Blessed Eucharist and Molten Meditation – wonderful worship at #gb11

One of the things that meant that Greenbelt has for the last 25 years been the one Christian mega-gathering that I REALLY wanted to experience ‘one-day’, is the fact that it is a really inclusive event, which seems to have always wanted to engage people in ideas and new, or emerging forms of worship.

God's forgiveness can fill any space!

So, it seemed right that I started my Greenbelt experience, with something “Blessed” shared by Fr Simon Rundell of St. Thomas the Apostle, Gosport and Robb of ‘Changing Worship’ and ‘Metanoia’ (both of whom are a great follow on Twitter and their blogs!) – a Eucharist that was really designed to “Wake me up inside.”

It did just what it said on the the label!

The full liturgy is here, and the video is here – and I really would encourage you to take a look, especially if you like rock music, blowing bubbles, and really meaningful liturgy.

Without wishing to repeat a blow by blow account of the whole thing, what was it that meant the most to me?

The theme for Greenbelt this year was ‘Dreams of Home’ and two things struck me particularly about the way Fr Simon had designed the liturgy and visuals to fit this theme:

  • The use of different rooms of the home as elements of the Eucharistic celebration enabled us to really engage with the movement that lies with in this most poignant of sacraments. For the ‘Penitential Rite’ (Confession and Absolution) we were in the Bathroom, including the bubbles of God’s forgiveness that were able to fill the space of a Big Top.
  • The use of images from glamorous, expensive home magazines contrasted nicely with the state of the world today, where so many are homeless, either through poverty, war/insurrection, or a society that simply wont understand.

The other piece of liturgy that I found particularly moving, and made me feel more than a little bit uncomfortable, was the Lord’s Prayer – first prayed together and then followed up with a series of “Don’t say… if you…’s”. The pace was also just right – it stopped you getting comfortable. It reminded my that I can not pray, without understanding the consequences of those prayers!

There was also something really, really special about sharing The Peace with complete strangers – I had truly come home to Greenbelt, in God’s presence.

Later on Friday evening, I experienced true Greenbelt serendipity. There I was, up in the Grandstand, having checked out The Tank (so I knew what to do when the phone needed charging) and wondering as the rain came down what on earth to do before I trekked back to my tent.

There was something called ‘Homebound – Molten Choral Medititation” in a venue called Hebron. I hesitated, totally ignorant of what it might involve (I’d not yet had time to read the Greenbelt Guide). Then the rain came down harder, and I heard some rather wonderfully harmonious choral singing, so I took the plunge. One of the best spur of the moment decisions I made in the time I spent at Greenbelt.

Accord, a group of 6 singers who I can’t find anywhere on the internet except at Greenbelt, created a beautiful blend of a capella choral music that drew recognisably from contemporary worship songs, traditional choral music (a lovely kyrie) and then completed the worship with something that I can only describe as choral beat-box! (If anyone can point me in the right web-direction of this group I’d be delighted.)

Molten Meditation who led the meditation in a full venue, asked us to consider the three steps (which we turned into 3 simple actions, and repeated twice during the ‘service’) we expected to make during our journey ‘home’ during Greenbelt. Their use of pace, and action, and what I’ve learnt is called ‘ambient’ music was excellent. It held our attention brilliantly in short bursts, including using some Charles Spurgeon quotes. I was so engaged that I remained so in the spaces filled by Accord’s music.

But what caught my attention, imagination and made me sit up and think the most was a story. They called it “There is such a thing as forgiveness”. Presented as what I hope might be termed a video/audio montage, I am really, really grateful that they released it on their YouTube site (click the link above) It used part of this (I think) Radio 4 interview recorded in March 2010, to explain how one man was asked to pray for another, and for the forgiveness that is being found through those prayers, not just for those two men but for a whole community. I have never, ever been so startled to see the face of Ian Paisley.

So, you see, despite the problems I encountered in myself and with camping, Greenbelt was definitely not a wasted experience! Just from that first evenings worship, I have been given much to think about, and many ideas to try in my own worship contexts in future.

Why I ‘failed’ Greenbelt #gb11 but know it’s not the end!

Dawn over Cleve Hill, Greenbelt 27th Aug 2011
Dawn over Cleve Hill, Greenbelt 27th Aug 2011

Well I’ve been back from Greenbelt for a couple of days, in fact for 30 hours longer than orginally planned!

