Friday 23 August 2013

Guilty Pleasures

Not everything's straightforward when the incumbent is recumbent. Typing blogs and e-mails is actually quite hard when you're supposed to stay lying down: there just isn't a satisfactory position for the laptop. You can't just run down and fetch stuff when you need it: most of the things I need to refer to are down in my office where the big computer and filing cabinets are. As I'm limited for now in some respects I'm making a nuisance of myself in other ways - e-mails, facebook, blogging...

And then there's deciding what to read. Although it would be fantastic to catch up on some great work of scholarship or a really challenging novel, the truth is I don't feel too much like it. You get dozy in bed, more so on painkillers, and it's not comfortable to struggle with a heavy tome (in either sense of the word "heavy") So you go for something, not exactly trashy, but a little lighter, to keep your mind off your troubles while not overtaxing it.

So - I expect you've guessed it - my guilty pleasure is Harry Potter. I know, I know, I'm not a teenager any more, and I should know better. Ben and the other children finished with them years ago. And some Christians would wonder if they are good for my spiritual health - all that wizardry...

What's amazed me though is how Christian they are. In the last book Harry goes back to the village where his parents are buried. There are significant epitaphs on two grave stones. One says, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." This is a straight quotation from the words of Jesus in the Gospel, where He advises us that earthly goals can never satisfy us - see Matthew 6:21. So what is the preaching of Jesus doing in a kids' book?

The second is on Harry's parents own grave and says, "The last enemy to be destroyed is death." This is another Bible quote, see 1 Corinthians 15 v.26, from a chapter that is all about the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. Is J K Rowling really an evangelist?

The graveside location reminds us that the special protection Harry has always enjoyed from the attacks of evil has come about because his parents, his mother especially, laid down their lives to save him. This is referred to as "deep magic" somewhere in the story, a magic Voldemort is incapable of understanding, and surely a reference also the "Deep magic from before the dawn of time" that brings Aslan back from the dead in C S Lewis' books and which the White Witch is equally incapable of comprehending.

For Voldemort has foolishly tried to gain immortality by forging horcruxes. The word "crux" means a cross, but these are crosses of horror where someone has to be murdered before they gain their power. In an inversion of the true cross, where Jesus lays down his life so that others may live, Voldemort takes others' lives so that he may live - but in fact this life is a loveless living death. His name I supposed is intended to mean "Death Wish."

In the final showdown, Harry defeats Voldemort by the values of the cross. He lays down his life, deliberately handing himself over as a sacrifice in order to spare others. As a result, not only are they protected from Voldemort's evil spells, but Harry himself is brought back from the dead (just read it!) and goes on to defeat his uncomprehending arch-enemy.

There is a deliberate echo of the Gospel story here. It's time J K was outed as Christian I think...

Love and Death

There's been a bit of a spat in the Church Times lately about the words of one of my favourite hymns. In Christ Alone contains the following lines:

Till on that cross, as Jesus died,
the wrath of God was satisfied...

A lot of people want to change it to "The love of God was satisfied." They are very uncomfortable with the idea of God being angry and even label it "bad theology."

But what kind of love is it that never gets angry? Does God not get angry when chemical weapons are launched on innocent children? When loan companies destroy desperate families through loans at one thousand percent interest, if not even more? When wicked men groom vulnerable girls for exploitation? When half the world starves while a small minority wonders which Ferrari to take out for a spin today?

If these things don't make God's blood boil, how can He be a God of love in any sense that is meaningful to us? In what way does He love His children if He feels no anger about the bullying, persecution and injustice heaped on them? What sort of namby-pamby love would stand by unmoved and unconcerned while watching people being abused and humiliated? And how can the atonement won for us at such great cost on the cross possibly reconcile anything to anybody if it fails to deal with the deep offence that people give to his love?

The critics are right about one thing: it certainly is uncomfortable. Suppose God is angry - not because He doesn't love enough, but because we don't. It was our hardness of heart that got Jesus roused - see Mark 3 v.5 - our ability to be blithely unconcerned with the needs and sufferings of others. It wasn't because He didn't love enough, but because love turned out to be far deeper and fiercer than we thought.

So give thanks that there is a way out. God's anger and love do meet on the cross - and make way for us to enter into that fiercer, deeper love forever.
Finding comfort

It was wonderful having people round to pray with me and anoint me with oil for healing on Wednesday night. Spiritually it seemed very significant to have people from all three local churches involved - St Michael's, St Andrew's and Wraysbury Baptist. There's a very special power and blessing released when God's people come together in unity. It was a lovely time in God's presence together, and it felt so good to be prayed for and loved in this special way.

So to the $64,000 question - am I better? Well, yes - a bit. Sorry, not exactly an earth-shaking answer I know. But the pain is definitely less than it was, so I am taking fewer painkillers and I'm feeling less foggy as a result. I can sit up for a bit longer, though the chiro says sitting is not good for me and I should avoid it as much as possible. Standing and walking are still pretty rough though.

