Rob's message for September

What did you want to be when you grew up? What do you want to be when you grow up?

Some people turn out to be exactly what they wanted to be when they are little. Apparently Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook guy, always wanted to be a computer programmer. But other famous people wanted to be sports stars, like lots of us; John Grisham and George Clooney had hopes as baseball players before they became writers and actors, and George Lucas would rather have been a racing driver than create the most famous film franchise of all time.

We had an amazing treat the other week when we went to watch Matilda at the Theatre Royal. Some of you will have been along as well, or maybe to London to see it there. Perhaps the most famous song in the play – and they are all amazing – is called When I grow up. It starts with the smallest children in the cast singing (and swinging) about what it will be like when they all grow up. Next come some bigger children. Their hopes are slightly different, but not much. They’re all swinging, too: so far, so entertaining.

But then it gets really clever, because Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey, joins in, and it turns out she hasn’t finished growing up either, and she echoes one of the children: “I will be brave enough to fight the creatures that you have to fight beneath the bed each night to be a grown-up.”

While it doesn’t usually feel to me that the scary stuff is underneath my bed, waiting to jump out and get me, to be honest I know the feeling. Because I think we can all feel that one day, we won’t be afraid of the things we are afraid of. One day, that stuff won’t bother us any more. One day, we will all be grown-ups.

I wonder if the reason that things don’t always work out as the children hope is because, like them, we become convinced that it is something we have to do: I will be brave enough. But what if we aren’t?

For a long time I have found a lot of comfort in words like these from the bible: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Plenty of other people do, too. When I started to type that sentence into Google the verse came up really quickly. It turns out lots of people like to remind themselves that they do not need to fight all their own battles (and presumably most of them are adults). Maybe it’s less a question of who, or what we will be when we are grown up. Maybe it’s more to do with knowing that the God who will fight for us is bigger than anything that might hide under our beds, however still we might lie on them.


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Rob's message for August

Sometimes things happen that you will probably never forget, and will become moments in the future where you will always be able to remember where you were at the time. One of those, for me, came on 14th July when, at the fourth time of asking, and after six fairly disappointing tournaments in a row, England at last won the most exciting cricket World Cup final ever. I know there are many of you who aren’t anything like as interested in cricket as I am, and lots of people all around the world who have never even heard of cricket, but our win came very near the 50th anniversary of something almost everyone has heard of, even if we can’t all quite remember – the first successful moon landing in July 1969. I bet a lot of you could tell me exactly where you were when you heard about it.

I have been reading about it again over the last week or so, and I was reminded of something that I had seen before but had forgotten since, which was that Buzz Aldrin, who was an elder in his local church near Houston, took communion on the moon. The bread was carried in a food packet like everything else they took with them to eat, but his church had given him a silver cup that was small enough to carry with him. Did you know there is just about enough gravity on the moon to pour wine?

Aldrin celebrated the moment quietly and personally so as to avoid controversy: Neil Armstrong watched on to one side. He read from a scrap of paper Jesus’s words in John 15:5: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit, for you can do nothing without me.”

Then, in Aldrin’s own words, “I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup.  It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.” After taking the elements, Aldrin says he “sensed especially strongly my unity with our church back home, and with the church everywhere.”

Aldrin remembered Jesus’s sacrifice for all of us, and in reading those words of Jesus he touched on a very powerful truth. It is amazing to think that Aldrin had reached the pinnacle of human achievement to that moment, but didn’t think he could do anything on his own. It’s a lesson I often need to remember. This is also such an encouragement to those of us who feel we struggle to manage on our own: “Whoever remains in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit.” Because we aren’t meant to. Jesus wants us to know that he is for us, and he is with us, always.

In the end, Buzz Aldrin was just remembering some words a man spoke to God long ago, that found their fulfilment in Jesus: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there…” So next time you talk to someone about where they were when the first men landed on the moon, you will know where God was, too. He was there. He was there in the simple, beautiful act of a man who had achieved everything he had dreamed of, but couldn’t do anything on his own.


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Rob's message for July

At the moment, if I asked you if you were enjoying the World Cup, you might well answer, “Which one?” As I write, we are making our way through the group stages of the Women’s football World Cup, and the men’s cricket World Cup, and England are looking good in both of them. If you have been watching either, you will have seen some great individual performances, but in the end it so often comes down to teamwork. By the time you read this, the final will be in sight, and the best team will surely have the best chance of winning the trophy.