First I must emphasise that there was nothing wrong with Greenbelt. It is a wonderful event. It brings Christians of all flavours, as well as agnostics and athiests, together, to grappel with some of the big issues of faith, culture, society and world affairs, through the media of music, speech, comedy, and good old fashioned conversation. And it does so very successfully.

I’ve been told however, that to really experience Greenbelt you have to camp. So, for my first ever visit, I felt I had to camp. OK, it was slightly glamping, as I hired the tent and such like, but as the previous post shows – it was hardly all mod cons! I had never camped before and knew that I was pushing myself beyond my ‘comfort’ zone on this one, but felt I’d let myself down if I didn’t try.

But, perhaps I knew myself better than I was willing to admit in my efforts to conform to the stereotype of ‘festival goer’. Perhaps I should have been more honest, more humble even.

You see the first night, despite plenty of pre-planning and kit, I was frozen. I barely slept a wink even though I had a second sleeping bag to cover the first, a blanket, ear plugs, eye shade… even my socks on! It meant I was able to photograph the dawn over Cleve Hill, but it had little else to recommend it as a nights sleep! I was only thankful that the air mattress provided by Tangerine Fields was a great comfort to my notoriously dodgy back.

The second night, I doubled the layers – more clothes, one sleeping bag in side the other, a woolly hat – and yes, I was a little warmer, more comfortable. It was just that even ear plugs don’t help when teenagers race around a campsite (that isn’t their patch) at 2am+ screaming, shouting and falling onto my tent!

Apparently, that’s what teenagers do at festivals, but I’m afraid I thought it simply selfish – and I wasn’t alone. Most of my fellow TF campers were older than me, and/or visiting the UK and taking in Greenbelt as part of their holiday – and their reactions weren’t always as calm as mine.

Greenbelt 2011 sitemap

In many ways the position of the Tangerine Fields site (see site map) was ideal. We were very near the field of activity, had toilets and running drinking water very close to hand. This convenience was added to by the fact that I could enjoy acts like “Duke Special” in the ‘Big Top’ and ‘Performance Cafe’ from the comfort of the air mattress in the tent!

It was just that it seems that it also provided an easy shortcut through to the main ‘Big Top’ entrance and these facilities, for young volunteers and I presume teenagers who’d been put in “early curfew” perhaps a little against their will?! During Festival hours this was understandable, and bearable. After midnight, it was a huge nuisance.

I know I need a lot of sleep, so all this sleep deprivation started to take it’s toll on what I could take in of the talks and the music I wanted to hear at the Festival. But it also exacerbated another problem, that I hadn’t expected.

This might sound a little soppy, but I missed my man! I went to Greenbelt alone, knowing that I would meet a few people there I already knew a bit, and hoped I would meet more people (mostly ministers) that I only knew via Twitter. This proved the case, but somehow it wasn’t enough. Most of the people I saw, were either part of a group, there as a couple, or had a large group of pre-existing friends to connect with. In particular they were able to chat through their experiences or the ideas they’d heard, together afterwards.

Some of the rainbow of flags on the Grandstand at Greenbelt 2011

Without someone close there, this wasn’t possible for me, despite my poor attempts at Twitter conversation after talks. Added to which, there’s the simple fact that my husband has been my ‘soul-mate’ for the last 20+ years and it just wasn’t the same without him to share it with! (The main reasons he didn’t come were doggy logistics, and expense, since I had the privilege of being there on a First Time Christian Leader ticket that was greatly reduced in price.)

Rob Bell (and as I work through my responses to the talks I went to, his name will crop up again) spoke on Saturday morning about “knowing oneself”, about not moaning about what you’re not, owning who you are, and living the life that God has equipped you for accordingly.

It was this idea, which was hardly knew, but perhaps something I needed to hear this weekend afresh, that eventually drove me to get my husband to come and collect me on Sunday afternoon, long before I had intended. The theme of the whole weekend was ‘Dreams of Home’ and I’m afraid the theological depth of this became rather lost for me, as all I could do was to dream of home – warmth, and peace to sleep! I know I have missed out on a lot as a result, but at least I am not a total physical wreck, and am now emotionally quite happy with the decision I made.

So, sorry Greenbelt I failed to make the most of all you offered this year, but you successfully emphasised stuff I should have known better about myself. I will be back another year – but I’m afraid, I won’t be camping!

As the week progresses, I shall write a little more about what I saw and heard and thought in the 2 days I was at Greenbelt, now I’m in the warmth and comfort of my own home! At least I know, as Rob Bell put it, that “failure is not the end”!

