, the prize being grasped turns to dust or destruction. Things that were meant to get better end up vastly worse. The hoped for saviour turns out, after at most a couple of years, to be just another donkey, braying pompously in the breeze.

Except once, when the tale is turned on its head.

This time we start with the donkey. It won’t take long for the wildly acclaimed popular leader riding it to see his opinion poll rating to dive from hero to zero.

His moment of glory will be measured not in years or months, but in days. He’ll be dumped on the rubbish heap long before ever he reaches a position of power. Discarded for not playing to the prejudices of the mob, for being as critical of power and its abuses as some Old Testament prophet.

The end.

Except, not the end.

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Voices of Hope – April 13th 2019

“Truths to Live By” (Part 6) – “Don’t Give Up” by Savi Hensman

SAvi Hensman

Working for a more loving, just and non-violent Church and world can be tiring and frustrating.

In my experience and that of many others, even when it appears as if things are moving forward, a setback may follow. It can be hard enough to live by those values oneself, especially since poverty and other forms of inequality and harshness can come to seem inevitable.

At times it can be tempting to give up. In my life and in communities of which I have been a part, there have been times when it felt as if hope were gone.

But we need not rely on our own strength.

The book of Isaiah, quoted in the New Testament, offers a vision of a God who cares deeply for those ill-treated or abandoned by society or even religious institutions. This includes working through a Servant, sometimes identified with the community of faith and, for Christians, with Christ. The Holy Spirit rests on this figure, who will see justice done in the end, whatever the cost to themself, who, out of defeat, will bring victory over all that harms and destroys.

When we pray and strive for God’s realm on earth, there is One greater than ourselves working alongside and in us.

This Companion draws our attention to the cries of those pushed to the margins, steadies us when we are exhausted and, when we go off course, can gently set us right. With the help of the Servant, we can spot signs of hope even in the desert, encourage others too to show compassion and courage in defence of the vulnerable and admit our own need.

The promise of a world where everyone is valued and protected is not just a dream. God is continually at work bringing this into being and supporting us to play our part.

A Prayer

Loving and ever-faithful God, if we feel exhausted or despairing when we are working for a more just, compassionate and non-violent church and world, deepen our trust in you and remind us that we need not rely on our strength alone.

Amen 

Next week – a series of reflections on “God Will See Us Home”

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Voices of Hope – April 12th 2019

“Truths to Live By” (Part 5) – “Don’t Try to Understand” by Sue Jones

Sue JOnes

Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things;
      no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
  You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
     Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
             things too wonderful for me to know.”

Eleven years ago I was in a spiritual wilderness.

My faith had been shaken to its core by several painful events. My oldest child had died suddenly at the age of 17. My long marriage didn’t withstand our grief; my husband left two years later for someone else. Then, a bone infection contracted during a routine operation left me gravely ill.

I hadn’t stopped believing in God, but I no longer trusted in his goodness.

As I slowly recovered, I felt called to read my bible with new eyes, and to study theology, hoping that I would be able to understand why God allows awful things to happen.

Reading the book of Job initially made me as angry as Job himself. God takes everything away from Job, including his family – apparently for the sake of winning a wager. When Job is shown to remain faithful to God despite all these trials, he is rewarded with a new wife and new children.

I found this impossible to understand. How could precious, unique individuals, each made in the image of God, be “replaced”? How did that make everything better?

I was wrestling with this question when I reached the passage quoted. A distraught Job has been railing against God, who replies by asking why he expects to understand his purposes: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand”. (Job 38:4). God then indicates the beauty and unfathomable nature of his work in creation, and Job finally realises that these are things “too wonderful for [him] to know”.

When I came across those words I realised that I could not possibly hope to understand what God’s plan was for my daughter’s short life; I have to trust God that there is one, and that it is too wonderful for me to know.

Learning to trust God has given me my faith – and my life – back.

A Prayer

Heavenly Father, 

I cannot begin to comprehend your majesty, nor the depth of your love for me and the whole of your creation. 

I pray that you would fill me with your peace, as I humbly put my trust in you. 

In Jesus’ name.

Amen

Tomorrow – Savi Hensman, “Don’t Give Up”, Isaiah 42: 4

 

 

 

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