Grief and Courage

I have been reading an important and fascinating book about the effects of human activity on the planet that we share. This book isn’t a long list of statistics and dire warnings; it contains no graphs or tables or maps. This is a book of stories, from individuals across the word; thirty-five stories in fact. They are stories told by Christians who have experienced some of the direct and indirect effects of man’s activities on their neighbourhoods, their environment and their way of life.

Words for a Dying World” is, as it’s byline says, a collection of “Stories of Grief and Courage from the Global Church”. You can probably see why I find this book fascinating, but why do I think it’s important? The reason is, because these stories are told not as complaint, not to attribute blame and not as answers to specific problems, but as lament. In his story about his Grandma’s oil well, Kyle Lambelet writes:

Lament is one of Scripture’s primary modes of prayer. The psalms are full of them. God laments over creation before the flood; Rachel weeps over her children; Jeremiah cries out in exile; Job denounces God’s abusive sovereignty. Laments are prayers at the end of human agency. They confront the reality of our situation in recognition that things are not as they should be.

My Grandma’s Oil WellKyle Lambelet (in “Words for a Dying World ed Hannah Malcolm)

Lament is an important part of grieving and something which our current Western culture struggles with. Lament is a way of dealing with grief and, as Kyle says, was an important part of the culture of the peoples of the Old Testament. Lament names the grief, shares the grief in community, talks about that which is lost and acknowledges the loss. But as Hannah Malcolm the editor of this book says:

We grieve the death of particular things, whether creatures or places, and, until we understand this, our relationship between others and ourselves, we will continue to flounder in slogans and simplifications. If grief is an expression of love, our grief takes on the shape of the places and creatures to whom we intimately belong.

Introduction: The End of the World?” (in “Words for a Dying World ed Hannah Malcolm)

In the last year we have all experienced the loss of people, things, activities and important aspects of our lives, as a result of the global pandemic that is Covid-19. It is important for all of us to find the time and the place to name those losses in the company of others, and since each of us experiences an individual set of losses, and the same loss affects each of us in different ways, it’s important that we have the opportunity to share our stories and our sadness. But lament isn’t simply a maudlin introspection on what is no more, but it also allows us to work through our grief at the loss and see hope beyond it.

Our new Eucharistic Prayer for Lament affirms this in the following petition:

Glory and thanksgiving be to you,
most loving Father,
for you have redeemed us through your Son.

By his life and sacrificial death,
he conquered the powers of darkness,
transforming our lament
and freeing us to praise you.

SEC Eucharistic Prayer for Lament

We learn from the psalms, that biblical lament comes in many forms. Some is directed toward an enemy; some toward God; some is individual and isolated; some is communal and comprehensive. Lament is a response to the full range of problems in the human condition. The psalms specifically name: isolation, shame, despair, danger, physical impairment, and death as cause for lament.

Lament may be a helpful way to reflected on any loss, and there are both personal and community aspects to that. With this in mind, our Lent Study this year will explore Lament, both in general and in particular and use the Psalms as an import source of helpful material.

I leave the final word to Hannah, as she writes in the conclusion:

If we cannot bring ourselves to be truthful about our broken histories, or the current trauma we face and perpetuate, we cannot begin to heal. Survival, compassion, honesty. These are all good reasons to grieve. But the conviction that Christ’s resurrection marked the death of death also contains the hope that our works of love in the present are not consigned to destruction. They participate in a transformed future.”

Conclusion: World without End?” (in “Words for a Dying World ed Hannah Malcolm)

Blessings
James

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany 2021

Gospel Reading John1.43-51

In our household one of the jobs that falls to me is the ironing! Now many people cannot stand doing the ironing, but I really don’t mind it (not that I am looking for business mind you – so please don’t send your ironing piles my way)! I think one of the things that makes this job bearable for me, is that I usually prop up my i-pad in front of the ironing board and watch re-runs of old comedy shows from the television.