Dreams of Home at Greenbelt #gb11 #fb

image

Well, our holiday is over and my husband has dropped me off at Cheltenham Racecourse for my first experience of Festival life – Greenbelt style!

Thanks to my booking with Tangerine Fields (TF) I have made myself at home (no 38 – next to a jump) by proving I can use the stove to make a cup of tea!

The TF site is handy to the Big Top (where I hope to worship later with Blessed) and most of the goings on so I shall be able to wander backwards & forwards with ease. There are also toilets very adjacant!

After worship tonight I’m looking forward to hearing the source of my phone’s ring-tone on the mainstage: Show of Hands!

I think the only mistake I’ve made is coming without my husband, but doggy logistics would have made that tricky. So, rather than sit here gazing at the mist over Cleve Hill I’m off on a wander…

Farewell to a hidden hero: Geoffrey Hancock CMG 1926-2011

Last month a took a funeral. A quiet affair for a grieving family, which in some ways was like the others I’ve taken over the last year. But in other ways this was different. For I had the privilege of being the first person to acknowledge publicly that Geoffrey Hancock led a double life. He had been for many years, an MI6 officer – a spy!

Last Saturday, The Daily Telegraph published its obituary to Geoffrey Hancock CMG, and his son Frank kindly thought to forward me a copy. He also gave me permission to publish below both my address at his father’s funeral, and the images used on the cover of the service sheet.

Every funeral is different and a privilege, but sometimes the stories that come to light capture my particular interest. This is a case in point: I wish I had known Geoffrey to have seen how ordinary he appeared to be, but I am glad that I had the chance to celebrate that he was in fact a hidden hero. I look forward to the publication later this year of his own memoir of just one year in his life “A Diplomat’s Day”.

My address at Geoffrey’s funeral, which followed his son reading from some of his papers of his flying and sporting adventures, was as follows:

We hopefully each have places which make us feel at home, or comfortable. They are our roots, an important part of who we are. Often they are places we remember from childhood. For example, I like to return regularly to the woods and heaths of the New Forest. For Geoffrey, his roots included this village of Yateley, as it still was in his childhood, and as it remained during Frank and Katya’s childhood visits here.

There may also be specific things which give us a sense of connection with our past, or give a sense of peace with the present difficulties of life. It might be a relationship with a spouse or a friend, or with some significant poem or reading, like those we are sharing in at this service. It can even be an activity like flying, or playing a musical instrument. These are the things that are important to us.

When Jesus was asked what was the most important commandment, he took his listeners back to the roots of their faith, to the first five books of their scriptures. Jesus, a man with scary new ideas that involved his followers taking risks with the authorities of religion and occupation, encouraged them to rely for inspiration on the core elements of their inherited faith – their relationship with God, and with their fellow man. Those, he said, were the most important relationships of all, the things that would offer people a consistency in their lives that would motive all their actions.

Having a Christian funeral in a place that had been a stable and repeated resting place in his early life was important for Geoffrey; things which he specifically requested. Although he was a man who moved in a world of many faiths, and who had huge respect for those of other faiths, it was the Christian faith which sustained him, and to which he turned when opportunity and retirement allowed.

Jesus was someone who would have offered something to which he could always turn, whatever the situation he found himself in. He would also have been someone whose risk-taking was something that Geoffrey would have recognised!

Talking to Frank the other day, and looking at the reading chosen for this service (Mark 12 v28-34), it struck me that Geoffrey’s work, over many decades, formally and informally, not only required him to take risks, but also required other characteristics.

To lead a properly double life, the extent of which was hidden from even his most loved ones, to serve his Queen and his country, to make snap judgements, to ‘pull strings’ for the benefit of people other than himself, involved self-sacrifice. Creating the physical transport connections from invisible relationships that took people to safety in situations like Beirut in 1976 involved a humility of spirit that had to accompany the fact that his actions could not be acknowledged.

It may be that you will remember, or perhaps have been part of, some of the stories of risk and adventure that filled Geoffrey’s life.

More particularly, I hope that each of you will also recognise the role you have as being part of his roots, perhaps as members of his family, the loved ones to whom he could return with some honesty when the wider world allowed, or to whom he liked to talk at length in later life, despite the generational differences, the miles and his failing health.

