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  • Lent Reflections (3)

    Today's readings:

    Psalm 25

    Daniel 9:15-25a

    2 Timothy 4:1 - 5

    If the version of the RCL I have downloaded is correct, we 'dwell' with a Psalm for several days at a time, we are forced to slow down and focus on words we have heard already and wonder what else we may deduce from them.  As I re-read it this morning, I found a song from yesteryear rising up from my memory:


    Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul,

    Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

    O my God, I trust in Thee,

    Let me not be ashamed,

    Let not mine enemies triumph over me.


     Yea, let none that wait on Thee be ashamed,

     Yea, let none that wait on Thee be ashamed.


     Show me Thy ways, Thy ways, O Lord,

     Teach me Thy paths, Thy paths, O Lord.


     Remember not the sins of my youth,

     Remember not the sins of my youth.


     The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him,

     The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.


     Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul,

    Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul

    Charles F Moore (c) Maranatha Music 1971

    I doubt anyone sings it anymore, it is somewhat dated in feel, but it is pretty faithful top the psalm.  Remember not the sins of my youth... what failings or faults do I call to mind? Has my view of 'sin' changed since I was a 'youth'? What sins of mature years might I want to confess too?

    The passage from 2 Timothy is, as many established readers know, very precious to me, since it is this that I locate my own call to ordained ministry.  It is one of the signposts I go back periodically and discover that "oh yes, that's there too".  It is a passage that can be glibly and unhelpfully, confusing 'sound doctrine' with 'what I believe to be right' and 'ear-tickling' with someone else hearing what they want to hear, not me, oh no, never me...

    When Christ Jesus comes as king, he will be the judge of everyone, whether they are living or dead. So with God and Christ as witnesses, I command you to preach God's message. Do it willingly, even if it isn't the popular thing to do. You must correct people and point out their sins. But also cheer them up, and when you instruct them, always be patient.  The time is coming when people won't listen to good teaching. Instead, they will look for teachers who will please them by telling them only what they are itching to hear.  They will turn from the truth and eagerly listen to senseless stories.  But you must stay calm and be willing to suffer. You must work hard to tell the good news and to do your job well. (2 Tim 4:1 - 5 CEV)

    I wonder what words or phrases leap out for you today?  I wonder what hallmarks of 'soundness' we employ? 

    Am I a true or a false preacher?  I suspect a bit of both... the human desire to be liked and, my own 'people-pleasing' tendencies, can lead me to evade or avoid telling it as I understand it.  How do I speak prophetically into lives or situations that are complex?  How do I avoid mere collusion with those I want to please?  Where do I find the courage to confess 'I once thought A now I think B'?  I'm not going to say which words from the passage were my touchstones today, but I wonder which, if any, are touchstones for you?

    Remember not the sins of my youth

    The arrogance that believed it knew all there was to know

    The legalism that allowed me to perceive myself as better than others

    And to pass judgement on their understandings

    The times I said 'ah but...' with a proof text

    (out of context)

    The desire to belong in the Christian bubble that dispaced my inate sense of your desires


    Remember not the sins of my maturity

    The fear of rejection if I say the wrong thing

    The evasion of prophetic responsibility

    The intellectualisation of spirituality

    The times I say "ah but...' about a proof text

    (over-stressing the context?)

    The desire to please others that sometimes still displaces my inate sense of your desires


    Forgive me, and grant to me

    Patience with those who seem to me slow to engage or unwilling to progress

    Gentleness with those who wound or insult me

    Courage to speak truth, as I know it, in love and humilty

    Not seeking my own popularity, nor yet to please those who employ me, but fulfilling your call on my life

    And in all things

    May your love be expressed through me,

    To the honour of your name



  • That was a Daft Idea!