Recently I have been thinking about teamwork in connection with the fact that God is revealed in the bible as three as well as one: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Pretty much as soon as we get talking about this idea, we begin to struggle to picture it, because it seems almost impossible for our brains to imagine something being 3 and 1 at the same time. All the examples Christians give run out of steam in the end; we might talk about a thing having three parts, like an egg, or someone being experienced in three different ways, like me as a father, a brother, or a son, and so on, but none of them are ever really three and one at once like God is.

That’s why it is so helpful to concentrate on the effect of these three working together, if we can’t quite picture the reality. One of the ways we can do that is to look at some of the places in the bible where it mentions the work of the Father, Son and Spirit all in the same place. We see that in the teaching of Jesus, who tells his friends that he is going to ask the Father to send them the Holy Spirit. That’s Jesus the Son, asking God the Father, to send the Holy Spirit.

I love this one little phrase so much for a few reasons, but most of all because Jesus uses the word ‘will’, which means it is a promise: I will ask the Father, and he will send the Spirit. I hope I don’t often break big promises, but I am conscious of the number of little commitments I make with best intentions and then don’t follow up because I forget, or don’t quite get around to it. Some of you will feel that people have let you down over much bigger things. But this is not my promise, but the promise of Jesus, who is faithful and reliable in every way.

Jesus asks the Father, the Father gives, and the Spirit is the gift. Jesus is consistent in offering the Holy Spirit, and says in another place that the Father will give him if we ask. He will give because he is a good Father, and if we fathers with our failings know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will God our Father give us the good gift of the Holy Spirit if we ask him.

My own experience of the Holy Spirit, especially at some of the hardest times in my life, has been that he is deeply, deeply good, and so I have no hesitation in encouraging people to ask God for him. He is truly the gift of God, of the Father and of the Son, and reveals to us how very wonderful the best of teamwork can be.


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Rob's message for June

Last month I wrote about how we were going to put on a prayer space in the school, and we had a great time. Have a look elsewhere in the magazine to read what we got up to. We are grateful to the school for helping us in so many ways, not least in letting us in the front door over and over again as we came and went with our stuff and so on.

One of the things I noticed as we were walking through the playground at lunchtime was the duty staff in their tabards with the words “Can I help you” written on. It struck me that it was such a helpful thing for the children to see first as they approach one of the adults: “Here’s someone who wants to help me.”

It got me thinking about how much the bible talks about God being someone who helps us. In the Psalms King David sings “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.” People cry out to God: “I lift my eyes up to the mountains: where does my help come from?” A little earlier in the story the great leader Samuel puts up a stone in the ground, saying “This far God has helped us.” In the New Testament Jesus’s heart goes out to people when he sees that they are “harassed and helpless.” There are so many more examples, all of them pointing together towards the truth that God is someone who wants to help us.

And as God helps us, he calls us to help each other. Since the early part of this century there has been an international movement called “Pay it Forward”, encouraging people to pass on to others the kindness they have received. Jesus never expected his undeserved kindness to us to stop in our hands, but to be paid forward: he challenges the disciples that any kindness they do not show to the hungry, or thirsty, to strangers, to the poor, sick, or prisoners, is a kindness they do not show to him.

And so I have been reflecting how as communities, and especially as churches, we can get to a point where when people in any kind of need think of us, the first thing in their minds is “Here’s someone who wants to help me…”

We hope we are doing a lot to help, from groups for new mums, pre-schoolers and their carers, through our work in the school, and right the way through life to the dementia café and the support we offer people who have been bereaved. But one thing that we have done a little more of in the past than we are doing at the moment is providing for those in our villages who are struggling to make ends meet for whatever reason. One of the first easy things that we can do is to put some boxes out, in the churches and the halls, where anyone can leave some tins and packets of food that we can pass on to anyone in need who approaches us, and that people can even take something from if they want. We are happy to give anything spare to the Norwich Foodbank, but the main aim is to help people in the villages here. So please do get in touch, confidentially, if you would like a bit of support, or if you would like to speak to us on behalf of anyone else in that situation. We’re asking if we can help you, but we need you to let us know if that is the case.


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Rob's message for May

We are really pleased to be putting on a prayer space in the primary school this month, partly to give the whole school community the chance to breathe a little before the SATS arrive the week after. Lots of you will be wondering what a prayer space is, so watch out next time and hopefully we will be able to print some pictures of what we have been up to as well.