It may be that the true connections in Geoffrey’s life between his faith, his ‘work’, and his hobbies will never be fully understood by anyone else because of the nature of the life he led. But although that has been a difficult tension with which each of you has probably lived, it is worth remembering that whatever was withheld was done out of love for you, and humility in his relationships with others. It is always incredibly difficult to do justice, in one short service, to the memories that family, friends, colleagues and associates share of someone who was an important part of their lives. With Geoffrey that is even more true, because of the scope and nature of his life. I am therefore glad that there will be a second opportunity at some point in the future to remember him, the relationships he built with self-sacrifice, humility and risk, and the impact he had on the wider world.

But today is special, because it is, in this life, a personal farewell. As you remember those things that made Geoffrey who he was, his roots, his faith, the risks and the humility – whether they make you smile or cry, treasure those memories and share them with each other. Above all else, let them be part of your future as well as your past, in a way that means you can build on those same attributes and values.

As you continue your own lives, be sure in the knowledge, that whatever the physical struggles of his last few years of life, Geoffrey is now released from them and at peace in the presence of a God he has served as faithfully as any earthly ruler.

I’m not sure that there are many risks in heaven, but it is surely where we have our roots; a place where as Christians we are finally and fully in the presence of the God who has been constantly at our side and knows more than anyone else our true character and the nature of our lives here on earth.

And I wonder if, even now, Geoffrey is there, sharing the true tales of the exploits of risk, sacrifice and humility that he has shared with Jesus, the rooted risk taker, and humble servant of us all.

On the inside cover of the service sheet was the following poem, from an anonymous source:

A handsome young airman lay dying,
And as on the tarmac he lay,
To the mechanics who round him came sighing,
These last dying words he did say;

Take the cylinder out of my kidneys,
Take the connecting rod out of my brains,
Take the cam shaft out of my backbone,
And assemble the engine again.



			
					

Cakes thank RAF families – a good news story!

Mothers' Union free homemade cake stall at RAF Odiham Families Day, 10th August 2011 - with Apache Helicopter doing aerobatics above!

Yesterday my husband spent the day at RAF Odiham as part of a team of 16 Mothers’ Union members who gave away FREE homemade cakes to RAF personnel and their families at the RAF Odiham Family Day. His account of the event, plus some of his pictures is here. There’s more on his Flickr site too – especially if you’re into aircraft!

Mothers’ Union are celebrating 135 years of supporting marriage and family life this year and in the Diocese of Winchester we are doing it in the only way we know how – with practical projects and giving thanks to God.

Tuesday 9th August was Mary Sumner Day when as well as celebrating with worship and a presentation by Mothers’ Union Worldwide President, Rosemary Kempsell, over 100 members brought some of the 100s of homemade cakes to be given away at RAF Odiham yesterday.

Next week another Mothers’ Union team will be taking 19 families for a week’s holiday in East Sussex, a holiday they wouldn’t otherwise get.

Among the busy-ness of our small contributions to making these things happen (mostly Press Releases in my case) it struck me that the work of Mothers’ Union, and these small practical projects stand in contrast to other current news stories about family life.

That’s why I love Mothers’ Union – and why it’s work is so important.

What do I need to get the best from Greenbelt? #gb11

I am being abandoned at the gates of Cheltenham Racecourse this month by my family, clutching only a rucksack, a cool bag and a pair of wellies!

Because we have a family adventure to have before we get there, I need to pack now – two whole weeks before Greenbelt starts!

I’m waiting with bated breath for the Daily Diary to be published on Friday just before I leave ‘internet-land’. My tent, mattress, sleeping bag and stove are organised already, courtesy of Tangerine Fields!

But I’m a first timer; a Greenbelt ‘virgin’ if you will.
What do I need, for me to get the best from Greenbelt? This could be things I need to take, or things I should try and do. So far I’ve been told the following:

  • If you need time out from the crowds try the  “silent” pemanent chill-out space
  • Something to sit on as a lot of the talks are in tents and the grandstand has hard seats – I’ve got a tiny 3 legged stool on a shoulder strap that should do the trick, and a squishy cushion thing we use for the cricket. Hopefully that will do.

I’m also planning to take:

  • A notebook and a pen – I’m guessing there will be interesting people, things, ideas etc that I will want to note down;
  • My trusty Android phone (and charger) so I can contact all my lovely Twurch of England and other friends and work out where we can meet up – especially important since I don’t know what most of them look like!

But the question is, what else do I need to take?

I’ve posted some of my initial plans here, but what else do I need to plan to do whilst I’m there that will make Greenbelt special?

If you’re a Greenbelt-pro, please post a comment here or Tweet me. I’d love your suggestions as to what else I should take with me, or what it is that I should plan to do whilst I’m there!