These past few weeks, I’ve been working my way through episodes of Rab C Nesbitt. You may remember this show from the late 1980s and 1990s. Produced by BBC Scotland it starred Gregor Fisher as an alcoholic Glaswegian (Rab) who seeks unemployment as a lifestyle choice. In this week’s episode, Rab had become seriously ill and was in hospital. As soon as the medical staff learn he is from Govan they assume that Rab’s illness is to be attributed to excessive drink. “I’ve seen his type before” one nurse says, “He’ll never change”.

Like the nurse, making assumptions is one of the things that most of us are very good at.

“I’ve seen his type before; he’ll never change.”

“She’s always so negative; I know what she will say.”

“He won’t understand; he never does.”

“It’s always been like that; it will never get any better.”

“Nothing good can come of that situation.”

Have you ever caught yourself saying anything very similar to one of these phrases?

And you know, this ‘making assumptions’ is not a modern phenomena.

In our gospel reading today, we hear such a phrase,

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

You can almost hear the cynicism in Nathanael voice and it is obvious that he has some opinions and has made some assumptions about Nazareth – but let’s not be too hard on him.

People of faith, people like Nathanael, people like you and me, make these and all sorts of other assumptions every day. Sometimes our assumptions are about other people; how they will behave, what they will say, what we can expect from them, what they think or believe. Sometimes we look at particular situations – the state of the middle east or the church, a teenager trying to grow up – and we declare it hopeless.

We are sure nothing good can come out of that particular situation.

Then there are those times we look at ourselves or an aspect of our lives. Maybe it is a secret we have carried for years – an illness that we face each day, some addiction that we hide, the hurt we have caused another person, the loneliness of grief – and we say, “It will never get any better. How can anything good come out of this?” We may or may not speak our assumptions out loud, but they rattle through our heads and influence what we do.

The assumptions we sometimes make can be so powerful as to destroy relationships, love and life. We think we know more than we really do.

Making assumptions acts as limiting factor on our lives. They narrow our vision. They close off the possibility for change and growth. Our assumptions can deny the possibility of reconciliation, healing, a different way of being or a new life. Ultimately, they impoverish our faith and proclaim there is no room for God to be present and act.

In today’s gospel it is no coincidence that Nathanael is sitting under a fig tree when he makes his comment. It is the fig tree that gave Adam and Eve the leaves behind which they hid from God and themselves. It is the fig tree that Jesus will later curse for producing no fruit, no signs of life. Assumptions become our hiding places. They are not fruitful. They keep us from engaging in life, ourselves, each other and, at a deeper level with God.

Nathanael doesn’t doubt that God will fulfill the Old Testament promises. He isn’t surprised by and doesn’t even question that Philip could have found the one about “whom Moses in the law and the prophets spoke.” His shock and disbelief are that this could come out of Nazareth! Nathanael has as much faith as the next person, but Nazareth? No way. Not there. Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

We all have our ‘Nazareths’.

We think they are about other people, particular circumstances, or even aspects of our own lives. Mostly, though, our assumptions are actually about us. They are born out of our fears, our prejudices, our guilt, our losses or our wounds. We take our past experiences, real or imagined, and project them onto another person or situation. Assumptions keep life shallow and superficial. After all, if we can safely assume, then we do not have to risk a deeper knowing and being known.

At the deepest level, our Nazareths are about our understanding of God. We just can’t see how anything good can come out of a particular situation. We sometimes find it hard to believe that God could be present, active, and revealed in ‘Nazareth’ whether it be another person, a relationship, situation or in our own lives. It’s sometimes so hard to see life in the midst of death, hope in places of despair, and the good and beautiful in what looks like the bad and ugly.

But thankfully God does not allow himself to be limited by the assumptions we make. In every Nazareth we experience we are offered an invitation to “come and see.” For every assumption we make there is actually a deeper truth waiting to be discovered, a new relationship to be experienced and perhaps a new life to be lived. Our Nazareths become the place of God’s epiphany.

Come and see. Our salvation and healing happen where we thought nothing good could happen. Reconciliation and love are revealed in relationships we were certain nothing good could come from. The seemingly hopeless situations of life begin to bear fruit. Words of forgiveness and compassion are spoken by people we were sure could never say such things. God puts lives back together in Nazareth.

So, my dear friends, when you find yourself assuming the worst about a person or situation – think of Nazareth. Remember Nathanael’s question and remember, that not only can something good come out of Nazareth, but it was from there that The One who is Goodness itself came.