Thinking about the prayer space got me wondering about the whole idea of making space to pray. Yes, it is a tricky thing in the busy life of a primary school, but what makes it difficult for you and me as well sometimes?

Well first of all, space is a place. At the school we are going to be transforming their fantastic outdoor classroom into our prayer space, but there is also the question of where we find it easiest to pray. Some people tell me that they like to pray while they are walking the dog. Others pop into the church. When I sat down with someone recently to reflect on my experience of prayer, and the struggles I sometimes have, her first question surprised me: “Where do you pray?” She reckoned that it was most important for me to have somewhere that I regularly sit. A place where you might not get disturbed. A place where you are not reminded, by looking round, of everything else that you ought to be doing. Where do you pray?

Second, time is space. There is always something else that we could all be doing. Just looking over at my Google tasks as I write this tells me that there are about 20 things I could be doing at the moment instead of pray, and nearly all of them are important. Will I ignore the lengthening list of jobs a little longer, and stop to pray? And when will I pray? I don’t think it has to be the same time of day for everyone, but I am reminded that someone once advised me to “give God my best time.” So because I am much more awake in the morning than I am in the evening, or especially in the afternoon, I try to give God time earlier in the day.

But there is something else about prayer space which is more important still, and is to do with what is going on inside our heads and our hearts. Because prayer is about allowing God space too. If I pray I am doing two important things. To begin with, I am recognising that I cannot manage everything myself, which is what the world is so very good at training us to do. Next, I am saying that when things happen that I cannot manage, which they do to all of us in the end, that I believe that God can do something about it, which is where faith comes in. Faith is a lot of things, but maybe it is partly allowing God the space to be Lord, and King, and make a difference in the world.

So how about making yourself a prayer space?


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Rob's message for April

Have you heard of kintsugi pottery? It comes from a Japanese word meaning ‘golden joinery’, which refers to the way that broken pots are fixed back together with golden paint along the joins, so that the final piece is more beautiful than ever. I have been thinking about it for the last week or so, on and off, and have just started to make some connections with the Easter story.

We often run ahead in our minds to Easter Sunday, and all the golden joinery of the resurrection, but Easter starts with something broken. It starts with someone broken. For obvious practical reasons, people making kintsugi pots break them on purpose, in a bag, so they don’t lose any of the bits. The story of Good Friday is far more brutal. There is no creative, sanitised breaking here, no consideration for the damage that might be left behind. There is only the crushing death of God’s Son, Jesus, pure and pristine, a vessel full of the beauty and presence and splendour of God.

As Jesus is broken on the cross, we might notice a couple of things. The first is that people did this. We can trace through the last chapters of the gospel story a less-than-golden thread of betrayal and abandonment and mob hysteria, as he is offered up for crucifixion. But Christians have not stopped there, and have always put themselves in the place of those who caused Jesus’s death, recognising that all of us have weaknesses, brokenness and failings which need to be made right by God.

We might also notice God himself – or not. I say this because in the story of Good Friday, there are lots of questions about God. Is he watching on and allowing people to do this to Jesus? Is he actively causing the death of his Son on the cross? Is he there at all? If he is, why does Jesus famously call out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” On Good Friday, everything seems shattered.

But this is not the end of the Easter story. Jesus does not remain in the tomb any more than the broken pieces of the pot remain in the bag. They are taken out, painstakingly put back together, every crack gilded so the new is that much more wonderful than the old. The risen Jesus bears the marks of the crucifixion, but in the light of the resurrection the scars are glorious, and that Friday really does become Good.

All of us need to be put back together. Some of us will read these words and be very conscious of the struggles, and weakness, and brokenness of our human lives, and others of us will not at all. But we all need to be put back together, just the same. Our world needs to be put back together. In a truly amazing passage from one of his letters, Paul writes, But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Elsewhere he writes of God’s power that the same strength which raised Christ from the dead is at work in us now. We are clay jars which are cracked so that the gold and the glory of God shines through.

No pot ever put itself back together. No pot ever painted over its own cracks with gold. And no more can we. But God’s power can. If it can raise Christ from the dead, if it can put the crucified Jesus back together, even more glorious than before, then it can surely do the same for you, for me, for our churches and communities, for this often broken world in which we live.

A very Happy Easter to you all.


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