And perhaps we could pray it doesn’t rain?

Being prepared for freedom to walk with God – Exodus 12:1-13

It’s wonderful when, as you are stood there preaching, you can sense that people are listening, and the Holy Spirit moving. It doesn’t happen every time you preach, though that doesn’t mean that obviously God’s not doing stuff, but when I preached this sermon last Sunday, it did. Here’s what I said (after 2 ‘think spot’ type things):

Lord, if you haven’t already, speak into our hearts and our minds, so that we can journey from this place in FREEDOM, knowing you better .

God’s people, Israel, were being prepared for FREEDOM.

FREEDOM for what?

– To be the community of Israel. Verse 6 of this passage is the first time that God calls his people a community – they are no longer a single family, or a collection of 12 tribes, but a community, God’s community. When Moses arrived back in Egypt and first spoke to Pharoah, God told him to describe Israel as his “first-born son” (Exod 4:22). They were very special people to God, and God made that quite clear to Pharoah.

– To go on a journey, a journey to somewhere – they weren’t told where.

– It was a journey, a walk, with God – the consistent thread throughout the plagues is that the Israelites should be freed so that they can worship God – their journey was to be walk of worship with God.

God wanted Israel to be behave FREEDOM from what?

It wasn’t anything they had done wrong! He wasn’t dealing with Israel’s sins. (He’d deal with that later!) It was FREEDOM from slavery and the burdens that had been placed on them by Pharoah – freedom from someone else controlling their lives, constantly making their work more difficult to achieve. (Exodus 5)

It was FREEDOM at a price!

The cost to the Egyptians was a 10th plague – the lives of their first-born sons.

But there was a price for this new community of Israel too!

On the surface the price was cheap – a lamb. Well, OK a lot of lambs!

But there’s an awful lot of detail in our reading this morning about those lambs. Four whole verses from v3-v6. So they must be important to Israel’s FREEDOM.

– The lambs had to be sourced and sacrificed at exactly the right time. According to v3 and v6 the 10th and 14th days of the first month of a new year in a whole new era in the lives of God’s people.

– The lambs had to be of exactly the right quantity according to v4, to match the number and the needs of the families of Israel. They were a replacement or substitute for the first born sons of Israel when this plague came to the land of Egypt, and there had to be nothing left to waste, nothing left behind, because this was a new start.

– The lambs had to be of exactly the right quality according to v5. God demanded perfection from these sacrificial lambs, just as he would hope for perfection from his people.

– The lambs had to be used in exactly the right way – their blood smeared on the doorframes, then roasted whole.

Only after all that, were the lambs to be eaten indoors, with the people totally ready and prepared to leave, as we’ve seen with the children earlier!

So yes, on the surface, the price of FREEDOM was a lamb. But to achieve that freedom they had to show themselves capable of two things:

Firstly they had to show their FAITH in God who was giving them these instructions. But how could they be so sure of God? Well because of his track record; because he had protected them through each of the 9 previous plagues without the need for any special measures on their part. For example, in the plague on the livestock in Exodus 9 v4 and 6, God knew whose cattle were whose; In Exodus 9 v26 God shelters the Israelites from the hailstones without them hiding indoors; and God gives the Israelites light when he plunges every Egyptian into darkness.

Since the Israelites believed in the God who had already done so much to show how important they were to him, the second step to achieving their freedom was easy: all they had to do was OBEY God’s instructions!

By following every single detail of God’s instructions they would be free – free from slavery – free from the burden of doing someone else’s bidding – free to leave and walk with God in worship to him. And if you want to read on later, that’s just what happened.

By obediently carrying out these copious and comprehensive instructions, God’s people the Israelites, establish their relationship with God.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is killed at the same time in the Passover celebrations of the Jews that the lambs would have been sacrificed in The Temple as the Jews made their memorial of the story we’ve had this morning.

St Paul likewise makes it clear in 1 Corinthians: “Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for us.” (1 Cor 5:7) Jesus is THE Lamb!

Jesus was sacrificed on the cross
– At exactly the right time, to reveal to all humanity that we are God’s chosen people, his special community – for as the land was covered in darkness, and the curtain of the temple torn in two, so Jesus died (Luke 23:44-47) and as he was “lifted up from the earth” so he drew men to himself (John 12:32)

Jesus was sacrificed on the cross
– In the right quantity. How, how can one man take the place of all of us? The only way that he was able to take the place of all of us was by not just being a young man who did good things, but by being God’s own Son! In John 14:10 Jesus says: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me… It is the Father living in me, who is doing his work.”

