Shocking water of life

I was lucky to be preaching yesterday in two of the churches in our parish. And I was very lucky that the lectionary placed the story of the woman at the well in John 4 in the middle of Lent. In a way, what a shocking story! Shocking, that Jews should cross Samaria to reach Galilee, shocking that a rabbi should sit alone with a woman, shocking that she engages him in theological debate… And pleasantly shocking that she can see beyond her own religious expectations and think differently! God does choose the most unexpected witnesses, don’t you think? Like us, for instance!

Shocking, the amazing generosity of God who calls us his children and offers us new life, the living water freely given by Christ, the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of God that lives in us and transforms us, the Spirit that weaves patterns in the fabric of our lives, much in the manner of an intricate Celtic knot, no beginning, no end, but binding us to God in love. The Spirit that restores, nurtures our faith and makes disciples of us.

??????????????????????????????????????????Symbolically, the woman at the well leaves behind her water jar, which represents anything that might hold her back. She goes into the city, and invites her fellow townspeople to their own encounter with Jesus. She responds to Jesus in such a way that leads Jesus to reveal his true identity to her; in doing so, her own identity evolves. So we learn from the Samaritan woman that in our own encounters with Jesus, we are not only changed, but what God reveals to us changes as well. We, too, can respond to God in such a way that God will abide in us. But first, we must drink of that living water.

And how will we receive the Spirit? Is there enough room at this time in our lives for this amazing gift? What will we leave behind? For surely, if we want to take Jesus up on his offer of living water, we need to get rid of the stale, mouldy, stagnant water we’ve been living off all this time. In the great spring clean that is Lent, forget the wine and the chocolate! What is it that we can give up now, significantly, to be closer to God? This Gospel story, in the middle of Lent, reminds us that sometimes, God takes massive action to reach out to us, and equally, we need to take massive action to invite God in and let God abide in us. Like opening wide all the windows, and letting the Spirit blow away the old cobwebs in our lives, letting the Spirit run free and wash clean every corner of our existence. Letting go of our excess baggage, and coming to God as we are, to be refreshed, restored. We are reminded that actually, Lent is the time of year for big decisions and choices. We are invited to choose a great renewal, dying to the old, being born to the new, and coming to the foot of the cross at the end of Lent, free from what weighs us down and ready to rejoice fully with God in the celebration of the resurrection.


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Spring cleaning… cobwebs of life and soul

I know, it’s Lent and in Lent, I always go on about Spring Cleaning. With a capital S and a capital C, because for me, this season of the year is the ideal time to look inside at what can be cleansed, made right, culled even, let go of, so that we arrive at the foot of the cross on Good Friday without any baggage. Just as we are.

A dear friend once said “I wish I could approach the altar bare, naked almost, without any baggage at all”. I get that. There are times in life when it’s essential to let go of all those things that weigh us down.

LettingGoAnd sometimes, what can weigh us down is people. Some people come to us for advice, but if the advice is not what they want to hear, they feel angry and let resentment fill their hearts. It is painful to witness. As followers of Christ, we really want to help and restore, nurture and support, with honesty and integrity, and sometimes, the advice we give is not all rosy and easy, but it’s frank and useful. One very good friend told me today “that’s what real friends are about, they give real, honest, straightforward advice, and you know deep in your heart that if you follow that advice, your situation will be much improved”. Gem of a friend.

But when, in return for help and advice, all we get is a closed door or silence, we need to “shake the dust off our feet” and move on, as Christ taught us. I think there’s a grieving process going on there. And grieving always demands acceptance. How hard it is to accept that we are not wanted!

Acceptance is part of letting go, isn’t it? And Christ is such an amazing example of acceptance.

So I’m learning to let go, and it’s hard, but the thing that keeps me going is that there are some people who do welcome help so graciously that they bring you closer to God: you know, earlier on this year, I had the privilege of helping my homeless brothers in my community, and I was awed by their good humour and their courage in the face of adversity. One spends his days in the public library, reading as much as he can of a particular novel before the bell rings, and he cannot wait to go back the next day to read on! Another has lost his passport and is waiting for help from his Embassy. Another one is very weary and just wants to sleep. Around the table, sharing food, all are amazing, and their life stories are real treasures to me.

I take those treasures with me on my journey of Lent, and I have decided to do my Spring Cleaning by praying and placing all those people that have anger and resentment in their heart at the foot of the cross, safe in God’s hands.

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Lent and Food Banks. Taking up something new.

free-foodIn this period of Lent, I propose that we do not give anything up, but that we take something on.
Here are some words from Rowan Williams, reported by free-lance writer Jill Seeger for Ekklesia. You can read the full article here.

Rowan Williams reminds us that our God is a God who has “a particular concern for those everyone else wants to forget; those who rarely break the surface”. He reminds us that to sit and listen is of equal importance with the provision of food, for many of those with whom he speaks are “feeling humiliated, feeling that they’ve let down their families. They need us to work with the grain of their dignity.”
As Jill Seeger points out:  “That refusal to follow the facile populist indignation so carefully fostered by the government and some of its media allies is a sign of authentic discipleship.”

I could not agree more. Every time we give to the food bank and speak with our brothers and sisters who heavily depend on our generosity, we do Christ’s work, we show solidarity with the vulnerable and suffering, we comply with the mission set out by Jesus when he declared in the synagogue, on the sabbath day “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18)

We won’t bring good news by just dropping a few cans in a box. But if we listen, talk, encourage, we go so much further. That’s the challenge for this period of Lent, I think, to take up conversations with the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters in our community.

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Candlemas. It’s about patience, perseverance, faith.

