Today’s Sermon: Courage & Vulnerability

Genesis 15:1-12,17-18 / Psalm 27 /Philippians 3:17-4:1

Luke 13:31-35

To be honest with you, when I read the readings proscribed in the Lectionary for today, my first thought was “Can I preach about something else?!” My second thought was to wonder why on earth these strange, and frankly perplexing, little readings had been put together. What was the theme that was running through the minds of the people who put the Lectionary together? At first glance the theme seems to be “Little Snippets of Scripture that don’t fit anywhere else”

But as I read them, and researched around them, I started to see that there is a thread that holds them together – I think! I want to base my sermon on the Gospel reading most of all, but I hope we will see how these readings are connected.

I wonder if you know someone to whom the term “pig headed” can be applied? Someone who, once set upon a course of action, refuses to be diverted from that course, however foolish or detrimental the results may be. I grit my teeth here and refuse to mention Brexit! Well, for me, at first glance, I think that this reading shows that Jesus could be referred to as “pig headed” Here he is, heading towards Jerusalem, when some well-meaning Pharisees come to him and suggest that, as Herod wants to kill him, Jesus would probably be safer away from the area. And instead of thanking them, and scurrying away to a place of safety, Jesus basically tells them to go back to Herod and tell him that he, Jesus, is not changing course for anyone.

Some commentators put forward the idea that the Pharisees weren’t being quite as charitable as they may, at first sight, seem, and in fact were trying to get Jesus to go away because he was causing trouble for them.  Jesus realised this, and, in telling them (possibly sarcastically) to “go back to that fox” he was letting them know that he understood what they were doing. Whether this is the case or not, Jesus certainly seems to be showing classic signs of pig headed stubbornness…

But you know, there is another side to this picture, and that is the courage that Jesus showed. He knew that this was going to end badly for him – but he knew that there was no other way of showing God’s all-encompassing love for humanity than by going ahead. By opening himself up, by becoming completely and utterly vulnerable, even unto death, Jesus demonstrated the lengths God would go to for us. This is the way of the Gospel of Christ: the way of love and sacrifice over the way of power and dominion. It is always a way of courage.

A way of courage because it takes real courage to make oneself open and vulnerable to others. But this is what Paul is reminding us to do in the reading from Philippians. “stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved” he writes “Imitate me as I follow Jesus’ example”. He describes how those of the world have their mind set on worldly things, and how we are called to be different.

We are being called to be in a community: a community that shows love and concern for the world. A community that is willing to open itself up, to be vulnerable, to follow Jesus’ example wherever that may take us. But you know, those words are so easy to say, and so difficult to do…

How often have you glanced at a beggar in the street, and decided not to give them money because, well, let’s face it you’re down to your last few euros, and they’ll probably only spend it on drugs anyway? Or not stopped to ask someone if they needed help because you didn’t want to look silly? Or you haven’t volunteered for a task because you’re worried you can’t do it, and you’ll end up with egg on your face? So, maybe that homeless person wasn’t able to buy a hot meal that day…or the person who needed help didn’t get it…or the task went undone…

We don’t want to look silly – we don’t want to be vulnerable. We don’t want to give our last few euros – we don’t want to be vulnerable. But it is this way of vulnerability and openness that God calls us to follow.  But it requires strength and it requires courage

The word “courage” comes from the Latin “cor”, which means “heart” and perhaps this can remind us that living courageously means living from the heart, being authentic, being vulnerable. And while we’re looking at etymology, the word “vulnerable” comes from the Latin, meaning to “wound or to hurt”. Christian courage is whole hearted living, accepting ourselves, and every other person, as loved by God, and thus deserving love, empathy and respect from us. It is realising that there is no community of love and belonging where there is not regard and respect for everyone. But Christian courage also means opening oneself up to being wounded and hurt by those of the world who do not understand. It means being willing to be rejected or made to feel stupid.