Jesus sacrificed on the cross
– Was of just the right quality to satisfy God – human like us, but totally without fault, free from sin! As Isaiah had prophesied “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5)

Jesus was sacrificed on the cross
– To be used in exactly the right way – the memorial of his broken body and shed blood is shared as a community in our services of Holy Communion, just as he instructed us to in Luke 22:19 “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

All that so that we can have the FREEDOM to go on that journey with God.

But we also need to pay a price if you like. We need to respond to that offer of freedom with FAITH and through OBEDIENCE.

It is good to remember the times in the past when we have known and really understood God’s activity in our lives, or seen him active in the lives of other members of our Christian community. These are the stories that God has provided us with to give us the FAITH we need for our journey with him.

In my life, for example, I know that

  • Only God could have made things happen so I went to University, and specifically University in Aberystwyth – because believe me it had little to do with my A-level results!
  • Once there, I know that God introduced me to all sorts of things and people that have been really important to me in later life – and I’m not just talking about G!
  • I know that God freed my Mother of her suffering, so that she died when she did, giving Dad and I the freedom for new parts of our journey with God and other people.
  • I know that God wanted me to be in this sort of ministry for him, so that he could reveal more of himself, and the relationship he wants with me, and with other people – ideas that I might otherwise have been too busy to notice!

God does stuff because he loves us, and so that when he asks us to show FAITH in him, we will be OBEDIENT.

Perhaps, despite what I said earlier, OBEDIENCE is more difficult than faith. Since when has any child easily learnt to do as they are told in all circumstances?

I know what God is asking of me, but I can’t know what specific things God is asking each individual to obey him in. But I do know why God is asking us to obey him.

It’s because he wants to give us that FREEDOM to walk with him, to worship him, to experience his constant participation in our lives. He wants us to be free of the the sort of things MH talked about last week; the slavery to computer games, the expensive cars, money, anything we obsess over. Those are just examples; deep down inside us we know if we are enslaved to something.

For some of us our burdens are different. They’re external things that draw our focus and our energy away from our walk with God, but which can’t be ignored or set aside – in many cases God wouldn’t want us to. It might be the sudden or prolonged illness of a loved one. It could be the paperwork and legal issues that go alongside a bereavement and make it harder to bear. More short or medium term, it could be some unexpected problem with the fabric of home that is expensive and/or time consuming to fix. Some things will seem minor or petty, but they stop us being free to obey God and journey with him.

So here’s the thing – the link between OBEDIENCE and FREEDOM:

The Passover was all God’s own work. In some of the other plagues Moses or his brother Aaron, had been used by God to make something happen. For example, in the plague of boils in Exodus 8:8 the Lord says to Moses “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt and festering boils will break out on men and animals throughout the land.”

But, not so here with the plague of the first born, with the sacrifice of the lambs. It says here in Exodus 12:12 God says simply “I will pass through Egypt and strike down every first-born of both people and animals.” And what’s more there is a specific point where Israel become free – it is the point of OBEDIENCE, the symbol of which was the blood of a lamb smeared on the doorposts; the point where God knew his will had been done.

The same is true of the sacrifice of Jesus. On the surface it may have appeared that the powers of religious mis-understanding and political calculation placed Jesus on the Cross, though as God’s Son that only happened because it was necessary for Jesus to die. The point of FREEDOM for all of us was the same; it was the blood of Jesus shed from the cross as he died, that was the point where God knew his will had been done. It was Jesus’ OBEDIENCE in our place that gives us FREEDOM to walk with God. And the resurrection to made that FREEDOM really visible was unequivocally all God’s own work!

I don’t have the blood of a lamb to share with you all.
Nor, I’m sorry to say, do I have enough roast lamb to go round a group this big!

But I do have this: (take up my napkin and pitta bread)

When the Jews celebrate Passover, and even those Jews who have accepted Jesus as their Messiah and Saviour still do this, they celebrate Passover with this: unleavened bread.

During the Passover meal the children are sent on a treasure hunt in search of piece of unleavened bread, which are then redeemed by the Father of the house for a sweet, a bit like I gave X a jelly baby instead of cold lamb and horseradish!

For the Jews, as the lamb took the place of the firstborn of the community of Israel, so that they could have FREEDOM, so the flat bread is redeemed for something better.

For those who accept Jesus as the Lamb of God, we know he died on the cross in our place, and rose again to set us FREE.

