Rob's message for August

I spent some time this month wrestling with my various thoughts about the resignation of the Prime Minister, and the beginnings of the campaign to replace him, with many candidates eager to put their names forward. I wrote a whole article about how leadership is to do with character, and how when we recognise that, we can find reasons to hope.

And then it was one of those mornings where I was so captivated by a single sentence in a passage of the bible that I was reading, that I thought I should probably inflict something a little bit different on you!

As we pray online most mornings we have been reading through the beginning of Mark’s gospel. It’s not unusual that you read that Jesus goes off in the morning and finds himself somewhere to pray, and on almost all those occasions Jesus also gets disturbed in some way as crowds follow him, or his disciples come and interrupt what he’s doing. That’s certainly what happened in our reading today.

But the thing that really struck me was what the disciples said to him: “Everyone is looking for you!”

Word has got around about Jesus, you see, and so people are going looking for this man who speaks beautiful truth about God, and through whom God’s power is working in amazing ways.

Most of the people around Jesus would have been Jewish believers, and so very open to the reality and the presence of God. But I wonder whether it isn’t pretty much true today, still. “Everyone is looking for you!”

Sometimes people tell me that they are looking for Jesus. They tell my friends as well. A vicar colleague of mine I met in the supermarket the other week had had a conversation just like that the same afternoon. It happens today, and it’s amazing and exciting. The health warning here, by the way, is that people who are openly looking for Jesus to tend to get found!

More often, people are aware of looking for something. Now more than ever we can fill our lives with things, but those things can get quite hungry, and demand more and more of us. That’s true even of things which are really good in themselves: maybe you’ve noticed that?

Other people aren’t conscious of looking for anything. Perhaps you feel completely content with how things are. Or perhaps it’s more that we live in a very different world to the one that Jesus’s friends did, where God seemed such a present reality.

But I wonder. Hear those words again, written not about a something but a someone; about Jesus. “Everyone is looking for you.” Do you think that’s true? Do you think he’s what you’re looking for?


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Rob's message for July

If you were out and about in our churchyards over the last month or so and you thought you saw me on my knees, the chances are that I wasn’t either diligently praying or experiencing profound desperation – although those things do often coincide in my experience. It was probably that I’d seen something interesting on the ground and wanted to have a closer look.

It’s been very exciting this year especially to watch some bee orchids coming up in the churchyards. I took the picture you can see here the day before I sat down to write this. I find it extraordinary that here is a plant that has managed to make itself look like a bee so that a bee will come along and do what (birds and) bees do and carry off some pollen to the next one. It’s an amazing thing. I’ve seen on Facebook, by the way, that some of you have got these lovely plants coming up in your front lawns as well, which is quite an advert for No Mow May, isn’t it?

Whenever I see a properly spectacular flower like this, I’m reminded of Jesus’s word to his listeners on the mountain: “Consider how the wild flowers grow,” he says. When I read these words I like to imagine that Jesus is looking around at the beauty around him. “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.” It’s true, isn’t it? No matter how smartly turned out we are, none of us is going to look as amazing as a perfect wild flower. No ironing, no shoe polish, no make-up – just immaculately clothed by the Creator.

Jesus’s reason for mentioning this, by the way, is not to get people so interested in the flowers around them that they stop listening to anything that he’s got to say. His point is really that if God cares enough about a single flower to dress it that exquisitely, how much more will he provide for us, the crown of all that he has created?

There are so many reasons to worry at the moment. The war in Ukraine is still profoundly troubling, and here at home the cost of almost everything is going up and up and up. I’ve spoken to some people who are concerned that the autumn might bring an increase in Covid numbers again, and yesterday on the news the talk was of the possibility of a summer of strikes.

But don’t worry, Jesus says. Not because we stick our heads in the sand like an ostrich. Nor running round shouting “Don’t panic” like a sort of 21st century Corporal Jones. (Cultural references bang up to date there.) Instead, gently but firmly, “Don’t worry”, because we can be certain that Jesus is alive, that his kingdom is coming, and one day everything will be made new.


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Rob's message for June

There are quite of lot of famous last words out there. You never know quite whether they are true or not, especially when they are as funny as Oscar Wilde’s: “Either this wallpaper goes or I do.” But what about famous first words?