God Bless you and those you hold dear this coming week.

Fr Simon

Sermon for the Baptism of Christ (10th January 2021)

The Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca

Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

At this time of year, our lectionary seems to be leaping around a bit. Last week we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany when the magi visited the Christ child, after first promising King Herod that when they’d found the newly born king, they’d be back to tell him all about it.

We all know what happened next. They returned home without going back to Herod and he got very angry and ordered the massacre of all the male children under two, to make sure that he wasn’t going to be opposed by some upstart King. But this event was marked in our calendar at the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28th, nearly a fortnight ago.

Then today we fast forward to the Baptism of Christ, an event which took place at the start of Jesus’ ministry some 30 years later.

When he was in Thailand in December, Pope Francis referred to King Herod, while speaking about the treatment of refugees both in Thailand and worldwide. He also mentioned that in some parts of the world border walls separate children from their parents, however, he didn’t mention any country or leader by name, though the world’s press had a field day speculating on who or where he was thinking of.

Herod was a leader who inherited his wealth from his father, a man of great influence and power. Herod loved to acquire land and build cities and large and grandiose buildings worthy of his dignity and grandeur and preferably named in his honour. He also had as many as ten wives.

When the magi didn’t return, Herod became enraged that he’d been tricked and cheated, and sent his soldiers to kill all the baby boys under the age of two. He wanted to be certain to get rid of anyone who could be a threat to his position of control and leadership, and the easiest way to do that was kill them all.

Herod was surrounded and protected by sycophantic aides and patrons. As long as the wealthy were making money, they’d look the other way and not speak out. Anyway, if they did they’d quickly be history. Herod had many friends in high places who’d put him in place as the ruler of Palestine, Roman leaders such as Mark Antony, Sextus Caesar, Emperor Augustus and Octavian, but they expected loyalty and for him to deliver for them in return.

You may wonder what kind of person could order such gruesome slaughter. Herod must have been criminally insane, you might think. According to historians, Herod the Great had descended into increasingly poor physical and mental health and that made him paranoid and led him to horrific acts of betrayal and murder. He had grandiose delusions, attacked his enemies like a school bully, had a poor grasp on reality and was very insecure. By the way, he died not long after the birth of Jesus.

Over the last few days we’ve heard news of some extraordinary events on the other side of the Atlantic and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has asked us for our prayers. I am sure that we all hold the people of the United States in our prayers, as they navigate the transition from one presidency to another.
Meanwhile in this part of the world we find ourselves in another lockdown, with our Churches closed.

However, in the dreadful story of Herod we see that even in dark times goodness and divine love finds a way through, even in the midst of the most fearsome of regimes. Joseph was warned in a dream to escape down the road toward Egypt, before Herod launched his campaign of infanticide. And it’s the child that survived that continues to carry the hope and salvation of the whole world.

There’s a certain irony in Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism being the Gospel for the first Sunday after Epiphany. In the church’s tradition, Epiphany is the season when we recall the manifestation of Jesus to the world. Yet Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism, like his gospel as a whole, has an air of secrecy about it.

In Matthew, God’s declaration about Jesus, “This is my son” (Matthew 3:17), reads like a public announcement to both John and the crowds gathered at the Jordan. In contrast, Mark portrays God’s declaration as though it were a private matter between God and Jesus: “You are my son” (Mark 1:11). Likewise, it’s apparently Jesus alone who sees the heavens split open and the Spirit descending upon him. In the three other gospels, these events seem to be portrayed in a much more public way.

Portraying this baptism as a private transaction between God and Jesus suggests that Mark doesn’t recall the events surrounding the baptism so as to provide a strictly historical account, but more to provide a rich theology around baptism.

God’s words to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”, allude to Psalm 2:7 and also to Genesis 22:2 where Isaac is the only beloved son of Abraham, to Isaiah 11:2 where God’s spirit rests on the king of Israel, and to Isaiah 42:1 where God’s spirit rests on the servant in whom he delights.

