“I Come in Little Things” – Immanence

I come in little things,
Saith The Lord:
Not borne on morning wings
Of majesty, but I have set my feet
Amidst the delicate and bladed wheat
That springs triumphant in the furrowed sod.
There do I dwell in weakness and in power;
Not broken or divided, saith our God!
In your strait garden plot I come to flower:
About your porch My Vine
Meek, fruitful doth entwine;
Waits at the threshold, Love’s appointed hour.
(Evelyn Underhill-Immanence)

Easter Day and the white trumpets of Arum Lilies announce at the altar that “Christ is risen!” Whilst the other lilies reply “He is risen indeed.”

Well I am more akin to a daisy than a Lily, but this poem speaks to me.

First, I count myself with the wheat, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed,” Jesus said and The Lord of Glory was that grain of wheat; and in His falling is our triumphant springing up.

Then, I am so small, so weak, but God deals with so gently with us, stooping so tenderly matching His power and strength to our frailty.

Then The Lord remains unbroken and undivided, completely whole and Holy, so differently other to our squabbling, divided churches.

He comes into our lives to flower; not one of us can approach His throne and boast, but He comes to us, about our hearts the True Vine entwines and waits- which of us can be so cold to keep Love waiting?

I sigh. I am not tall, graceful as the Lily. But, I am the most expensive of daisies, bought with the Blood of the King of Kings. I am not fit to be a jewel for His crown, but thrilled to have a place with the delicate, bladed wheat, and the daisies that tickle His feet, to be loved by God who comes in little things.

Christ is risen?

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Seeing Jesus

So, we are nearly there, Palm Sunday, Good Friday and then Easter Day.

I know that not all Christian Fellowships keep Lent or mark Easter in the way mine does but all of us will be remembering that it was for us that Christ suffered, died and rose again, John, the Guest Speaker at the Tuesday Ladies Class wanted to direct our thoughts to the prophetic picture of Christ drawn for us in two particular Psalms.

Psalm 22 and Psalm 40

Psalm 22 includes a note for the Musical Director, i.e. The psalm is sung to the tune of ‘The Doe of the Morning’ a lovely name for a tune, but the words describe graphically what David saw in spirit many, hundreds of years before Christ was born, we read the whole psalm through as the altars are stripped Maundy Thursday … Together we read,

“He trusts in The Lord,’ they say, ‘let him deliver him, since he delights in him” the very words which onlookers shouted scornfully at the foot of the cross. We read the heart aching cry, “But I am worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.” I say heart aching because they are to us the heart cry of the King of Glory.

Dare I ask you to read the whole Psalm through, reach for your favourite bible, read it out loud and let it speak to you of the things which our Saviour suffered. Then turn to a Psalm 40 and read particularly verse 7 and 8:

Then, I said, “Here I am, I have come – it is written about me on the scroll. “I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”

Seeing Jesus is not the same for everyone. The second person of the Trinity is portrayed in many, many ways by artists, sculptors and writers but Holy Spirit knew him, before all things were, and truly bore witness to his death and sufferings beforehand. John our speaker pointed out that it is easy to delight in God when all is well and life is easy but quite another thing to delight in God when to do his will means we suffer. I think if you have read to this point, you would say Amen to that, and yes we shrink back, and we find it difficult to see God at all in our testing times, perhaps it is good at such times to hear the words of Jesus himself,

By your endurance you will gain your souls” (Luke 21:19)

The picture we have been thinking about in church this week is another from Marc Chagall, this one hangs in the 3rd a Floor of the Modern Wing of Chicago Art institute and was painted in 1938. Here is another way of seeing Jesus, a Jewish Jesus, wearing a tallith (prayer shawl) instead of a loin cloth. There are many descriptive symbols in this painting, I leave you to ponder them, the figure in blue wears a placard stating, “Ich bin Jude” – I am a Jew.
This is a stark reminder of the cruel persecution of the Jewish people by Nazi Germany and others. What speaks to me is the white light thrown out by the dropped scroll of the Torah in the foreground, see how it travels up the ladder to the cross.

To see Jesus in every person is a very difficult thing, because first we need a pure heart, washed clean from all sin, bitterness, hatred, pride, greed these should have no place in hearts that belong to Christ, they are the things which make us blind and prevent us from seeing the Love Who is God.

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The White Crucifixion

(Marc Chagall, 1938)

Mary Magdalene’s Foot

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I didn’t take this picture, but I saw the foot whilst on holiday with my sister in Rome, 2004. I believe the reliquary is silver/gilt as to whether it actually does contain Mary Magdalene’s foot – I leave that to you. The inscription on the plaque intrigued me, “The First Foot to be entered in the Tomb of the Risen Christ” – we have two feet, who actually was there to record whether it was the right or left foot?