    I decided that during Lent I would use the main services to explore some aspects of Christian doctrine... it'll be fine, I thought, I can do this, it won't take long to read up enough to make a coherent reflection.  How daft was that... how many hours did I spend in doctrine classes and philosophy of religion classes... and now I try to condense stuff into twenty minutes!  I'm enjoying the reading, and reminding myself of things I had long forgotten.  I am enjoying (I think) the challenge of finding hymns that do what I want them to do.  But it does feel like it was a particualrly ridiculous idea when I realise that even with the basic texts I'm re-reading I have to skim through several hundred pages on , for sake of argument, the doctrine of God.  Just hope that people find it of some vague interest and usefulness as part fo their lenten reflections.

    Your challenges, should you wish to accept...

    • Find four/five hymns/songs that refer ONLY to the first person of the Trinity and do not exclusively use the name Father.  These must include at least ten different descriptors for God.
    • From one hymn/songbook only, find five hymns that form a coherent set, including one for pre-communion use, that use the phrase 'Jesus Christ' rather than 'Jesus' or 'Christ'

    I've done both, so it's possible, but it's quite a good challenge.

  • Lent Reflections (2)

    Today's lectionary readings:

    Psalm 25

    Daniel 9: 1 - 14

    1 John 1:3-10

    Because Lent is a season of penitence, and because we are right at the start of it, perhaps it is no surprise that the identification and confession of sin and guilt are strong themes in these readings.  Yet, it is too easy to read them seeing a kind of angry God wielding a big stick to punish those others whom we perceive as sinful... whoever 'they' might be.  It is too easy to fall into the trap popular among some Christians that says 'we won't be judged' because we have been 'saved'. Hmm. Not sure either of those is a valid reading of scripture in general and these passages in particular.

    If you attend worship in a Church of England parish that uses Common Worship, it is more than likely that the lovely words from 1 John 1 will form part of the liturgy:

    This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:3 - 10 NRSV)

    Granted, the first and last sentences are stripped off in the Anglican liturgy, but the near poetry of the central section, prayerfully intoned by a priest to her/his people makes confession a less scary thing, God a more approachable God.

    I had to re-read the Daniel a couple of time to find that this same gracious, forgiving God is referred to, amidst the far more scary allusion to calamity as the consequence of sinfulness.  By contrast, the Psalm is quite bold and confident in its approach to God, and whilst it includes an element of confession, suggests a comfortable relationship with God.

    One big challenge we face as Christians is, I think, how to find the middle ground that trusts in God's mercy and forgiveness without drifting into a lazy 'anything goes' mentality.  How do we avoid judgementalism at one extreme, as if somehow your sins are worse than my sins, and complicity at the other, as if there is no such thing as sin?  Some stuff around at the moment is giving me much pause for thought here, as I hear ugly language of 'depravity' and 'abomination' banded about lightly... How do I hear what lies behind the language in a way that is neither judgemental or complicit?  How do I find the Christlike response?


    Me, a sinner?

    Not me, Lord:

    I know the law and obey it to the letter

    (except the bits about clothes of mixed fibres, and prawn sandwiches, and tearing down mildewed houses...)

    Not me, Lord:

    I read my Bible every day and pray

    (except when I am too tired or too busy or get a better offer or fall asleep)

    Not me, Lord:

    I do not steal or lie or kill or covet

    (except time, except to protect myself, except with my words, except my neighbour's latest must-haves)

    Not me, Lord:

    I give to charity and to church, with Gift-Aid, 10% and more

    (except the week the bills come in or I spot a bargain in the sales or fancy a little treat)

    Not me, Lord:

    I do not judge or criticise or condemn

    (except them - the people who don't think like I do)



    A Sinner


    Have mercy

    Lord have mercy on me, a sinner



    If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

  • Lent Reflections (1) Ash Wednesday

    During Advent 2011, I undertook a discipline of writing daily an 'off the cuff' reflection on the Bible verses used in the Northumbria Community morning prayer cycle.  In the real world, I had a lot of positive feedback, people said they found it helpful and useful.  That encouraged me, not least because at times it was "flippin' hard work" trying to find something constructive to say.  However, despite the hard work, and despite the fact that I will probably at some point wonder why I decided to do it, I have decided to do something similar for Lent, but this time using the RCL daily readings.  Again, nothing deeply pondered, nothing clever, just my immediate 'reader response' to these ancient and powerful words.

    Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12

    Psalm 51:1-17

    2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10

    Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

    These must be some of the best known, and most overworked passages of scripture there are... in Joel a call to 'rend the heart not the clothes', in Isaiah the call to 'God's chosen fast' which equates to justice, in the Psalm David's confession and repentance following his adultery with Bathsheba, in the gospel the call to beware public piety and outward display but instead to pray privately and fast unobserved.  All these we know well.  To each of these we nod sagely in agreement.  And every one of them we struggle to live out.

    I have not mentioned the epistle yet... it is a pretty well known chunk but not a neat reference to fasting, justice or piety:

    So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

    As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’
    See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see - we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2Cor5:20 - 6:10 NRSV)

    If I remember correctly, the motto over the door of Bristol Baptist College says, in Greek (of course!) 'We are Ambassadors'... The image of the Ambassador as the generous host offering ferrero rocher chocolates is an unhelpful one, suggesting material wealth and opulent life-styles.  It is about as far removed from the image portrayed here as is possible.  These ambassadors for Christ  are also servants of God who have known life in the raw.  We need to be careful of elevating suffering as somehow evidence of piety, but I don't think that's what this passage says.  It seems more like a sense that the badge of the ambassador lies in the authenticity of struggle, the ability to empathise with others.  Sure, the writer waxes lyrical as he warms to his theme, but in here are very earthy things we can all relate to...

    afflictions (perhaps illness/injury)



    sleepless nights (perhaps due to anxiety)

    In these things, as well as in the overtly spiritual things, we are ambassadors, representatives in a 'foreign' culture for Christ.  Perhaps in Lent, as well as the 'giving up' and 'taking up', as well as the 'repenting' and 'preparing' we do do well to keep a bit of 'present-mindedness' in our own realities, whatever they are, knowing that God is a god of the whole of life.


    Ash Wednesday,

    Marked for some by a daub of cremated palm mixed with olive oil

    Sign and symbol of a penitential season

    Looking back to past Paschal observances

    And forward to more.


    Solemn beginning of the fast

    The giving up



    (For a while)

    The pleasures of life

    To try

    (and probably to fail)

    To be more holy

    More ready

    When Passiontide arrives


    Ordinary day

    In the middle of the week

    When aches and pains

    Anxieties and fears

    Tragedies and accidents

    Everyday tasks

    And hum-drum routine

    Occupy our waking hours


    The Ambassador

    Does not bear

    Gleaming platters of foil wrapped sweets

    (Lest she should spoil her guests)

    But rolls up her sleeves

    And plunges her hands into the washing up bowl


    Kneels in the dirt

    And picks up the discarded flower






    (or not)


    This is the fast and this the feast

    This piety in public and private space

    This is Ash Wednesday


    God of grace, at the beginning of Lent, show us, one step at a time, how we may walk confidently and unashamedly in the messy and grubby paths of life, as Ambassadors of Christ.  Amen.


  • Officially One Year NED

    Had my six-monthly checkup this morning and all is well... I am now officially NED for another six months.

    The doctor I saw was great, very helpful and gave me some good suggestions regarding the joint problems... though max dose fish-oil mixed with long term chemo-brain side effects might finally turn me into a goldfish!  It was, for me, one of those grace-filled moments when the doctor I saw turned out to be someone who had formerly worked in rheumatology and both 'got' women with stiff/aching joints/tendons AND believed it was a Tamoxifen side effect (other people I am in contact with have doctors poo-pooing the idea).  So, need to get to the herbalist next the Gathering Place, or one of the chemists round the corner, to stock up on the things she told me to try.

    But, whoopity whoop, I am still a Nedette!