So, Mark’s telling us that, in his baptism, Jesus’ future course is mapped out before him: he’ll be the servant of God, who will offer his life as a sacrifice. Like Isaac, he’s the son of a promise, a promise that nothing, not even death, can break.

In fact, it’s precisely through Jesus’ death and resurrection that His sonship and messiahship are confirmed and God’s promise fulfilled. According to Peter, in his resurrection Jesus receives the Holy Spirit from His Father, and His installation as Messiah is complete. Moreover, because Jesus has received the Holy Spirit from His Father, He can give the Holy Spirit to all those who (like us) believe in him and are Baptised in His name, sharing with them this precious gift.

Mark’s first chapter is about new beginnings. He writes of Jesus’ baptism as “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1), recalling the start of the first chapter of Genesis, our Old Testament lesson for today. “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1), God’s Spirit hovered over the waters, while God spoke and called heaven and earth into being. So also at the Baptism of Jesus, God’s Spirit came over the waters and his voice declared Jesus to be his Son.

So let us hope and pray that out of the darkness and chaos of what has happened across the Atlantic will emerge light, and the light will be good and signal a new beginning. And let us hope and pray that out of our current lockdown and the rapid vaccination of those most vulnerable in our society will emerge light, and that light will be good and signal a new beginning for us all.

Amen.

Sermon for Epiphany 2021

Isaiah 60:1-6; Ps 72:1-7, 10-14; Eph 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

When I was younger, a question that troubled me was, quite how a star could indicate so exactly which house or stable the Christ child had been born in, so as to ensure that the wise men went to the right door. Remember this was before Sat Navs and the What 3 Words app.

When the film, “The life of Brian” came out, I realised that I wasn’t the only one puzzled by this. It tells the story of a man born in Bethlehem around 4 BC, hailed as a religious leader during a brief ministry in his 30s, and then crucified by the Romans. His name was Brian Cohen, and he shouldn’t be confused with someone in similar circumstances at the same time around whom a major world religion grew up, although in the film they started in mangers in next door stables.

The film opens with three wise men from the orient arriving in a stable to bestow gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh on a newborn baby. But they mistakenly give gifts to Brian’s mother whose name is Mandy. In a scene reminiscent of the account of Jesus’ birth in the gospel of Matthew, though Matthew doesn’t record a mishap whereby the magi accidentally bestow their gifts on Terry Jones in a dress. As for non-biblical first century sources, they too are curiously silent on that matter.

The Magi soon realise their mistake and move on to bow down before the Christ child next door. Don’t you think the magi were lucky to get that far after cheekily asking a grossly insecure character like King Herod, “Where is the king of the Jews? We have come to worship him”? Not very tactful

I wonder if Matthew, somewhere in the back of his mind, saw a comic element in this story. They were magi—astrologers: non-Jews who study the world using non-approved practices are the ones who find the Christ child, while the religious scholars missed it. All this speaks of a God very determined to be found.

So a Libran, a Pisces, and a Taurus bow down to worship Jesus—a Capricorn? This story points to what for some religious people might be a rather difficult truth – God might just be found outside the church, at night, in the arts, or in non-sacred music or literature, even within other religions?

The wise men appear. With a star as their guide, they show up on the scene enquiring of the one born “king of the Jews”. “Epiphany” means “to show up”. The star appears “at it’s rising” beckoning this group of Persian academics to make an appearance in Bethlehem. An astrological phenomenon “shows up” so that the magi may “show up”. They’re to “traverse afar” and pay homage to one who’s greater than they are. Unlike Herod who acts out of insecurity, the magi journey onwards in trust and curiosity.

Notice the tantalizing ending: “They left for their own country by another road”. Of course they did. But having met the Christ child, do they keep plodding along the same old pathways? T.S. Eliot ended his poem about the magi with

“We returned to our places … but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods.”.

T. S. Eliot “The Journey of the Magi

So T. S. Eliot didn’t think so.

Anyway the wise men return “to their own country by another road”. They’re religious teachers, interested in religious questions. They spend their lives studying religion. They may or may not live religious lives but in the main they talk about it and make their living from it.