It’s a year of Jubilee, and so I have been reflecting on some of the things the Queen said at the very beginning of her reign, 70 years ago. Here are some words from her Christmas message in 1952, looking forward to her coronation the year after:

At my Coronation next June, I shall dedicate myself anew to your service. I shall do so in the presence of a great congregation, drawn from every part of the Commonwealth and Empire, while millions outside Westminster Abbey will hear the promises and the prayers being offered up within its walls, and see much of the ancient ceremony in which kings and queens before me have taken part through century upon century. Pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve him and you, all the days of my life.

These words are drawn from a lovely book about the Queen and her faith that we have bought some copies of, and hope to share with village residents in different ways in the weeks to come. When you read about the Queen dedicating herself to service, both to God and to her people, you recognise that she has fulfilled that commitment throughout her long reign, and that she goes on doing it. God has heard her prayer and kept her faithful to that pledge from 70 years ago.

Amongst Jesus’s first words as he began his ministry was a clear and beautiful statement of why had come: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour…”

There are some big and beautiful themes here, but one of them, the idea of freedom and the year of God’s favour, also connects with Jubilee. In the Old Testament God’s people counted years in sevens, like the days of the week, and at the end of every seventh lot of sevens (49 years if you are keeping up with me!) there was a year of Jubilee. The fiftieth year was a holy year, a year of freedom. A year of reset as everyone was to return their own land and their own family. A year for the liberation of slaves and the cancelling of debts.

So Jesus picks up on a huge idea, and identifies himself as the place true freedom comes from. And as we watch Jesus through the gospels, and we hear the stories of Christians today, we notice freedom coming. We notice sins forgiven and sickness healed and death defeated and stigma erased and so much more. We notice that Jesus lives up to those early words, and embodies that freedom which he promised. Just as the Queen has kept her word beautifully for 70 years, Jesus has kept his promise of freedom, and he will keep it into eternity. And it’s there for all of us today.

It's a year of Jubilee!


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Rob's message for May

Welcome then to May, normally a month of many bank holidays, although of course this year slightly fewer, given that the one at the end has been pushed into June as part of the Jubilee celebrations. There’ll be more of that next month.

Mayday is an important one for me. My sister’s birthday is on 1st May, and she made sure we remembered that, and now also my sister-in-law’s. (She’s not as bothered!) I lived in Oxford for a while, and over there May Day is big business, with choristers singing from the tower at 6am, Morris dancers everywhere, the pubs open at breakfast time, and students attempting to jump off the bridge into the river, if the police couldn’t stop them.

Given this dangerous activity, it would hardly be surprising if that’s how Mayday became a distress call as well. It was certainly a dangerous day in Oxford. But I knew where it actually came from, because I remembered hearing about it on an old episode of the comedy Red Dwarf:

Mayday, mayday. I wonder why they call it "Mayday".


The distress call. I wonder why it's "Mayday". It's only a bank holiday. Why not Shrove Tuesday or Ascension Sunday? Ascension Sunday, Ascension Sunday. 15th Wednesday after Pentecost, 15th Wednesday after Pentecost.

It's French, you doink! "M'aidez" - "Help me". "M'aidez"

Let’s leave aside the question of whether a TV sitcom is the best place to learn French, and focus on the call itself: “Help me.”

It’s not always easy to ask for help. I particularly struggle with this when I am in a big shop looking for something. The quickest thing would be to ask someone, but for some reason I prefer to wander up and down the aisles for minutes on end, until I find it. I can get away with this if I am on my own, but not if I am with my family, because they think it is ridiculous. I mean, it is ridiculous.

It can feel like there is a lot to lose in asking for help. I’m admitting I can’t do it all myself; that I am weak and imperfect and insufficient to the task. When I ask for help, I am making room for other people, but most of all I am making room for God.

The bible is full of people like you and me who make loads of mistakes, but the one thing most of them get right is asking God for help. They realise they can’t help themselves, can’t save themselves, often can’t even make the right decision when it’s staring them in the face, but they know to ask God for help.

That first May when I lived in Oxford was remarkable for all the Mayday shenanigans, but the real reason I remember it is that it was the first time I really asked God to help me, to save me, to forgive me. It was certainly not the last time, but it was the first, and I’ll never forget it. With the fear of heights I’ve developed since then I can’t imagine singing from a church tower, or jumping off a bridge, and I was never one for beer at breakfast time, but I’m not going to stop asking God for help. It changes everything.


