Come on – let’s celebrate

My table thou hast furnished

in presence of my foes.

My head thou dost with oil anoint

and my cup overflows.

Psalm 23 v 4

Journal Entry 25th June 2010.

So we have finally got here. Seventy years old and a party to celebrate. We’ve invited as many people as we think we can fit in the house. Old and young. Families and friends. Today is the day. All is prepared. We’ve had lists and ticked them off. Let’s hope we remembered everything. There’s bound to be something, but I’m sure weve remembered the important bits…..

The dew was glistening on the lawn,

refreshing the fruit upon the tree.

A squirrel had snatched an apple away and clambered the garden fence to eat.

Guests were starting to arrive

to party and to celebrate. Children are playing their games

Adults are taking their place. There were grandads and aunties too Cousins, nephews and friends old and new.

A 70th birthday taking place a child like heart and an aging face. Tables were set, the food laid out the table groaning with the weight.

The ethos was laughter, love and joy of simplicity kindness an a love which forever lasts which forever lasts.

We’ve all been to parties haven’t we? Parties are meant to enjoy and to celebrate. We don’t always stage a royal banquet. A party with plenty already costs an arm and a leg. It’s the joy which people share that’s important isn’t it ?

King David clearly enjoyed parties – laden tables and cups running over. My kind of party I think. We all love a celebration. We catch up with old friends, with family members who live a distance away. We enjoy good food, good company and good music.

Jesus enjoyed parties too. His first miracle came about at a wedding feast where the hosts had run out of wine. His mother was insistent that he should help the hosts out of an awkward situation. Not only was the water changed to wine, but a particularly fine wine. His wine was the icing on the cake so to speak, making an already fine wedding feast into the perfect celebration.

This wasn’t the only time we hear that Jesus approves of partying. He told of a son who had left home taking with him his inheritance. He returned home after losing everything and falling on hard times, unsure of his fathers response. But his father was so pleased to see his return, he ordered a fatted calf and a great welcome celebration.

Jesus told the story of a king who organised a great celebration for his wedding feast. When his guests began to send their apologies for their non attendance the king insisted on invited everyone to celebrate with him. The people I had invited were undeserving, so he decided to invite everyone, the good and the bad.

There is the account of Jesus eating and celebrating with the tax collectors and the sinners. He was criticised for the company he kept by the leaders of the synagogue. His feet were washed by a woman of ill repute who wiped his feet with expensive oil. It didn’t matter if you were not favoured by the well respected in society, you were accepted and loved by Jesus.

So we have much to celebrate today. God’s love spreads across the ages and through all walks of society, whoever we are.

Come on – let’s celebrate!

Hello again!

Hello again!

It’s a new year. An “0” on the end. Just like birthdays. They come round every 10 years. Wahay! A time to celebrate. A time to make all those new resolutions!

It’s been months since I wrote a post here. It’s time to remedy that. We’ve been watching all the festive movies over Christmas. Lewis Carroll is one of my favourite authors, so it was inevitable really that I should sit down after a festive lunch and watch “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” In the story Alice tries to help her friend the Mad Hatter and his family. She learns that you cannot return to the past and change things. The clock keeps ticking. Time goes on. We cannot change any second any minute, any hour in our lives. What we can do is influence the future.

It happens in all the stories we have aver read. Things change. Look at the Bible. Its crammed full of stories of love, hate, human frailty, life, death- everything. Till in the Christian story there was one man who changed everything. “Follow me” Jesus said “and your lives will change”

So every year we promise ourselves that we will change our lives in some way or other. Maybe we’ll be off to the gym. I remember a colleague once announcing that she had joined the gym as a new years resolution. “I went for a session at the gym” she said, “and it has cost me £60. I never went back after that first time.” That was some years ago. It would cot more now!

So one of my resolutions this year is to write regularly. I hope I do better than dear old Kat at the gym! Watch this space folks!

Prepare to be amazed…….

No worst – there is none –

Yea, though I walk through death’s dark vale

Yet will I fear no ill,

For thou art with me and thy rod

And staff me comfort still.