My favourite Gospel, St John (ch 20 v1-9) gives the honour of first footer to the apostle Peter, this Gospel doesn’t have an account of Mary going in at all but I rather feel she did. St Matthew 23: 6 says an angel invited the women to come, see the place where The Lord lay, he doesn’t say Mary was first though, St Mark says Mary entered the Tomb but in the company of Mary the mother of James and Salome and St Luke also says the ‘women’ went in, but not which was first.

I suppose it is universally true that to be the first is better than to be the second, and definitely better than being the last. But, is it?

Didn’t Jesus say something about the first being the last and the last the first?

On Maundy Thursday we will recall, once more that at the last meal which the Lord shared with his disciples he took a a towel, poured water into a basin and washed his disciples feet; the First became the Last and attended to the menial task of washing, dusty, hot and bothered feet. With all of what was about to happen to him weighing heavily on his mind, hammering with iron fist on his heart, The Lord Jesus was mindful that those feet needed washing, he sought the comfort of others first put himself last.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the foot which truly enters into the Tomb of the Risen Lord is the foot of the person who serves, and who truly understands that in Jesus to be first is rather unimportant, as Paul puts it, ‘And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” It doesn’t matter, right or left foot, right or left hand, we are all essential. The wonderful truth, Mary Magdalene knew for herself – she was important to Jesus simply because he loved her, he loved them all – he loves you, he loves me; there is no silver casket for our feet, there is a place for us in heaven, because His Foot entered in first!

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Just Ask…

Us people are a contrary, quarrelling people. We delight in complaining, grumbling and we all know our rights, some of us are very good at defending out ‘God given rights’ and if we feel that He has neglected us ….

This morning as soon as I awoke the picture of a great eagle came to mind, and the eagle was watching me, so I kept a careful eye on the eagle …

Nothing much is hidden from an eagle’s gaze and nothing much from the Lord’s either, perhaps that is why, knowing that The Lord knows what is going on with us and what we need before we ask, precisely, why we don’t ask.

The eagle, when seen in a church like ours is associated with the Gospel of John. John soars with the Holy Spirit and brings into sharp focus for us some startling truths for instance

‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you’. (John 15:7).

In John chapter 5, we hear him say to a not so-respectful Samaritan woman, ‘if you knew who it was, who is speaking to you, you would have ‘asked‘ and he would have given you living water’

Maybe, the Samaritan woman felt she was being regarded with eagle eyes, she didn’t deny having had 5 husbands, we aren’t actually told that she ever did ask for the living water, but I like to think she did.

The picture is Moses Striking the Rock and Bringing Forth the Water by Marc Chagall (1887-1985). It is in the Musee du Message Biblique Marc-Chagall, Nice, France.

It tells the story found in a Exodus 17: 1-7 when the people of Israel asked ‘is The Lord amongst us or not?’ At a time when water could not be found, they quarrelled, blaming Moses and God for their predicament; in earlier passages we read of the Lord’s promise to that His presence would go with them could it be, that they had forgotten this? Or could it be that they were just not inclined to ask? The stiff necks referred to so often by The Lord, were not due to being bowed overly much in prayer- quite the reverse-they were hardly ever found in that posture…

Me, I am asking for living water and rejoicing in The Lord who gives it so abundantly and freely, and keeping in my heart the water and the blood which flowed from Christ’s pierced side.

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Open The Box

I am so tired, late nights working to meet deadlines,meetings that got in the way, and then last Friday, Church and the Hall across the road hosted ‘Rowley’s Got Talent’ from 7am to 7pm. Yes a Marathon with contributions from just about every local school, break dancing in between the choir stalls, now that really was a first! Violins, guitars, brass instruments, singers in the church with large orchestra in the hall and a ballroom dancing exhibition; must n’t forget a flower arranging demonstration and bead craft … me, well, I was talked into reading Poetry, I selected poems from an Anthology compiled to raise funds for Mackmillan Nurses, we are in March and the yellow daffodil emblems are on sale everywhere.

Very few of us were there all day, the talented ones and sponsor/supporters came and went all day… but it was a good, fun day with nerves, smiles and laughter, very few mishaps, and a lot of loving friendship shared. I think Joyce who organised the day and bought all the schools, together deserves a gold medal! It was a feat worthy of an Olympian!

The Bell Ringers closed the day for us climbing the tower to ring out the day with merry peals of bell laughter…

The painting chosen for last Sunday’s Morning Service was ‘Nicodemus Visiting Jesus by Night’ which is oil on canvas painted by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1899). This is housed in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. U.S.A. I feel Reverend Shelton is rather enjoying talking about painting, giving us some intriguing lines of thought to follow. In this particular painting, which is a night scene, where is the yellow light coming from? From Jesus himself, perhaps?

In the Gospel Account (John 3) we read that Nicodemus visited Jesus by night looking for answers to searching questions. I have no doubt that the ‘light of the world’ was able to provide satisfactory answers for Nicodemus .. At the end of the same Gospel we read of Nicodemus visiting Jesus again, this time in broad daylight, with no fear for reputation, together with Joseph of Arimathea Nicodemus wrapped the body of Jesus with mixture of precious myrrh and aloes in strips of linen before he was lain in his tomb.