So they probably went back home, wrote about the things that they’d seen and heard and published it. Maybe, later they gave talks about it to the Women’s Institute in Baghdad or presented papers about it at the World Congress on Comparative Religion in Islamabad or appeared on Samarkand Radio providing expert analysis of what had come to pass. Those are the sort of things professional wise men would do.

But what about the shepherds? They’re just ordinary people, not religious professionals. Like most ordinary people they don’t think about religion all the time, they’re too busy earning a living or enjoying the small amount of spare time that they have.

Maybe they’re impressed or perhaps made uneasy by the sense that there was something going on here that they ought to be paying attention to, because it’s mysteriously important. It would be nice to think that at least one of them was permanently affected by what happened that night and even that he might have stood grieving, with a small group of other people at Calvary some 33 year later. That his life was changed by the babe he saw born the night he watched in the fields above Bethlehem. I would like to think that, but it probably wasn’t true for many of them.

More likely what happened it what happens year after year to most of us. After the temporary excitement and charm of the Christmas season, we go back to ‘normal’. There is no lasting change. Bethlehem is nice once a year, but there are too many other things going on for it to make a lasting change.

But why is that so? After all we aren’t talking about something of harmless and irrelevant interest suitable only for enthusiastic nerds. We’re talking about the action and presence of Almighty God. The God whom, one day, perhaps sooner rather than later we will come face to face with in unavoidable finality. So why is it easy to avoid this reality?

The answer is simple. Is there anything quite so helpless as a new-born baby? Except perhaps : a man nailed to a cross. Yet this is how God comes to us; in helplessness. He doesn’t seek to overpower us or force His attentions on us. But why? It’s because He wants us to recognise Him through our own free choice; and because He’s so quiet, it’s easy to overlook Him.

Day after day He lays before us quiet and undemanding signs of His presence, wanting us to hang around long enough to read them and recognise Him and go to Him at last. Most of the time, we don’t notice, we rush on past headlong towards the goals that we’ve set ourselves.

Maybe this year will be different – well of course it is in so many ways. Maybe, just maybe, the forced reduction in social gatherings and many of our leisure pursuits, might just slow us down enough to notice what the God who comes to us is saying in those signs of His presence. Will this Christmas season prove to be an awakening, a moment of recognition, a life-changing experience?

I wonder what will happen to each of us after Christmas? Will it be the academic, the poetic, the ordinary normality or will be it be something else, wrapped up in the mystery of God and His incarnation?

Amen.

Good News Indeed

There is a phrase in common use just now that troubles me; “My life is on hold just now”. Now I’m no philosopher, but that doesn’t make sense to me. It sounds as though the life in question was on Netflix and you could just press the pause button and start life up again some time later. Our days are ticking away whether we are locked down, locked up or having a ball. The reality is ‘this is your life‘ even though Eamonn Andrews isn’t around with his big red book and things may not be exactly the way that you would wish them to be (twas ever thus).

This week there was “Good News” preached by politicians and screaming out in the headlines of newspapers. A vaccine for COVID has been approved for use in the UK by the regulator MHRA and the narrative has switched to “we can now starting living our lives again”. So what have such people been doing for the last nine months – hibernating?

Sadly I think there is going to be a lot of disappointment around for anyone who thinks that everything will revert to its pre-COVID state any time soon and that Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstroZenica have some magic potion to bring things back to normal, like an episode out of the tales of Hans Christian Anderson.

The Advent theme is that the time of promise is drawing to an end and the time of fulfilment is drawing near. For Isaiah, it’s the end of exile for Israelites in Babylon. For John the Baptist it’s the coming of Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. So what is it for us at the end of 2020, when people who want to ‘take their lives off hold’, see that long-awaited fulfilment as being delivery of a pharmaceutical?

Advent is Good News in the midst of the struggle. With the Good News of the Incarnation, God has already entered our struggles. He is himself Good News from the battle front, as it were. We hear the voice that commands us to prepare a way in the wilderness. But the way that we are urged to prepare is not our way. The way we are to prepare is the way of the Lord and that isn’t the same thing at all.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

Our lives are not on hold, we are not missing out, we are being given a unique opportunity to be in at the start of something far more wonderful than the arrival of a pharmaceutical that must be stored at minus 78 degrees and administered in batches of 975 doses!!