Psalm 23 v3

The phone just kept ringing.

Could she get there in time? O fiddle-de-dee. It stopped ringing just as she walked through the door. Her legs just couldn’t carry her fast enough these days.

And where was Arthur? It must have been nearly an hour ago that he took himself off to the corner shop for a bar of chocolate. It couldn’t take him that long to choose, could it? Well, perhaps he’d gone on to make that appointment at the doctors.

Oh no, there it was again -ring ring…ring ring. Incessant ringing! Lottie was beginning to wonder if she had tinnitus. She was in time this time. She flopped onto the chair next to the phone before she grabbed the receiver from its cradle. There was an unfamiliar voice at the end of the line. “Hello, is that Mrs Johnson?”

“Yes – who is that speaking please? “

“Hello Mrs Johnson this is Naya here from Camfield Housing Office. Mr Johnson is with us at the moment. “

“Arthur. Arthur is there with you? That’s odd. He went to the corner shop for some chocolate. We don’t pay you rent and our Council Tax is up to date. …And you don’t sell chocolate, do you? Why is he there?”

“No, of course not. But he’s come to us complaining that we haven’t paid his pension. We are not responsible for pensions. And he won’t go away!”

Shock waves rippled through Lottie from top to toe. She was trying so hard to hold back the tears. She wanted to tell herself that all this was a total shock. A terrible revelation. But it wasn’t. Not really. The sad thing was that she was not surprised.

Arthur had been behaving oddly on and off for some time now. Last year when they had been on holiday Arthur had lost his false teeth. The hotel had had to post them on. And Lottie felt so guilty because even she had not noticed. How could she keep an eye on him when it took her all her concentration to look after herself.

He’d had to give up the car recently. He’d not been able to drive for some time if she didn’t tell him which way to go. His inner GPS didn’t seem to work any more. She had to direct him everywhere he went.

The doctor had said it was depression and offered medication, but that didn’t seem to work too well.

And now this. Lottie’s sister had been living in a residential home for some time now. Edith did not even recognise her family. Every time Lottie visited she had to say who she was. It made no difference. She could remember who Lottie was. This wasn’t Edith. She seemed like an empty shell. So outgoing and kind she had been. But now?

The same thing was happening to dear Arthur. She wanted him to stay independent. Lottie wanted to look after him, not for him to decline alone as Edith had done. But when they went to church she was beginning to identify that look of pity on peoples faces as they sat next to you to say hello. Then they retreated because they didn’t know what to say or how to help. She didn’t want their pity. She had self respect which she was slowly losing. The Arthur she had fallen in love with was disappearing. That little “Arthur light” was dimming each day. He was gradually turning into an empty shell too.

Death was beginning to seem a welcome place……

“No worst, there is none” said Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem.

“Mrs Johnson, are you still there?”

“Oh yes dear, so sorry… I was thinking. Tell Arthur I’ve just got to put my coat on. Give me five minutes and I’ll be there. We’ll go home together and we’ll have a nice cup of tea.”

……

Every one of us goes through that dark vale at least once in our lives. Sometimes that dark valley in life seems worse than death. Alzheimers or dementia can be a cruel disease. But so can cancer and many other illnesses. Sometimes we are shrouded by the dark vale of depression, stress, family difficulties. We can all relate.

God does not leave us. David the psalmist talks about God the shepherd who guides his sheep. He rescues his flock when they flee to difficult places. If darkness falls and they cannot see, he taps his rod against the rocky path to indicate his whereabouts. If they hear his tap they can follow and return to safety, knowing they are travelling in the right direction.

Sheep and shepherds pop up in the gospel stories too. Shepherds come down from the mountains to present a lamb to the “Nativity Child” Jesus tells the story of a shepherd who searches high and low for his lost sheep. In fact he does not rest until his sheep is safely in his care. Jesus looks after his sheep. He is also depicted as the perfect lamb, a reminder of the sacrifices made by the Israelites of a perfect lamb sacrificed before their journey to freedom and the Promised Land.

