I actually preached this more than a week ago, and it feeds from what I was thinking here about how our new bishop has challenged me personally. It also draws inspiration from a affirmation of faith for children which uses bubbles that I saw on Fr Simon Rundell’s blog here. I’m not sure what our (more elderly) mid-week congregation made of it, but I hope it spoke to them, and might speak to you.
I wonder what connections we will each make in our minds when I say the words “washing up liquid”?
We might remember that we failed to complete the washing up before we left home this morning, that (in my case) the men in my family have a habit of often leaving the dirty washing up water in the sink bowl for hours afterwards, or we might think of clean, fresh, hot washing up water, full of bubbles!
Bubbles! (blow some)
I found an affirmation of faith this week, that is based round blowing bubbles, which I thought we could actually share now, rather than the creed we normally say later in the service.
As you watch the bubbles form (blow some more) see the way the light shines on them: are there rainbows revealed within?
Each shares the same shape, spherical, but each is different in size, unique and special. Just like us.
Our identity as Christian’s as we’ll have heard in 1 Corinthians 12:1-12 last week, is as God’s people, the Body of Christ, made in his image. That is why we are infinite in variety, beautiful in shape, and perfect in form, like these bubbles (blow some more.)
So remembering that, can our affirmation of faith be that of answering a really positive, “Yes!” to these statements.
God the Father, created these bubbles, the universe, and each and every one of us. Do we believe this? Yes!
God the Son, Saviour of us all, who breathed the same air as us on this earth, the same air with which these bubbles are filled, lives today in our hearts. Do we believe this? Yes!
God the Spirit, who moves these bubbles, and which fills this space with power from on high, plays within us, guiding and strengthening us. Do we believe this? Yes!
If we are like those bubbles, it’s rather worrying because many of them have gone. (Look round, there might still be a few left somewhere.)
The soap detergent that forms those bubbles, and does all the hard work in our washing up bowls to make things clean, can only do so much, before the dirt and the pressure of air around them, brings their lives as bubbles to an end.
Which is I guess where we hope we’re like the last remaining bubbles, hanging up there in the air, perhaps stuck to something, and where perhaps the analogy could end.
But I know there are times in our lives when we feel weak. It’s like the bubble of exciting, joy bringing, brightly coloured life that we were, has been popped. It might be through age, illness, the situations that are putting pressure on our lives (like an impending house move, or a change of jobs), but that sense of weakness can come to make us feel that we’re useless, to God or to anyone else for that matter.
In 1 Corinthians 12:22 we read just now “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” The bubbles, or at least the detergent that forms them, may be weak but it is indispensable – certainly if our dishes are to be cleaned thoroughly, and we are to have fun blowing bubbles with our children and grandchildren!
It’s not the size, the shape or the number of colours that we exhibit, but what we are made of that is important, and what holds us together.
If, as this whole section of Corinthians is suggesting, we are the Body of Christ, and we all have a part to play, what is our part when we go through those weak periods, or enter a stage of life where we can’t physically do as much as we’d like. It’s all very well being told we’re indispensable, but how can that indispensibility manifest itself in our lives?
When our new Bishop Tim was enthroned back in April, he called all those who live and worship in the Diocese of Winchester to be three things. He called us to be prophetic in mission, pioneering as faith communities, and… and this is the one that is particularly pertinent here… he called us to be passionate about our personal spirituality, our prayer life, the rigour with which we exhibit our faith in patterns of prayer.
Prayer should be like the very thin film of soapy water that forms a bubble. It’s where the strength of the bubble is. Yet like the film that forms a bubble, our prayer lives are often the first thing to break when we touch something dirty or a hard surface. Life gets in the way, and the pattern and form of our prayers are what takes the first hit.
When I was young and blowing bubbles more often, my Mother used to add glycerine to the bubble mixture. The glycerine seemed to make the bubbles form more easily and last longer. Interestingly glycerine is the same stuff that when added to the royal icing at Christmas makes the Christmas Cake easier to cut open and share. I have no idea why.
So if we are God’s indispensable bubbles, a bit weak and prone to going pop, what can we do with our prayer life to make our individual bubble stronger? What is the glycerine, if you like, that we can add to it? Can that glycerine be used to make something else easier to share?
This is something I’m grappling with myself at present, and I’m not going to pretend to have an answer, let alone ‘the’ answer. What I am aware of is that it’s a question we need to take seriously, and apply individually to our own circumstances, our own weaknesses.
In my case I’m being encouraged to do two things at present. I’m only just starting out with these ideas, but they are things that might help others, or into which you can shed some insight for me yourselves.
One is to understand the Psalms better as a way of strengthening my prayer life, as the Psalms now form a part of my regular pattern of daily worship and prayer. This strikes me as glycerine that will strengthen my individual bubble; that will help make me a better likeness to Christ. [I have been recommended an old book ‘Wisely Praying the Psalms’ by Benedictine Monk Ambrose Tinsley which arrived this week and will form some of my summer reading.]
The other is to join with others across our Diocese in patterns of intercessory prayer. Each month the Diocese has an intercessions list (downloadable here), where the international links and individual parishes of the Diocese are outlined day-by-day, so that each parish, minister and mission idea is surrounded by our prayers.
Our new Bishop is also encouraging us to pray for nine days (a Novena) for the wider church, the issues and arguments that are plaguing it, and the individuals that are coming forward this Petertide to be ordained into it from around our diocese.
I will be using elements of that cycle of prayer and novena in our intercessions shortly, but it struck me that such intercessory prayer, alongside things like our own parochial Emergency Prayer Chain, are like the glycerine that will actually enable us as a church, to be shaped and cut in such a way as the Gospel of Christ is more effectively shared. In that way we might be better able to be a more pioneering faith community that will inspire prophetic mission, just as our Bishop has suggested we should be.
So I want to suggest that however weak we might be feeling, physically or spiritually, the one thing that we can do, that will show just how indispensable we are, that will strengthen us and help our church to be more pioneering and prophetic, is to find what glycerine we need, and pour it into our prayer lives!