In a moment, A and the band are going to lead us in song. As they do so each of you (if I’ve done my maths right) will be given a piece of unleavened bread, wrapped in a blood red napkin.

It is up to you to decide what you are going to redeem it for, but I am going to suggest that it is something a little more significant to your journey with God than a jelly baby!

  •  You may have found all the stuff you’ve heard this morning a new idea, or an idea you’ve previously discarded, but now want to take more seriously.
  • You may know you’re a slave to some compulsion you can’t kick without God’s help.
  • You may know there is some burden you carry in yourself, or for others, which draws your focus and energy away from God, or through which you can’t see God at all.
  • You may know what God has already done in your life and be ready for some new journey or adventure with him.

Whatever it is, have FAITH and be OBEDIENT. I believe we are in the first month of a new phase in the life of this community – and God wants to give us FREEDOM, FREEDOM to walk with and worship him on a new journey. So please, as you see fit, redeem this gift for something. You might redeem it for prayer from others for God to work in your life. You might redeem it for a conversation to help you with your FAITH or your OBEDIENCE to God. You might place it somewhere to remind you of its significance, or give it someone as a symbol of its significance to a decision you make. But please redeem it, as Jesus redeemed you, so that we will all be prepared for the FREEDOM to journey with God.

There’s a pdf of the whole thing here, complete with the introductory ‘Think Spots’ if you want it: Sermon +Think Spots Exodus 12v1-13 Freedom to walk with God

Where does the power come from?

Reflections on writing a sermon

Recently at least one professional (the Vernacular Curate – highly recommended) has written about sermon block. I had that this week – sort of. Then I experienced the other end of the scale – when God went into overdrive. Let me explain:

I’ve had a pretty stressful week with some important conversations taking place and a sermon to write for our main service today. We’re into Summer Sunday’s at St. Peter’s where rather than spreading ourselves across three congregations, we’re all meeting together at 10am. Bringing together people who have three discrete ways of worshipping is always an interesting experience – bit I think it’s now the bit of the year I like best, because there’s a real sense of unity and much more understanding between us than there has been in the past. It’s also a time when God has to opportunity to give us all the same message – but for that to happen it needs the preaching to listen very closely to what God’s saying, and be sure of the message that God wants heard. (But then that SHOULD be true of all sermons!)

This year we’re working our way through the story of Moses, and this week I came up against Exodus 12:1-13 The Passover. Go read it – if you know even a little bit of God’s story you’ll see that there’s a lot that could be preached about from a passage like this.

If I’ve learnt nothing else in the last two years (and the last year in particular), it’s that ministry can do wonders for your prayer life – when you’ve got little to give and lots going on behind the scenes of your life, any form of active ministry, ‘doing stuff’ for God, makes you even more fully reliant on God.

There is just so much theology to grapple with in Exodus 12. I don’t hold things in my memory very well – big concepts and ideas about God that are perhaps ‘common place’ to some, can often get lost in other things. The advantage is I come to every passage pretty fresh (even if it’s fairly familiar) and eager to learn what God wants to say through me, without too many pre-conceived ideas. The first thing for me to do then is to soak myself in the passage and some commentaries about it, and to pray – that the Holy Spirit will sift through all that theology for you!

But a sermon isn’t really about heavy theology, well at least not in my view (sorry, if you don’t agree). It’s about people, God’s people – the ones that know him, and the ones that don’t. Theology for a sermon should be creative – creating stories of God in action.

Amidst all the making connections between a passage of the Old Testament (in this instance) and the revelation of God in Christ (that’s the ‘Good News’ of the New Testament) I have to remember where the people I’m preaching to are. Being involved across the breadth of church activities helps: people tell you stuff; you know what’s been going round the prayer chains; you know something of what’s worrying the church leadership. Basically you know the highs and lows of people’s lives. They’re the bits that God wants to speak into. So you pray again – Holy Spirit, where does all that complicated theology meet all that need?

This week the first attempt at a sermon looked like this (it peter’s out): Sermon Exodus 12v1-13 Freedom to walk with God (Passover) By Friday I knew it was so much horseraddish – bit smelly, and rather too bitter (in other words heavy on the theology!)

God wants his Word heard. Somewhere during the week I knew he’d let me know what that Word needed to be – I just had to listen carefully. It’s not always like this, but yesterday (Saturday) there came a point in early afternoon when I was scribbling a few notes down – and suddenly I realised that the Holy Spirit was simply flowing a message out the end of my pen. I don’t normally hand write my sermons, but I wasn’t about to stop and get the computer out! I just kept going till the sermon was written (minus a few Biblical references I needed to check.) I typed it up later.