One thing about that, it is easy for Christians with 2000 years hindsight to give Nicodemus a reputation for being one who fearfully, secretly followed Jesus, but the Nicodemus who came to the cross came openly and expressed his love and generosity was not the same Nicodemus, following our Lord changes us, it is not God’s intention that we should be the same person at the end of our chapter as we were in the first sentence. This is why he allows us to go through so many trials in life, St Paul (Romans 5: 4) suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character and character
Hope.

I have been literally been stunned into silence this week, not that I visited Jesus by Night, but the other way round. He reminded me that at the start of my chapter in his book, he gave me, as Pentecostal brothers and sisters would say, a picture of his gift to me, appearing as a big, big, box, wonderfully, wonderfully wrapped and tied with exquisite ribbons. Now, down through nearly 50 years my thoughts have often returned to that box. Often I have asked,
“What is in the box? How do I open it? Open it for me, Lord”

Finally, what a dim wit I am, I know now what is in that box.

It is LOVE.

The love which I have known and delighted in all those years past, the tears he has shared with me, his laughter I have felt mingling with mine, a lifetime of being held, carried by God, all the wonder of the life that is still to come… LOVE.

If you are reading this with doubt, with questions you would ask Jesus. Don’t be afraid, to come to him anyway, anyhow you can .. You won’t always understand his answers but he will give you a big, big box, open it, it’s LOVE.

OPEN THE BOX!

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The painting may not be to everyone’s taste, but, it makes us think. This may not be your idea of what Jesus looked like, or even how the wilderness in which he spent those 40 days looked like, but it meant something to the artist, Stanley Spencer (1892-1959), which he tried to put onto the canvas.

Originally he wanted to paint 40 canvases, one for each day of lent, I think he only managed 8, and all of these are now housed at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. The Art Gallery of Western Australia

‘God hates nothing’ he has made, however much we may wish to say the same of ourselves, we cannot truthfully do so… Compare the look of compassion of Jesus in the painting with our reaction, we would possibly feel that a scorpion shouldn’t get that close, and if one did, well, “The only good scorpion is a deaf scorpion”

As I was marked with the sign of the cross, made from the ashes of last years palm crosses, along with all others present, including the officiating priest, I was asked to remember,”That I am dust, and that to dust I shall return). This is true. It is also true, that however I may aspire to it. ‘I don’t love God, as he should be loved, I don’t love my neighbour as myself. (Deuteronomy 6:4 and Matthew 22: 37-39). This is why the season of Lent is so important, we learn to see things as they are – we learn that the Love of God is so much broader than the limits of our mind, instead of treating us as scorpions, serpents, He loved us and sent his son to die for us while we were still his enemies … Yes human beings can have scorpion stings, yes, we can have snake venom, everything in this painting is rounded isn’t it? So should our love be, and between all living creatures, material things and God there should be compassion and love. In days when Rain Forests come crashing down, when land is over farmed, when animals are reared in cruelty for the sake of profit, when humanity has advanced to the point of being able to dispose of all of us at the touch of a button, and no one has time for God … the wilderness and Lent cry out to us … Come and learn from me before you return to dust, we may be astonished to find that streams of living water have been lovingly placed there, in advance of our coming to sustain, refresh, and renew us in Love.

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Tomorrow it’s Lent, tonight it’s laughter

At the end of a busy day, we had our Traditional Shrove Tuesday supper, complete with pancakes in the church hall, there was plenty of fun and laughter, and folk were reluctant to part company – just as it should be – being together, really together, listening, intently to woes as well seeing the funny side of them. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and my church together with thousands more will hold a service of Holy Communion and Imposition of Ashes, all who kneel at the altar rail will be marked with the sign of the cross, a big black cross of ash from the burning of last years cross, a sign that we are sorry for the sins that our Saviour carried on Calvary’s Cross.

Somehow we just know that Christ was in the midst of tonight’s supper, he was in the smiles exchanged, present to the man in the wheel chair, present in the waiting on of tables and the preparing of food by older church members who were just pleased to help, to be of service… Sacred as times in church are, there are other ways of waiting on Jesus – other ways of declaring our faith… Perhaps the grace which we said together sums that up, it is certainly food for thought, not just for the season of Lent but every day.

I was hungry: And you gave me food.
I was thirsty; And you gave me drink.
I was a stranger: And you welcomed me.
I was naked: And you clothed me.
I was ill: And you comforted me.
I was in jail: And you came to see me.
Lord Jesus Christ make our Lenten offerings turn us toward all our brothers and sisters who are in need. Bless this table, our good food, and ourselves. Send us through Lent with good cheer, and bring us to the fullness of your Passover.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Send us through Lent with good cheer… Whatever good we do, whatever we give, every little act of kindness done with a cheerful heart, brings us closer to the true Passover and the Breaking of Bread in our Father’s house.

May your Lent be blessed!

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