After his resurrection we read of a time when the disciples were preparing breakfast on the beach after a heavy haul of fish.

“Peter, do you truly love me more than these?” asked Jesus

“Yes, Lord. You know that I love you,” said Peter.

“Feed my lambs.”

“Peter, do you truly love me?” asked Jesus.

“Yes Lord. You know that I love you,” said Peter.

“Take care of my sheep.”

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

“Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.”

“Feed my sheep”

And so Peter the impetuous, the one who first claimed that Jesus was more than a prophet, he was the Messiah, the Promised One of Israel was called to be a shepherd. Peter, the one who Jesus had called the Rock. Peter, the one who had failed his Lord and hidden in the shadows at the trial was called to do Gods work. Peter for all his strengths and all his weakness was called to follow.

We are imperfect. There are times when we fail. When we stray on the mountain. Times when our world seem shrouded in the darkness of worry and depression, of failing when we should not. Times when we need the night to lift, when we need to listen for the call.

We know that we are called to follow.

Who are we called to care for?

Where is he calling us to go?

Sometimes when life seems dark, when there seems to be no light to show the way. The mist has fallen around us, not a sound to be heard.

There is no hope, we say to ourselves, for where is God in this Godforsaken mountain terrain? There is only darkness and death.

We have lost touch with our Lord. We have lost touch with the Master. We have no strength save in him.

So we wait, afraid, praying t0 be filled with his determination, his fortitude, his power against the encroaching gloom. praying to be filled with your strength,

Praying for the strength to take that next tiny step, that next tiny step which will bring us closer to you.

Because in you O Lord we put our trust. In you O Lord we place our weakness, that we might gain the strength to keep on walking, to keep on climbing towards the source of our hope, our light our might our inspiration our Lord.

From treasures – to treasured.

My soul he doth restore again

and me to walk doth make

within the paths of righteousness

e’en for his own name’s sake.

23rd Psalm v 2

Mom died some years ago. After he death there was the responsibility of looking after her affairs. I had lived in that house for the first twenty years of my life, so there were many memories, both good and bad. There was a mountain of paperwork which had been added to for several years. It all had to be gone through and sorted. The furniture had to go and the house put up for sale. There were pictures and cards which she had collected for many years. It brought back so many memories.

Some of the most poignant memories were of my late big brother. She had kept old school reports, as well as the expected school photos, university photos, papers he had written over the years. we opened one dressing table drawer to discover old school books, one from when he had been in his first year at school. There was another couple of chapters on a book dedicated to neurophysiology. It must have been written for first year students. I could actually understand it!

There were one or two one or two special items I kept for old times sake. It brought me back to old memories of my own, Peter’s stories about Copenhagen, Tivoli Gardens and his time living in Denmark. He had brought us back prints of “The Mermaid” add the city. They adorned the walls of our house until the time after so many years that the pictures had faded to such an extent there was little we could do with them and they were sadly relegated to the “throw” pile.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a “things” girl. I rely more on memories and images in my head of the thins which matter to me. They are good enough – or they will be until the memory fades. But in spite of that, there are many people who find comfort in items which link them to the past.

Part of our teatime viewing recently has been a TV programme called “The repair Shop”. Fond memories are attached to some items. They are brought to the repair shop for a restoration job. They are recovered from attics, left by relatives. Their owners bring them in for what is described as a sympathetic restoration – old soft toys, bikes, cars, furniture, clocks and machines. They are taken in by the artisans who use their expertise to clean, repair and to recover some of their old use. The clients tell a little of their stories, some poignant, many full of happy memories of a bygone time. They are a gentle reminder of long past memories. I described them as sympathetic restorations, keeping the scratches and the essence of their old life, past damage incorporated and preserved as part of their charm.