O Come O Come Emmanuel

A week or so ago, I was chatting with someone with whom I reflect on ministry from time to time. We were discussing the challenges that we’re likely to face this Christmas. After a pause he asked me “OK so if you strip everything back, what really needs to be done at Christmas?

I thought about it for a moment or two and said “Announce the Incarnation!” “Well”, he said, “What you need to do is to think about how you and your congregations can do that to the best of your abilities.

So I thought, how do we usually do that? We prepare to do it throughout Advent as we remember successively week by week The Patriarchs (and Matriarchs), The Prophets, John the Baptist and The Virgin Mary as we light our Advent Candles. We hold Advent study groups so that we can think more deeply about some particular aspect of our faith. We have a collection for the Food Bank.

As we get to the end of Advent, we decorate our Church buildings with flowers, greenery, Christmas tree etc. and then set up our cribs. We sing advent hymns and Christmas Carols and we have Carol Services and join in services held jointly with the other denominations. Then on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we have joyous celebrations of the Incarnation itself and usually welcome a fair number of visitors to our services.

We do all these things and we celebrate in our homes with food and other good things.

The question is, “how many of those things can we do this year?” The answer my sisters and brothers is “most of them”. The principle exception is the singing, but as those of you have been able to celebrate the Eucharist with us over the past four months know, we’ve replaced hymns by humns and our organists have been wonderful in keeping the familiar tunes flowing whilst we humn along. We’ll of course also not be able to meet up with so many people but we can phone them.

This year as any other year, we can share the Good News of Christ coming into our world as a tiny defenceless baby to be Emmanuel – God with us.

This year we face many challenges but it is worth reflecting, as the Christmas story unfolds, on the enormous challenges that Mary and Joseph and their baby faced that first Christmas. And as we do so, let us offer up our prayers for all new parents and their babies, may God be with them all, every step of the way.

Incarnational Blessings
James

We will remember them

They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old;
age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.
We will remember them.

Dornoch War Memorial

The Suffering God

Not to the work of sordid selfish saving
Of our own souls to dwell with Him on high,
But to the soldier’s splendid selfless braving,
Eager to fight for Righteousness and die.

Peace does not mean the end of all our striving,
Joy does not mean the drying of our tears;
Peace is the power that comes to souls arriving
Up to the light where God Himself appears.

Joy is the wine that God is ever pouring
Into the hearts of those who strive with Him,
Light’ning their eyes to vision and adoring,
Strength’ning their arms to warfare glad and grim.

So would I live and not in idle resting,
Stupid as swine that wallow in the mire;
Fain would I fight, and be for ever breasting
Danger and death for ever under fire.

Bread of Thy Body give me for my fighting,
Give me to drink Thy Sacred Blood for wine,
While there are wrongs that need me for the righting,
While there is warfare splendid and divine.

Give me, for light, the sunshine of Thy sorrow,
Give me, for shelter, shadow of Thy Cross;
Give me to share the glory of Thy morrow,
Gone from my heart the bitterness of Loss.

Part of “The Suffering God” by Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy (otherwise known as Woodbine Willie)

We Rejoice that they have lived

The weather has definitely announced the start of Autumn in the last week or so, and we are now entering the last few weeks of the Church year, with the Season of Remembrance. There are three key days in this season, each one quite special but with a different focus.

On All Saints’ day this Sunday (1st November) we remember all those Christian people who have gone before us and shaped our understanding of what it means to live a Christian life and our approach to faith, worship and prayer. As part of that we should remember all those who have influenced our own journeys’ of faith, those who have guided and taught us, those who have nurtured us and those who have encouraged us when we were struggling with grief, doubt and disappointment. Our Services in St Finnbarr’s, St Andrew’s and St Columba’s will focus on the Saints this Sunday and we will have the opportunity to hum some well known tunes and we celebrate the Saints.

Grant us your light, O Lord,
so that the darkness of our hearts may wholly pass away,
and we may come at last to the light of Christ.
For Christ is the morning star,
who when the night of this world is passed,
brings to His saints the promised light of life,
and opens to them everlasting day. Amen.