Yesterday, we celebrated Candlemas in style in my church. We had a Service of the Word complete with processing in church with candles, learning all about the pagan and the religious meaning of this festival and eating pancakes at the end!

The reading for the day was of course the story told by St Luke, about the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. You will find it here: Luke 2. 22-41.

AndreaMantegnaThis beautiful event has inspired painters all over the world, and one of my favourite representations is the one by Andrea Mantegna, an Italian painter of the Renaissance, from Vicenza. It is a painting on wood, made between 1460 and 1466 and I think it’s in the State Museum of Berlin, for some reason. I love the contrast between the very stern face of Simeon, and the innocent almost startled expression of Mary, so young, so new to all this, amazed at the profound prediction by Simeon. Mary is just an accepting, ordinary young mum, presenting her baby to the Temple, according to Jewish law. A fairly poor woman, too, since the couple only have the minimum offering for the temple, two pigeons.
But in this gospel story, Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna have something extremely powerful in common. Deep faith and virtually no expectations.
It is interesting to note that Simeon is happy to see the Messiah newly born, although he does not see any results. He knows he’s too old to see what’s going to happen, but he knows already, that God’s new day is dawning, for Israel, and for the world.
We are like Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna. We are God’s children.
The Spirit of God touches every one of us when we are ready to hear his voice, when we are practised at waiting on God and listening.

So are we patient? So we listen? When are we more likely to recognise the work of the Spirit in the world?

For some, it will be when people fight for justice, peace, and hope. For others, when bread is broken, when hospitality and fellowship are experienced. Look at the work done at the cold weather provision for our homeless friends here in Cambridge churches. It is a direct response to the call of the Spirit.
Perhaps we recognise the Spirit when we gather together and share the stories of our Christian journey.
Perhaps we meet Him in prayer, when we tune our hearts, our eyes, our ears for the sound of His voice…

In the story of Simeon and Anna, there is a message of patience, of readiness for God, of no special expectations, just the joy of trusting God, the joy of Anna who rushes out and tells everybody! The joy of knowing that we are part of something very big.
By our Christian faith, we belong to a Church that is rooted in bringing good news to the world, help to the poor, comfort the homeless. A Church rooted in working incessantly to eradicate poverty and injustice.

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New economy

Poverty and Homelessness Action Week will take place from the 25th of January to the 2nd of February this year, and the announcement made me reflect on poverty

hungermaterial poverty – no food or very little, no home, no safety, no clean water… extreme poverty. And no matter how difficult it is to pay rent or a mortgage, we are so much richer than those who have absolutely nothing that we do have something to give, something to share…

…intellectual poverty – no literacy skills, not being able to learn new skills or access new jobs unless some basic skills are acquired. Praise to the work of NGOs that strive to teach basic literacy skills to those who desperately need them, when governments fall short of their duty of care…

…moral poverty – the poverty of the rich who won’t cancel debts or the new rich who live and let live, not caring for the fabric of their own society…

…but rich or poor, all are profoundly loved by God. And so ahead of Action week, I pray for the repair of our world’s fabric…

…it has been estimated that $40 billion are needed annually to achieve the international goals related to poverty eradication. This is less than what people in Europe spend on cigarettes and one tenth of the value of world trade in illegal drugs. (SUNS4489)


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Keeping those we’ve lost present in our lives

I’m some sort of an “expat” to my family. I left my country 20 years ago and I came to England to start a new life from scratch. I’m a British resident with a foreign passport.

Jazz on the streetSo when someone in my family passes away, because I live so far from home, I get small tokens of their life. Plates, pictures, small paintings, things like that.

But in my collection, one of my most precious items is a small but amazing sound system that used to belong to my Godfather. He died young, not even 70 years old, from a brain tumour, and I took the funeral actually. That was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do so far in my life. But the memories I have from my Godfather are wonderful and unforgettable. He would take me to concerts, to the theatre, to the cinema, and he introduced me to Jazz music. As a musician, I was classically trained, and my parents did not listen to Jazz. I love classical music, but I can safely say that most of my desert island discs would be Jazz records!

Today, I’m listening to vintage Stan Getz from the fifties on my Godfather’s sound system that sits on my desk. That system is pretty much on all day. That’s one way of keeping my fantastic Godfather present in my life. To your good health Parrain, I’m sure they have fabulous Jazz bands in heaven! ;)


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When our loved ones die in the head…

Businesswoman standing at a bubble reverse while holding her headMy aunt and godmother has had dementia for quite a few years now. She looks happy, in her sort of bubble, floating away from one year to another.

When you visit her, according to your gender, say you’re a woman, you could be her mum, her sister, her best friend, her daughter, and you have to navigate characters and years with her. It’s a bit of a roller coaster, but it’s fun in some way.

I have learnt never to try and bring her to my reality, but rather to float away with her. I never ask questions, and I never contradict her, in order to minimise the stress. I hold her hand and travel with her.

My godmother has two sisters. One of them is my mum. And it would appear that she now has the family disease.

On Christmas day, she did what I call a major “zapping”. “Who are you? I don’t know you!” In the early stages the zapping is far and few between and, like an acrobat, my mum got back on her feet.

But I know it won’t always be like that. And like her older sister, she will one day go into her bubble and float away.

I’m scared right now, but I know I need to prepare myself to travel with her, float away with her, through the years and the memories, the characters, the stories, and I hope it will be fun.

I pray that God will circle my mum and I with love and courage and that we will journey on without fear.

If you are experiencing the same thing, my heart goes out to you and I keep all who care for dementia patients in my prayers, because God knows it can be challenging.

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