This story relates to the good old Psalm 23. “My soul he doth restore” The Lord my Shepherd who seeks out the lost. He takes us as we are imperfect and scarred. He makes us as new. Cleaned and restored, but still scarred and damaged, offering our imperfect love and asking for the strength to travel on life’s journey. Restoration. But we remain with the memories of who we were, as well as the knowledge of who we are now, and the road we have traveled to get here. We too need to accept our imperfections. Those life scars are a part of our charm. Then we will be given the strength in order to continue in the knowledge that like those retored items we too are loved and have our part to play.

I’m lost. Are you lost too?

The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want

He makes me down to lie

In pastures green he leadeth me

The quiet waters by.

Psalm 23

Elizabeth was crying. The family had been on a shopping expedition. Mom and Dad had wanted to go into town to buy household necessities – towels, curtains, kitchen ware and boring stuff like that. The good thing was that at some point while they were shopping they would go into one of those wonderful cheap shops were nothing cost more than sixpence. There were toys and sweets and wonderful things for six year old girls. The house purchases were finally done. It was off to Woolworths -specially for Elizabeth.

The family pushed through the doors at the front. Elizabeth could hardly wait. The adults tended to wander through the store looking at absolutely everything! Where were those wonderful counters which had the lucky dip sweets and the crayons and the colouring books? Mom had stopped to look at cups and saucers and more boring stuff. She might only be small but Elizabeth could travel at the speed of light when she wanted to- when she need to. And she needed to now. Off she went – past the groceries, past the decorating things, past the pretty plants and the pots for the garden. Here we are – lucky dip sweet mixes, tiny little dolls – colouring books. Ooh I’d love one of those – and that over there.

Where’s Mom and Dad? It was Saturday, and it was crowded. When you are little and you move at the speed of light to find what you really really want, then you tend to leave the adults behind. That’s what had happened. Elizabeth was surrounded by shopping bags, by handbags and by skirts and hips and trousers. What were her Mom and Dad wearing? Grey trousers and a green pleated skirt. All the men were wearing grey trousers. Her gaze rose as she tilted her head upwards. No one seemed to be wearing the same jacket as her Dad. There were red skirts, blue skirts, pretty floral print dresses – but no Mom. Black leather handbags- brown leather handbags, but not her Mom’s handbag. Elizabeth wasn’t thinking about the colouring books or the toys or the sweets any more. She couldn’t find Mom and Dad.

She pushed her way through the sea of handbags and skirts and trousers. Back to the grocery aisle. No – not there. Back to the gardening department – no – not there either. What was she going to do? By this time she was fighting back the tears. She was frightened and she had no idea what to do. People were looking at her as she struggled to squeeze past. Just ahead was a man in grey trousers and a jacket. He looked like her Dad. Thank goodness! But when she got closer she could see that he wasn’t. Not her Dad.

The tears had started now. She was lost and she was frightened. She was running through the grocery department yet again. In the distance were the doors to the store. If she could get there, perhaps she would see them. So a sobbing six year old little girl ran towards the exit. She was more alone than she had ever been in her life. Why had she been so impatient? Why hadn’t she waited? Two pairs of open arms greeted her on the way out. How relieved she was to see the welcoming smiles and the familiar faces. She’d wait till she was a bit taller before she went into big stores to find her shopping again.

Adults can get lost too. There’s a story about Elijah who was an important man. He was an early prophet. That meant he was a man of God and a leader of hi people. There were arguments in the land about which god the people should follow. Elijah believed that the people should follow his God, so he organised a competition to see which God would answer prayer. The God who could make fire was the one which the people should follow. Elijah’s God was the real God. He was the one who had the power to light the fire. Elijah and his God were victorious.

Elijah doesn’t sound like he was lost does he? Here’s the thing. When God had made the fire on the altar that he had built to God, it made the other people look a bit silly. They thought they’d been made to look like fools so they were angry. They were so angry that Elijah ran for his life. He ran into the mountains were he lived on very little water and very little food. He was hungry. He was thirsty and he was alone. He was lost. He had lost all the people who had supported him. A was alone in the mountains and he needed help. He had changed from being and important and respected man to a man who was afraid for his life.