On All Souls’ day, this Monday (2nd November) we remember those that we love but see no more, our parents and grand-parents, siblings and other family members, our friends and all those that we have held dear. As we remember, we give thanks for all that they have meant to us and for the specific ways that they have touched our lives and our lives have been formed and enriched by them. Traditionally a list of those that we love but see no more is read at a special Requiem on All Souls day and Simon and I will be reading lists of names at services in Tain and Brora on Monday. We have lists from previous years for all the Churches in the DLBTT group, but in you wish to add any additional names please let me know as soon as possible.

God our redeemer,
you know the secrets of our hearts.
You bear our pain and our anger.
You bear our tears and our loneliness.
You bear the questions that have no answers.
Comfort us and come close to us
whether or not we call you by name.
And in the darkest places give us hope and love. Amen.

On Remembrance Day (11th November) and/or Remembrance Sunday (this year on 8th November) we remember and give thanks for the lives of those who have died in the service of their country and all those who have served their county and suffered life-changing effects as a result. Usually, there are well attended Services at War Memorials up and down the country, but this year such gatherings will not be taking place in that form, but we can still mark this day. We will hold Acts of Remembrance in St Finnbarr’s, St Andrew’s and St Columba’s as part of our usual Sunday Services. Perhaps we should also light candles in our windows as we reflect on all that war means and why we need to work to reduce conflict so that war will not claim the lives of so many in future.

Almighty God,
from whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed:
kindle, we pray, in the hearts of all, the true love of peace
and guide with your pure and peaceable wisdom
those who take counsel for the nations of the earth
that in tranquillity your kingdom may go forward,
till the earth is filled with the knowledge of your love;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Blessings
James

The Butterfly effect

The current Sunday evening drama on BBC1 called “Us” is about a couple who have arrived at that stage in life when their son is about to go to University and they are wondering about their future together. Douglas (the husband) has organised a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe for the three of them … and then Connie (his wife) tells him that she wants to leave him. Douglas plans every aspect of what he does with meticulous precision and Connie leaving is definitely not part of his plan.

It set me reflecting on just how much control we have in our lives. Whatever the answer was at the beginning of the year, for most of us it has decreased in the last six months and for those who had the least control before the pandemic it has probably decreased the most.

Much of the time, what we see as our freedom to control what happens in our lives is illusory. We can, like Douglas, make plans but any plans that we make are only provisional, just ask anyone who’s tried to organise a holiday abroad this summer. Weather, illness, company failures, unemployment and so many other things can interrupt he ‘smooth running’ of our lives and throw our plans into disarray. “Us” was written and made before the pandemic, but given Douglas’s reaction to setbacks, I can only imagine how the present COVID-19 outbreak would have affected him, as his carefully laid plans crumbled before his eyes.

Not having complete control over our lives, doesn’t mean that there’s no point in having plans, just that we have to be prepared to accept that changes will likely be required. Everyone experiences twists and turns in their life, from everyday challenges to traumatic events with lasting impact, like the death of a loved one, a life-altering accident, or a serious illness. Each change affects people differently, bringing with it a unique mix of thoughts, emotions and uncertainty.

Adversities like these are sadly part of life and trying to live our lives in the illusion that we can control all aspects of our existence, only leads to pain and anxiety. However we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that what we do doesn’t have any effect on the lives of others. For instance my failure to take appropriate steps to limit the spread of COVID could quickly result in the spread of infection to people that I come into contact with and move from one end of the country to the other very fast. On the way, it could well have serious and lasting consequences for many people who I’ve never even met.

The smallest of actions can ultimately have huge consequences. This idea is sometimes known as the “butterfly effect”, after the American mathematician Edward Lorenz who suggested that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in the Amazon might ultimately cause a tornado in Texas. A bit far-fetched perhaps, but Lorenz’s illustration helped him explain why forecasting the future is so difficult.

In the Bible we meet many groups of people who face adversities of all kinds and who come through by placing their faith in a loving God. For instance, in trying to encourage the people of Israel in exile in Babylon, the prophet Isaiah writes:

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

We may not know what lies ahead but we can all be strengthened and supported by each other and by God.