Rector's Thoughts For Lent
A new thought each day
Member of the Inclusive Church network
I finally gave in to the fitbit fixation and now know how many more steps I should take to do an at least acceptable amount of exercise each day. One way I have found it helps me is by buzzing to try and let me know when I have been motionless for too long. It's useful to stop staring at the computer screen and take a short walk round the house, it stops my joints from seizing up, gives my eyes a break and refreshes my mind.
Many years ago, Ignatius of Loyola in Spain developed a set of spiritual exercises. These were designed to help people see how God was moving in their lives, and to help them make good choices. This deepening of their spiritual lives enabled them to follow a path that gave them a great sense of fulfilment. You could say they aligned themselves with God's purpose.
I wonder how long it will be before we begin to take our spiritual health seriously, and give our spiritual exercise the same importance as physical exercise? Maybe I need to use my fitbit reminder to remind me to check-in with God as well.
On Sunday many churches will celebrate Palm Sunday with a procession. Some will be a procession around the church, some will even be around the streets of the local town or village. As a Curate, I once spent time trying to find a real donkey for a Palm Sunday procession - and had to make do with a knitted one! 😀
At St Michael's we will celebrate Palm Sunday, hand out palm crosses, and retell the story of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem. But we won't have a procession.
Last year we signed up to be part of the organisation Inclusive Church. We don't discriminate against anyone. And we try to be mindful of the people who are in our congregation. This includes several people with disabilities who would find it difficult to join a procession. We want everyone to be included in all our worship, so we take communion standing, and there won't be a procession on Palm Sunday.
Including everyone is important. It's how we build a community, and sometimes the needs of other people are more important than our own. That's when we know that we are really loving our neighbour as ourselves.
I think everyone knows the hymn Amazing Grace, it's usually included in lists of favourite hymns. It was written by John Newton. He led an exciting life, he was the Captain of a slave ship and was shipwrecked. His experiences led to his conversion and to him speaking out against the slave trade, becoming a priest, and a great influence for good in the church.
But I've spent a few days wondering what is 'grace'? There are some words that 'church' people seem to use differently, and grace is one of them. It is difficult to define.
Some people speak of a 'graced' moment, which is one when we are suddenly aware of being in the right place, doing the right thing, a moment when it as though we can feel that the cogs of the universe are suddenly all lined up, and life flows. I think that's the moment Newton writes about "I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see."
That graced moment once experienced stays with you. It is a deeply spiritual experience. It is like a door that has been opened which you can, if you want, choose to walk through. Newton did. He was a cruel man who became kind. He did many evil things, and then chose to change because he experienced the grace of God. A grace that is offered to us all.
So, Facebook. The row over who has the right to use data feels like a storm in the digital teacup. On the one hand, no one likes to know they have been manipulated. We want to be able to make a free choice when we elect our MPs. And the arrogance of those would-be manipulaters is stunning. But on the other hand, is this just a 'first-world' problem? When people are dying each day from water-borne diseases because they don't have access to clean drinking water, or where children are exploited, where should my energy and compassion be directed?
But it isn't that simple, is it? Our politicians are elected to represent us. To shape the world as we would like it to be.But do they? How like me is my MP? How can he represent my views and concerns? If my MP truly represented me then he'd not be welcomed by the political party he belongs to!
I think the most chilling comment I heard in the facebook row was that "if you get something without having to pay for it, then you are the product"! But what if someone else pays for it? What if someone else, out of their own love, gives up their life for me? Think of the freedom that this would give me! My new political slogan: " Eternal life for all!"
On Sunday it will be Palm Sunday. Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. But was it? Triumphal, I mean. Actually, I think it was very subversive, but we seem to have missed that. A man riding on a donkey doesn't have the dignity to be triumphal! An unruly crowd goes with him, a crowd of shouting children, and fishermen and tax collectors. The lowly, the unimportant. The sick and the lame whose lives Jesus had turned around. People chucking leaves in front of the donkey. Unexpected, yes, but triumphal?
Meanwhile, at another gate into the city it was a very different story. The Roman legions entered the city too. In strength, on horseback, getting ready in case the crowds gathering for the Passover had any ideas about clamouring for their freedom. Their procession, with weapons, and armour, and flags was triumphal, and frightening. A show of colour, strength and power. After all, they were the victors. They ruled by right of the mighty everlasting Imperial Roman empire. This was triumphal.
So, how come this isn't what we will be celebrating this Sunday? Not the mighty, the conquerors, the shiny armour and powerful horses. No, we will be standing with the ordinary people, with the fishermen, women and children who Jesus has taught and loved. We will be holding bits of palm branches, welcoming this itinerant preacher, and knowing the greatest story, the triumph has yet to come.
I sometimes meet people who tell me that they don't need to come to church to be a Christian. I don't think they are politely trying to tell me that they feel I'm redundant!😁 And I do know what they mean. I feel the same movement in my soul when I walk on a beach, or on the Viking way. The same awareness of our wonderful Creator God. And more of my prayers are said outside the church than in.
So what's the point of going to church? After all, Jesus told us to make disciples, not set up churches! Aren't churches just the result of our usual misguided attempts to organise, to tame God and our faith?
But the thing is, life isn't always easy. We all face challenges and difficulties. There are times when living as a Christian is really hard. There are times when we just cannot pray. During those times it helps to know other people are praying for you. It helps to feel that in human terms you aren't facing life alone.
We had lunch together yesterday after our church AGM. I looked around the room and wished that everyone had such a mixed, lovely group of people to meet with and be supported by in their faith journey. Maybe you should give Church a try?
AGM. Three letters to make every volunteer cringe. "I shan't be going, it's the AGM". How often have you heard/said that? The church is an organisation. A very human one. It has processes that help it to function. Rules that protect people. It is the organisation that helps us do what we know needs doing in our parish (achieve God's vision).
Because it is so important, our AGM is part of our Sunday worship. Because fellowship and community are at the heart of what we do, we have lunch together after our AGM. Because we all need to be inspired by our vision of what our church can be, we have an awayday for the new Church Council. The organisation supports the work, it is an integral part of everything we do. it shouldn't be a bolt-on addition but the means of furthering God's kingdom.
And prayer is the fuel, the foundation of everything we do. I pray that today's AGM will be a blessing to everyone in our parish, and that it will bear lasting fruit in the lives of all of us.