He felt he had been deserted by all the people who had supported him. He didn’t know what God wanted him to do next. So he prayed. God didn’t come in the earthquake. God didn’t come in the whirling wind. When it was very quiet, Elijah heard God’s voice. Gods voice was in the still small voice of calm. When Elijah heard that still small voice he stopped being afraid. He stopped being alone because he was strong enough to return to the people who had been following him. He was not lost. He was found.

Like Elizabeth. And he could return to doing the work which God had planned for him. Sometimes – do we lose our way? Do we feel lost? When we are lost do we feel alone? And we become frightened. Those are the times when we need to stop and think. The times when we need to find our still waters – or our still small voice. Because in the stillness and the calm – that is when we sense peace – and find the strength to travel our own life journey.

Walking through the wilderness – transformation

Oh no! It’s been six months now. The bathroom is not good. The kitchen needs a re-plan and renovation. We’ve been sitting staring at wallpaper we didn’t choose, and a fireplace we don’t like. The floor coverings need renewing. The mad red daisies on the wallpaper have been banished for ever, thank the Lord. That’s before we start on the seating and the floor covering and…. I suppose we want to start again. The thing is with decorating – the dream seems so far away from the reality. Reduce to the basics until you can realise the dream. Life is like that….

Isn’t that a little bit like faith? You examine the faith you have, and gradually there comes an understanding. That’s only the beginning, and there needs to be change. Things needs stripping layer by layer – till you are left with an empty room. We need to empty ourselves before God. The thing is though, with people, we are none of us without fault- not one of us. Sometimes it is so hard for us even to recognise, let alone try and put things right.

………………………………………………………………………….Jack’s life had taken a turn for the worse. Two months ago he had been sleeping in his own bed. He had been studying for his A levels and looking at unis he could apply for to achieve his degree. Yes, he was getting offers- three grade As; two grade As and a grade B, oh and one unconditional offer for a university two hundred miles away from home. He was working hard but somehow its a lot of pressure when you are expected to get such good grades – or live such a long way away. His grades were going down. He couldn’t concentrate. He couldn’t focus. He was dragging himself out of bed every morning – not having done the work from the night before. No breakfast, staring into space. He’d been shutting himself in his room. He’d met up with a friend from primary school. They had lost touch when they changed schools and not seen each other since. Steve had left school when he was sixteen. He’d been on work training schemes but life wasn’t that good at home. There had been arguments and finally he had been relying on some of his old friends to put him up at night. Jack and Steve had taken to going out in the evening. They would meet up with others in town to talk. They were young, all of them, not much pocket money between them, so they went out and wandered the streets. They could look after themselves, or so they thought. They must have been unbelievably naive to think that they were safe in a group. This one particular evening’s buzz was interrupted by shouts, screams and sirens. There were police and ambulances after what seemed to have been an argument with a rival gang. It would never have occurred to Jack to arm himself with a knife, but Steve tried to defend them against the thugs who laid into their group. Worried parents were called and arrived at the hospital to see their offspring. Steve had a serious wound on his arm. Jack was also hurt, but well enough to return home with his parents. It could have been much worse. But when both these boys found themselves vulnerable and open to attack it opened their eyes to the fact that their lives were travelling along the wrong track. Both sets of parents were alerted to the worries and angst in their sons’ lives. The boys could share their problems. Hopefully they would be able to set their lives back in the right direction.

Jesus told a story about a man who had two sons. The elder son had been given his inheritance. Wanting to learn more about the world he travelled on squandering his inheritance. Finally after all the money had gone he found work working with pigs. But he was not treated well. There was a famine in the land and there was not even enough to eat. He was treated like a slave. Finally he came to his senses and thought to himself, “I don’t know why you are working here. Remember when you were living with your family. Even the servants were treated better than this.” The son decided that he must leave and return to his family, although he knew his father would be so disappointed with his behaviour. But then he planned on asking his father if he could be hired as one of the servants. Even that would be better than working with the pigs.

