Rob

Rob's message for October

Rob's message for October

We all knew the day would come when the Queen wouldn’t be there, but somehow we didn’t quite expect it, did we? Part of that was that it seemed to come quickly, with her meeting prime ministers old and new on Tuesday, and dying on Thursday. But more of it must be that most of us can’t remember a time when she wasn’t there.

There were so many striking images and moments in the period from the Queen’s death, up to and including her funeral. The crowds lining the streets through Scotland as the coffin drove from Balmoral to Edinburgh; a host of state occasions as King Charles visited all four nations in about as many days; and of course the queue.

At the same time, like with all bereavements, it was the little things that struck you. I saw a photo on Facebook of an order of service for someone who was made a vicar, somewhere, the same evening the Queen died. They found out 10 minutes before they were supposed to start, and after a few phone calls they went ahead. The photo showed the text where the vicar promises allegiance to the monarch. “Queen Elizabeth II” had hurriedly been crossed out, and “King Charles” written in blue biro. Then someone must have realised that wasn’t enough, and had added “III”, this time in red.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that I have had a lot more conversations about life and death in the last couple of weeks than I normally do. Times like this confront us with our own mortality, and they’re meant to, I think. They’re meant to make us look at our lives and ask ourselves what we want to be remembered for. There’s no point wishing we could all be the Queen, and hope to do great things, but we can all do small things with great love. Actually, the best stories about the Queen haven’t at all been grand gestures; people have been remembering her little interactions with them, and how much her care and attention meant.

But more than what it means to live this life as well as we can, the Queen has pointed us beyond it. Christmas after Christmas she reminded us that God had come into the world; that Jesus was in our midst, and that eternal hope was within reach for all of us. In her wonderful Easter message in the early pandemic, she reminded us all that “As dark as death can be  particularly for those suffering with grief  light and life are greater. May the living flame of the Easter hope be a steady guide as we face the future.”

The Queen’s extraordinary funeral service, which may have reached over 4 billion people across the world, spoke beautifully of the eternal hope that we have because of Jesus. The Archbishop of Canterbury drew on that same Easter message as he followed the Queen in quoting Vera Lynn, reminding us that when we believe in Jesus we can be sure that we’ll meet again. It means that there is a time when we will be with the Queen again, but more than that, a time when we will be with Jesus; and like the Queen, will cast our crowns before the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings.

 

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Rob

Rob's message for September

Rob's message for September

Hello everyone

The demands of printing mean that I am writing this in August, and so I am looking out at my back garden, which is now less like (an excuse for) a lawn, and more the aftermath of a wheat field at harvest time. The ground is just so thirsty.

At the same time, the news is full of the increasing cost of living. I am getting worried emails from my energy supplier, checking I am keeping an eye on my Direct Debit. I am wondering what will happen if my bills are twice as high in January as they are now. It is so expensive.

And I’m listening to two people aiming to be our next Prime Minister both trying to establish that we can rely on them to lead us through a time of enormous uncertainty. What kind of commitments might they make which will help us to be convinced of this?

For the last week or two I have found myself coming back again and again to a very well-worn chapter in my bible. Isaiah 55 says something, I think, to each of these 3 questions.

First of all, it invites the thirsty. “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters.” At the moment we don’t need to imagine what physical drought feels like, but these words address spiritual thirst. Deep down, are you thirsty? Do you long not just for the normal kind of drink, which we need to top up again and again, but what Jesus describes as “rivers of living water”? Isaiah says, “Come.”

Second, he invites those who can’t afford it. “You who have no money, come and eat! Come, buy wine and milk, without money and without cost.” The price of milk went up about 20% in a lot of shops through June and July, having been pretty steady for the first half of the year. Like us, you will have started to work out what you might not be able to afford soon. Isaiah promises us something which is without cost. So come.

Incidentally, if you and your family are struggling with food costs, please get in touch. We can provide some help through our little foodbank, or point you elsewhere. At our All Invited sessions on Sunday afternoons in the autumn we are expanding the food we offer to be more of a proper meal than just drinks and cake, because we know it might help some of you. Please come.

Finally, as we worry and wonder about how politicians might help us, Isaiah offers us help that lasts much longer than any one Prime Minister can: “I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”

The invitations and promises that God makes through Isaiah, over 2500 years ago, end up being fulfilled through Jesus. Some other time maybe we can go into the rest of this amazing chapter, but the thing that strikes me most today is how it doesn’t depend on what someone might do if they become Prime Minister, but what Jesus has done – in living, and dying, and rising again for us. That’s what this everlasting covenant is built on.

I need to stop now, because I’ve written too much already, so I’ll just remind you of the invitation again. To the thirsty; to those who can’t afford it; an invitation depending not on what we or anyone else might do, but what Jesus has done: “Come.”

 

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Rob

Rob's message for August

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

Rob's message for July

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

Rob's message for June

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

Rob's message for May

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".

Eh?

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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