Not all sermons are like this – but sometimes I get a sense that God is really working overtime on this one. It’s almost a physical sensation as the Holy Spirit makes connections in your head that you know you’d never have thought of any other way.

That’s the time I expect a sleepless night – or some other domestic crisis. If God has an important message for his people, and I’ve sensed that, then you can be as sure as hell, so has the Devil! 4am this morning I was reading the first 12 chapters of Exodus (from The Message) in the office because I couldn’t sleep. I did get back to sleep later but only for a while. Pity my poor husband if you will.

I’ve known for some while now that lack of sleep makes me wholly dependent on God – and that’s the best way to preach a sermon, because that way the results usually give him the glory. Feedback today suggested that God spoke to people – it’s good to be able to say to myself ‘I told you so’, and to God: THANK YOU!

It’s just that when I let the Holy Spirit really take control like this (rather than dashing off a thinner sermon in my own strength), I’m a physical wreck afterwards! I was flakers on the sofa this afternoon, physically drained as the andrenalin left my body; uplifted spiritually but with nothing left to give. We did finally make it out for a dog walk this afternoon, and it was good to get the wind through my hair and my legs working again, but ‘wet dish rags’ have nothing on me this evening!

I’d be interested to know what other peoples experiences of sermon writing are? Are all preachers physical wrecks on a Sunday afternoon? Does it ever get any better?

I’ll post the final sermon tomorrow.

Why I’m going to Greenbelt #GB11

Today I received my first ever Festival wristband in the post!

I’ve only ever spent two nights under canvas (in a friends field), and don’t own a tent. I have spinal issues which cause me pain, especially if I stand a lot, or get cold. I’m not that keen on large crowds and like space for thinking in peace and quiet. So… why, oh why, am I going to Greenbelt?!

I am what you might call a ‘Greenbelt virgin’… though officially I’m known as a First Time Christian Leader. I was persuaded to explore the idea via various folk who have been really supportive of me during our recent vacancy; folk like Good In Parts, the Fibre Fairy and Laurence Gamlen. The offer a discount (a Reader it seems is in ‘Christian Leadership’ – which is actually an encouragement in itself) helped a lot – my ticket for the whole weekend is costing me £25! The fact that Tangerine Fields provide a pre-set tent with AIR mattress, sleeping bag, stove and kettle, also made it rather attractive to a rooky participant who will be abandoned by her family with rucksack and cooly box at the gate on Friday to fend for myself over the weekend. The plan is that I will be claimed by my lovely placement vicar from All Saints, Basingstoke, on the Monday and brought back to Hampshire; she’s been telling me for two years that I really ought to go!

But why make all the effort? Well in no particular order:

  • I want to meet some of the people I’ve made friends with on Twitter;
  • I’d like to experience some alternative forms of worship. The iMass appeals because of what I think will be mix of sacramental worship and rock music partly hosted by Blessed; I would love to experience the Jazz Church, Grace is something I heard about when I first started blogging , and to calm down after all that I guess I’ll find the folk of Taize!
  • Mothers’ Union are focusing on their efforts on the Family Life Programme in Uganda, the only MU project overseas I’ve had the privilege to visit, and our great Chief Exec, Reg Bailey is speaking – I’d like to support both;
  • If I can get my brain to work, I’d also like to hear Paula Gooder again (having heard her talk 3 years ago at a Diocesan Lent Lecture), as well as John Bell, Margaret Sentamu, and Nadia Bolz-Weber whose skin tells the story!
  • I love folk music, and have particularly wanted to hear Kate Rusby and Show of Hands (whose ‘Roots’ is my mobile ring-tone) live for several years – both are appearing at Greenbelt, along with the Unthanks!
  • Mostly I want to be part of a ‘coming together’ of all those people that call themselves ‘Christian’, aren’t so worried about the other labels we tend to attach to ourselves, and are willing to listen to each other and those of no faith at all, in an effort to make the world a better place!

What I need to work out is what, among all this and plenty more, will most feed my development as a minister, and help me preach and create worship that might help the people of a ‘Middle England’ parish to be touched by God.

If I manage to achieve even half of that, and sleep, I shall be impressed! What I’m just waiting for now is my ticket to turn up, and the programme to be published (hopefully next week) so I can start planning how it’s all going to fit together. It just leaves you to let me know if you’re going to be there too 🙂