Its stones are the place of sapphires, and its dust contains gold. – Job 28:6
We do tend to think about dust as something undesirable, we all know the feeling when we sit down after some dusting and suddenly spy a bit of dust that has manged to escaped the swish of the duster. We don’t tend to look at it with any civility, well I don’t! And let’s be honest if I was to say to you, here is a present of a pile of dust, your first thought is unlikely to be a grateful thank you.
Maybe it is living in the 21st century when it can sometimes seem as if every second person has an allergy to dust, that makes us see dust as so undesirable. If we were in Sacramento Valley in the mid 19th century, we would probably see dust very differently for it would be to the hope of gold in that dust that our minds would turn. We would see it as something precious rather than something to be swept away.
The truth is our perceptions play a massive part in our lives, we can easily be blinkered by our preconceived ideas. Do we have preconceived ideas about this season, are they blinkering us to the treasures that are right beneath our noses?
We might indeed be but dust, but to God the dust that we are is the kind which contains gold. Maybe it is worth looking at Lent through God’s eyes and finding the treasure in those things we have previously seen as worthless.
One particle of dust among a cosmos full of particulates.
That is what we are in the vast sum of things.
That is what we are in God’s eyes.
The mystery, the awe, the wonder of the tightrope walk of Lent.
We are but dust and to dust we will return.
We are but dust and to God we will return.
We are but dust, irritating, choking, obscuring dust.
We are but dust the beginnings of a pearl.
The tightrope walk between what we are and what we will be.
This post also appear over on the Beauty from Chaos reflections for Lent blog check back there every day for more posts from a variety of people.
The Lord gives snow like wool;
and scatters frost like ashes.
Ash Wednesday was white with snow. The first day of purple reflecting dazzling light around, ensuring that there were no dark places.
Lent isn’t a dark place, it is a place of increasing light as we discover more of God and more of ourselves. Yes it goes dark as it nears it’s end as Good Friday and the cold dark tomb of Holy Saturday arrive, but for now it isn’t dark and we mustn’t make it dark. Lent might not be a time for Alleluias but it isn’t a time for glum faces. We can only truly see with light to see by and if we are to take Lent seriously we must bathe in the Light and rejoice that we can be changed.
It’s been a while and I didn’t know if I would ever return to blogging, however having just returned from the clergy conference and have decided to dip my toe in the blogging world once more – so here goes.
During the conference there was some discussion over the difference between mission and evangelism and here is my tuppenceworth.
I have always thought of Mission as the work of the church to those outside its own walls (although that includes work that goes on inside church walls for non congregational members). In essence mission is work done not firstly for members of that particular worshiping community. That work might involve providing a service or social event, it might involve donating facilitates or talents to a local community project. The primary point however is that these events are about the mission of the Church, doing Christ’s work, being Christ’s hands, eyes, ear, voice, feet. They are about others first, not tacking on others to something the church would do for itself anyway. That being said events held firstly for the congregation may indeed have a missionary element but they are not in themselves mission. Mission is a visible symbol of God’s unconditional love to those who are unaware of it and it is offered as a gift with no thanks or reward required. It is in such ways that angels very well might be entertained unawares.
Evangelism is something different, evangelism is the proclaiming of the Good News by word as well as deed, it is actions and words that are done and spoken with the single intention of bringing someone to Christ. (That doesn’t means it will always succeed but it does mean it has a different focus to that of mission.) Evangelism might involve mission, might take place at a mission event, or when a mission task is being performed, however Evangelism is different from mission. Evangelism requires a particular set of gifts confidence, resilience, tolerance, understanding and adaptability. There are those for whom evangelism is second nature. However for those for whom it isn’t such things can be taught, nurtured and encouraged through prayer and study not to mention through example and good practice. The most striking difference between evangelism and mission however is that there is an intention beyond demonstrating God’s love and that intention is bringing someone into a living relationship with God.
In addition to Mission and Evangelism to those beyond our congregations there is another part of the churches work. An important part which we devalue when we call it mission, not because it is more important but because we then don’t give it the particular time and effort it too needs. The need to empower, educate, nurture and support for those who are already members of the faith community. These things are not Mission but should give people both the confidence and the tools they need to engage with both mission and evangelism. A Prayer Group for example might give someone the confidence to speak to someone about their faith, however it wont either proclaim God’s love further or bring anyone to Christ without mission and evangelism flowing from it.
To put it another way:
32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
That is Mission.
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.” ’ 20He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money* to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
That is evangelism.
A verse from the psalm from yesterdays evening office as being playing round my head all night.
I will incline my ear to a proverb;
I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.
As usual my brain has been doing a bouncing act all over the place first to the opening lines to Willima Congreve’s ‘The Mourning Bride’:
Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
It sounded like some deep muscle massage therapy, just like solving the riddle with the harp.
Then I started to think of music, which type would help solve a riddle? Pieces of music started to flit around my head most were discarded being too distracting for various reasons then for some reason Saint-Saens with his ‘Carnival of Animals’ stuck.