So for now it seems I have to stay in the Lord's treatment room a little bit longer: "Come unto me and rest." I've still got lessons to learn about letting go and letting God, the value of doing as well as the value of being, about my worth not being dependent on my activity and achievements.

Thank you everyone who is praying at home as well as those who came round - your prayers are greatly appreciated too. Thank you everyone who has e-mailed in or rung up with words of comfort. You are a real encouragement, especially those who have been there and know what it's like: it's reassuring to know that I'm not going to be stuck like this forever! 2 Corinthians 1 v.3-4 says,

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any kind of trouble with the same comfort we ourselves have received from God.

So thank you for comforting me! And I will try to remember what it was like when I go round visiting people who are housebound or bedridden. It's easy to take their troubles for granted and forget how frustrating and hopeless it all feels. I hope I will remember what this felt like and be of a more real and less glib encouragement to them. The Lord will make a decent vicar of me yet!

Monday 19 August 2013

We vicars have this hope that one day, someone will remember something from one of our sermons...

Perhaps some of you remember my talk the other week, when we all got a glass bead to represent the pearl of great price, from Jesus' parable. In the story a pearl merchant finds one of such huge and perilous beauty that he sells everything he has to get it.

We thought of the pearl as representing our longing for God - how can we find the One who so surpasses the worth of all other things that He is worth abandoning everything else to receive more of Him - yet nonetheless Who gives meaning and value to those lesser things which would otherwise prove empty shadows without Him?

But what if we turn the parable round? What if the pearl also represents our value to God? Suppose the searching merchant isn't us looking for God, but God looking for us? Christian spirituality trusts that God is the One who searches for us in our lostness, and gives His very best and finest, His own Son Jesus, to buy us for His own.

So we are God's pearls beyond all price, just as he is ours. I get my pearl out from time to time (yes I have done this talk before) and have a little feel of it, just to remind myself that I am precious to God. I especially do it when I'm nervous about a challenge, or things aren't going too well, and I may be feeling a bit down...

So now's a good time to get that pearl out, with some pain kicking in and the frustrations of being stuck in bed. Yes, God still cares, Jesus shows us just how much on the cross, come sciatica or whatever else may. I hope you've still got yours...
One of the things I have been able to do while out off action with sciatica is to find a bit more time to pray and read the Scriptures. So yes, congregations of St Andrew's and St Michael's, I may not have been able to get to church and pray with you on Sunday, but I have been able to pray for you while stuck at home. So if you have any prayer requests you'd like to pass on, please e-mail them in!

One of the Scripture verses I read today says,

God has chosen to make known the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory - Colossians 1:27

I was so encouraged by this verse! Though I'm currently bedridden and feeling frustrated about not being out and about, laying the foundations for this new ministry, the foundations are in fact already there - Christ in you, the hope of glory. Even though I struggle to see the point of it all at times - Christ in you, the hope of glory. Paul writes this when he himself is suffering - see v.24 - and is reflecting on Jesus' own ministry through suffering - v.22: - Christ in you is still the hope of glory when pain and suffering are there too.

How amazing that Christ Himself, the King of Glory, should come and live in our hearts, and bring the hope of his glory there, a solid foundation for our lives in good times and bad, never to be taken away. I'm glowing just thinking about it!
I've been a bit mis the last few days. I've trapped a nerve in my back which is giving me nasty pains down my leg. I can't really stand up or sit down for long without pain so it's lying in bed for me. It's been going on since Tuesday and it's not much fun. In fact it's literally a pain in the backside.

I've missed Ben and Izzie's wedding which I was due to conduct on Saturday up in Walsall and I'm gutted about that. And I've missed worshipping with my brothers and sisters in Horton and Wraysbury on Sunday so that's really disappointing too. I was supposed to be playing guitar for the New Life Service band which was great fun last time... And of course as the new vicar I want to put myself about, get to know people and make a good impression - which isn't always the best motivation, I know.

Well I thought I'd better ask the Lord what he's saying through all this, as a person paid to pray. I wasn't quite sure so I asked the osteopath what he thought. He said these things usually come about through overdoing it, and my body's message at least is, "Give it a rest mate" - which is something Jesus approved of too. It has been a bit mad for months now, what with trying to sort everything out before leaving St Matt's, moving house, flying to Bolivia, and setting up in a new post in Wraysbury...

So I'll just have to accept this as a "Come unto me and rest" time and do the best I can to enjoy lying about in bed, doing the old Dame aux Camellias routine. At least it doesn't hurt so much now, and I hope to be up and about in a few days. I'm off to see the osteopath tomorrow and hope to get a better idea of how it might all pan out then.

So greetings to:
- Ben and Izzie, sorry I missed it all, God bless your exciting new journey together!
- Praying types, remember me - especially at 3.15 tomorrow when I'm back with the osteopath: and give thanks for slow but steady improvements.
- Worshippers, I hope you had a really uplifting and inspiring time on Sunday and I look forward to rejoining you soon.

Love Colin x x