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Rob's message for April

We have all been watching with horror the scenes on the news from Ukraine in recent weeks. Or maybe we have. Sometimes I’ve found it hard to watch at all, and I’ve wondered why. Do I need to pray for more compassion? Is it just that the last couple of years have just worn me out a bit?

Elsewhere in this magazine we have put a bit about Ukraine, and we encourage you to look at the words of Psalm 31, being used by lots of Christians there, if you would like to reflect and pray. I think a miracle would be a good thing to pray for.

Earlier this week someone pointed out to me that the video of one of the songs we have sometimes used in church, a version of the creed, was filmed in Kyiv a few years ago. You can see people walking through the streets, lovely buildings old and new. You wonder how long some of them will still be there; I’m conscious of the time that has passed between me writing this and you reading it.


Yesterday the creed popped up again when I was reading a book that goes with the course we are doing at the moment about unanswered prayer. Regular readers (hello again to all three of you) will remember me writing about that a couple of months back. The writer points out that the creed is full of miracles: God created everything; Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin; he ascended into heaven. It seemed fitting to me that a place now in need of such an extraordinary miracle should have so many of them sung over its streets in that video.

There’s one more in the song, and in the creed, of course. He rose again, it says. In a way that’s our prayer for Kyiv, isn’t it, and for the whole of Ukraine. We’re praying for an extraordinary miracle: that it might rise again.

Easter says that death isn’t the end of the story for any of us; that however it comes, it can never have the last word. Easter says that Jesus rose again, and that we can rise again through faith in him. Easter invites us to pray for a miracle; to believe in miracles; to expect a miracle.

We have seen some extraordinary defiance from the Ukrainian people in the face of overwhelming opposition, and that first Easter was a time of defiance too. Jesus faced death and hell and all that was evil in the world. The opposition was overwhelming, and for a while it looked like it had won. But Jesus had done enough miracles to believe in them, and burst from the grave to bring life and light and hope.

That’s Easter faith. That’s what we believe. That’s the name of the song, by the way: This I believe.

Happy Easter everyone.


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Rob's message for March

You led me to the Cross

It’s not easy for most of us, is it, to think of a favourite song? There are so many that have spoken to us at different times. I always wonder how long the people on Desert Island Discs take even to come up with just eight.

And we might be the same about pictures, too, whether it’s paintings by our favourite artist, ones our children or grandchildren have done for us, any image that is meaningful to us. It’s hard to choose a favourite.

For me, the same goes for passages in the bible. You can’t just pin it down to one. As followers of Jesus we try not to – we recognise that God can speak through any of it at any time, most of all bits that aren’t our favourite.

And I saw your face of mercy in that place of love

This morning, though, I found myself coming back to one that has always helped me see Jesus, and what it means to follow him. Not surprisingly, because people haven’t changed quite as much as we’d like to think in 2000 years, his friend Peter doesn’t like the sound of the hard times ahead of Jesus. He can’t see what Jesus is talking about.

You opened up my eyes
To believe Your sweet salvation
Where I'd been so blind

It doesn’t surprise me, because I don’t always see it either. As much as I try to follow Jesus, I find myself going in all sorts of odd directions. With all I have, I resist denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Jesus as he heads towards a much more important Cross of his own. It’s why the little cross you can see here in the picture is so precious to me. The triangle is the shape of the chapel at a lovely retreat place I know, but most important is the road up to the cross. It’s not straight and obedient, but wandering and wiggly, so that you wonder if you’ll ever find your way there. But you do, and in the end it is so worth it.

Now that I'm living in Your all forgiving love
My every road leads to the Cross

As I wrote that last bit, I worried to myself that I was making it sound like it was all about me. Me finding my way to the Cross, me walking in the right direction. And so I was grateful for the chorus’s invitation to pray that Jesus would keep me heading the right way:

Jesus keep me near the Cross
I won't forget the love You've shown
Saviour teach me of the Cross
I won't forget the love
I won't forget the love You've shown

So as we head towards Easter, may you walk in the way of the Cross, and find mercy and salvation, forgiveness and love. May your every road lead to the Cross.



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