It starts of with the royal march of the lions a smooth power chasing away anything that might distract. However before the lions themselves lull you into distraction the chickens and roosters arrive with their scratching to bring you back to the riddle. A quick run with the wild asses to focus the mind before having to listen intently to the quiet tortoise hesitantly ponder along as the riddle is mulled over. As is always best in these cases some more pondering from a slightly different perspective as the lumbering elephants take over. Then, well then some bouncing up and down with the kangaroos realising you are on the cusp of something before joining the harps in the aquarium to glide up and down testing a solution. The eureka scream with the mules, before a gradual realisation that the cuckoo in the woods has come along and you might have hatched the wrong egg! The other birds come along revisiting of the original riddle and the solution swooping and flitting between each part. Then come the apes or pianists with their ordered scales putting the riddle back in the right order before the fossils tap at your head trying to knock out the solution that is already there. Then the swan arrives gracefully leading you back to the solution from the harps and everything becomes calm as the riddle is realised as solved. All that is left is to celebrate with the finale!
No knots or rocks but I can’t help wondering if the popular misquote of Congreve ‘Music soothes the savage beast’ led me unknowingly to that piece of music.
On Saturday the diocese gathered at Holy Trinity and St Barnabas, Paisley to welcome the Revd Tom Wilson as the new Rector. Tom has arrived here from Canada and was reminded with great wit by Revd Drew Sheridan, who was preaching, of the cultural differences he was going to encounter. (You will find a link to Drew’s full sermon over here on Anne’s blog were you will also find a picture of Tom with +Gregor).
Despite the hilarity that Drew’s observations picked up on there was also an important point being made, we are no longer live and witness in the same culture as our forebears, the same rules do not apply, the same prescriptions can not be relied upon ensure full health, the same certainties no longer hold true, but neither should we throw the baby out with the bath water.
The church today is being challenged: challenged by an ever-changing society; challenged by growing secularisation; challenged by misunderstanding and miscomprehension of what the Church, Christianity, and indeed faith itself is about; challenged by vocabulary, and lack of it; challenged by distractions, from within and without; challenged it would seem every which way. But the church has always been challenged so we shouldn’t be unprepared, we shouldn’t be surprised, and we certainly shouldn’t be fearful. The challenges might be different for this generation and it is maybe all too easy to say the solutions also need to be different. However there is a wisdom needed, the wisdom to know when to go for the new wine skin so that the new wine can develop and reach its full potential unencumbered by the past and the expectations of another time, and when to let the wine mature a bit more in the old skins so an even richer vintage can be savoured. Yes don’t put the new wine in old skins, but don’t throw out the old wine just because the skins are getting on a bit.
Yesterday, 14th June, was the day that the Lutherans, the Jews, the Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox and Muslims joined united in remembering the prophet Elisha. Doesn’t it strike you that there must be something quite special about Elisha that such a cross-section remember him all these centuries on?
However we are not among them, in fact the SEC doesn’t mark any Old Testament figures in our calendar. Last week at St Andrew’s I preached on Queen Ester, yes I know she wasn’t in the lectionary, but the Sunday School had been learning about her and it came apparent that the adults in the congregation either didn’t know anything about her or had forgotten what they once did know.
I wonder if they know about Elisha and I wonder if they would know more about him if we marked his day along with all those other people of faith.
You can read about him starting at the 1 Kings chapter 19, when he became Elijah’s assistant and on into 2 Kings. I can never read the bit about the bottle of oil without remembering the film ‘The Bishop’s Wife’.
Last night we finished our Bible Study on the book of Daniel I closed it off with a little self-indulgence.
This painting by Simeon Solomon of ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the Fiery Furnace’ encompasses several of my passions. Stories in the Bible, Angels, Arts and Crafts, history and paintings.
This scene was portrayed in some of the earliest Christian art examples are found in the Roman Catacombs. For the early Christians the story of these three men who stayed true to their faith despite the threat of death was an inspiration to them. After the Medieval period this story was far less commonly portrayed in art.
Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) was a friend of Edward Burne-Jones (one of my all time favorites) and had a Jewish background which I think might be the reason why this angel appears more purposeful than angles are usually portrayed.
I was telling someone recently that these verses of Psalm 130 were among my favorite, they had two comments.
Firstly they said I over use that phrase when it comes to the Bible. Apparently I hardly go past a single reading or quote without saying that it contains some of my favorite verses. I understood what she was saying I have lots of favourite bits in the Bible, but it did get me to thinking, is it right to have favorite bits of the Bible? After all I have always been quick to defend the lectionary as it challenges us with bits of the Bible which we might be tempted to skip over.
Her second observation was that I seem to have a tendency to talk about death a lot. Now this I wasn’t aware of and in fact I defended quite vigorously, including by pointing out that we spend more time dead than alive. However I ended up by having to concede that I probably talk about it far more than the average Jo or Jane in the street and were others might shy away from such conversations I will happily engage in them because I think they are important conversations to have. It is curious to me that the last time this country was celebrating their queen’s diamond jubilee such conversations wouldn’t have seemed out of the ordinary – as indeed speaking about faith or the Bible wouldn’t have been – while we are far more open about discussing all manner of things than our Victorian ancestors would have needed the smelling salts out at the first mention of. The later doesn’t really surprise me, it is the former that I find curious.
What causes things that weren’t taboo to become such?