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.
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.
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.
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.
Which are your favourite songs? This morning I was thinking again about Desert Island Discs, and specifically about the famous opera singer who chose seven recordings of herself singing, out of the eight she was allowed. In fact, the eighth piece of music was from a recording of an opera that she was in as well; she just didn’t happen to be singing on that one.
Most of us wouldn’t only choose songs like this, I hope. Perhaps we might choose someone else singing? What would our favourite songs say about us, and the things we find important?
A favourite song of mine (which you can listen to at the bottom) begins
The sun comes up, there’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing your song again
One of the reasons I am particularly thinking of this song as I write is that we have just had a glorious, sunny week, and it feels like spring is on the way. Of course by the time you read this, we will be a year on from when we were in the vicelike grip of the Beast from the East, so I shouldn’t be hasty. But the sun coming up prompts me to be thankful to God for the gift of every new day. Every day is worth singing about.
And every day is worth singing God’s song about, too. There are days when we really feel like singing, and others when we just don’t. Maybe we just got out of the wrong side of bed this morning, but perhaps life is really, really difficult for all sorts of reasons. The song recognises this, because it continues
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes
We all have things happen to us which we might not want, and none of us knows, at least for this life, what the future holds. But because of everything that God has done for us, the singing is to continue all the same. In fact, it is to continue even in the toughest times of life:
And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
We are always called to sing God’s song. I am so convinced about this, and I like this song so much, that I have attempted to learn it on the piano, which I can’t really play at all. It doesn’t sound all that great, and certainly not the equal of the Grammy-winning original. Yes, it won a Grammy! It also doesn’t match a world-famous opera singer. But when I do it, because I’m not brilliant, I am not delighting in the sound of my own voice. I am singing God’s song.
A couple of years ago now, I was watching BBC News and they were talking about a student who was having one of these wide awake brain operations that you may have seen on the TV. In fact, I am sure I have met someone around the villages who has had one themselves. The medics needed to get the patient to sing to test what they were doing to his brain. And I watched, captivated, as his croaky voice broke into the chorus of this same song:
Bless the Lord, o my Soul, o my Soul,
Worship His holy Name
Sing like never before, o my Soul,
I’ll worship his holy Name
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before us, we can always sing God’s song.
Please pray for God’s calling of a new Diocesan Bishop
Here is a message being sent around the whole Diocese ahead of a really important meeting tomorrow in the process of choosing the next Bishop of Norwich. Please do use the excellent prayer at the bottom over the months to come, but especially in the next few days and around 11th and 12th March:
The Crown Nominations Commission meet tomorrow (Tuesday 22 January) and on 11 & 12 March to discern who will be our new Diocesan Bishop.
They will be considering the comments, views and suggestions that have been submitted during the consultation process, and make the appointment if a suitable candidate is found.
The Vacancy in See Committee ask for the prayers of the diocese for all those involved in the process, and especially for the Crown Nominations Commission and its members.
Below is a form of words that we hope will be helpful:
Eternal God, our shepherd and guide, in your mercy give your Church in this Diocese a shepherd after your own heart who will walk in your ways, and with loving care watch over your people. Give us a leader of vision and a teacher of truth. So may your Church grow and be built up, and by your grace accomplish more than we can imagine, for the glory of your name, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
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