His father was waiting for him. And when he saw his son finally returning home he prepared the fatted calf and organised a happy family reunion. he son’s foolish escapade was forgiven and forgotten. He was welcomed as part of the family.

There are times when we are laid low- sometimes by ill health, sometimes by circumstances which are beyond our control. Other times we find ourselves empty and in despair through situations of our own making. We are at rock bottom, and only God can lift us out of the mire.

Heavenly Father,

Gracious and almighty God,

We are lost.

We have come

so far from home.

We have travelled many miles

in the wrong direction.

Darkness surrounds us.

Hope is gone.

Lord,

it is your hope

which can

lighten our darkness.

It is your love

which can embrace us

once again.

Lord,

in our emptiness

we ask you

to fill us.

In our despair

fill us with your hope.

We find our hope

in our Lord Jesus.

It is through his outstretched arms

that we recognise your love.

It is through

his hope

when all is lost

that our lives are lit.

Lord,

we come to you,

not trusting

in ourselves.

Through you

and through the cross

there comes the hope of new life

to cast away the darkness

that we might live

in your hope,

in your life and in your love

forever

Amen.

Walking through the wilderness – dry land.

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought “I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up. When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said “Here I am” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals for the place where you are standing is holy ground. Then he said, “I am the Lord God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this Moses his his face because he was afraid to look at God. The Lord said, I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt……. “So now go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I. that I should go to pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that it is I who have sent you. When you have brought the people out of Egypt you will worship God on this mountain.” Exodus 3 1-7a 10-12

We know that Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. He prayed and he fasted, seeking to find the path his ministry would follow. He learned that he was not to give in to personal need, even when fasting in the wilderness. He should not give in to the emotional needs of being cared for and kept safe. Nor should he crave power and fame. That was not the way of his fathers plans – for him- for the world. His personal needs came last. His fathers wishes came before anything else, even when it was hard.E

Jesus was to be the fulfillment of many prophecies. Some were from the Old Testament prophets, others from those who recognised his role from before his birth. Stories told him by his parents about how he was to become wonderful, counsellor, a light to light the way for the Gentiles and bring glory to the people of Israel.

Moses was struck by the unexpectedness of seeing God in the harshness of his environment. His people the Israelites found themselves as slaves, suffering and struggling under the cruel Egyptian regime. Remember the story of Moses being rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter. He had a keen understanding of the contrast between the luxury of a pharaoh’s palace and the cruel regime his people endured during their time of slavery under Egyptian rule.

Then, seeing his God present in those searing flames bursting from the bush, he understood the role he was to play in leading his struggling people. He was to lead them to a land of freedom, a plentiful land – flowing with milk and honey.

John the Baptist had emerged from the wilderness to call the people to repentance and to be baptised. Jesus had spent time in the wilderness to think about the plans his Father had for him. None of them were alone. God was with John, with Jesus and with Moses too.

Do we hear the call? And when we hear the call do we find the challenge impossible and walk away? remember the words God gave to Moses when he Said to God ” I am nobody. How can I go to the king and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? God answered “I will be with you”

So when we next have that awesome moment, instead of continuing our journey will we hear the Father God calling us and saying, “Bring justice to your land” Whe we turn our backs and say “this is impossible,” perhaps we can hear his words as he says to us “I will be with you”

Our prayer for today

Father God,

we seek to find you

in those awesome moments.

Those moments when we

find you in beauty,

in glory,

in the racing clouds,

in the glorious sun,

in peace

and in joy,

in the pain and the struggle.

Lord I want to stay with you

in the harshness

in the cruelty

in the ravages

of the world

in which we live.

Before I turn away and say “I can’t”

remind me that you are the all in all,

that when I attempt

to answer your call,

remind me that I am not alone.

Remind me that you are with me

as you were with Moses,

the prophets,

with John

and with our Lord Jesus Christ.

You are with all those you call,

that we might respond

with glad hearts,

with grateful hearts

and a determined spirit,

that in all things

Your will might be done.

Amen