Doesn’t this go against everything that we’ve been taught by the world? Don’t trust other people – they’re out to rip you off… don’t open yourself up, people will take advantage…look after yourself, and let the others go hang…Fight for your rights…But that reading from Philippians reminds us that we should not be following the example that the world sets us. These are values to be rejected. Instead we should remember the commitment we made to God, the covenant we made with him: however impossible it seems, we will follow him.

And the reading from Genesis, and the words of the Psalm that we read together, both tell us how we can do this: through trusting in God. God made Abram a promise that, at first sight, seemed ridiculous – you, an old man with no children, your ancestors will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. And despite his initial scepticism, Abram made a covenant with God, sealing it with the traditional sacrifices; a covenant that said “I am yours, and you are mine. Let your will be done”, a covenant that rings with trust in the Eternal God.  And the Psalmist echoes words of trust in God “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?” he sings. “The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?”

This then is how it is done. This is how we open ourselves to the vulnerability that God demands of us: we trust him. We trust him that in giving our last euros to a person in need we will be doing God’s work; that by offering to help someone in distress, we won’t look silly, but that we will be offering God’s love; that by volunteering for something we are afraid we can’t do, we are saying “I believe God wants me to do this; I will trust in his strength”. We make ourselves vulnerable – but through our vulnerability, God is strong.

Some of us here are following 40 Acts through Lent – a daily challenge, giving us the opportunity to be generous, to think about others and to make ourselves vulnerable and open. We have been asked to carry out such acts as giving away something precious to us, or really taking time to listen to someone who needs to talk, or giving away chocolate bars: each one challenging us in a different way to let go of our egos and open ourselves up so that God can work through us to bring his love into the world – even in a gesture as simple as offering a Mars bar to somebody and saying “This is for you.”

And so, my brothers and sisters, I urge you in this period of reflection before Easter, when we remember the ultimate sign of God’s courage, love and vulnerability, be willing to make yourself open to hurt in the service and love of others. Jesus’ death on the cross was not a sacrifice to a vengeful God, but rather a gesture, an outpouring of God’s love, so great that he conquered death and opened the way for us to step into eternal life.

We owe it to him to show that love to the world.

 

 

 

 

 

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40ACTS2019::8,9, & 10 :: Catching Up!

When I’m working, I don’t have much time to blog – I used to be able to blog in the evenings from my laptop, but that suddenly died on me a few months ago, and we’ve not been able to afford another. My PC takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r to boot up, and I am not inclined to trot up to my study after a day’s work, to wait for ages and then to write a post. Last week I had a tad more free time so I was able to start with a post every day…next week, maybe not. But I do try to post on the 40Acts FB page too.

So this is a bit of a catch up post:

No, LOL cat! I must catch up on my blog!!

Allons-y!

ACT 8:

BRING LIFE

PROMPT: Today is a chance to, quite literally, bring life to someone. Giving blood is such a potent image of generosity, because it’s giving away something so critical to ourselves – our actual lifeblood! And that can train us into sacrificial generosity in other ways, too.

LINK: HERE

ACTS: 

Green: Find out about giving blood at http://www.blood.co.uk and make a one-off trip.

Amber: Start giving blood regularly.

Red: Give blood as often as you can.

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38 NIV)

Oh! I was surprised at how much controversy this caused! A lot of people on FB were fairly upset that all the Challenges focussed on giving blood. There was no “non-donating” challenge. Of course, many people are precluded from giving blood, because of illness (like me), or needle phobia , or because they are a non-celibate gay man (STUPID!!!!!) (The rule, not the gay men!) or because of the idiocy of their country who won’t accept their blood because they lived in the UK during the Mad Cow outbreak even though France had it too (that’s me too)

But there’s no edict from 40 Acts saying that “the only blood donating related act you can do today is give blood”. I just shrugged my shoulders, said “I can’t do the act, but I can encourage others to give blood” – so I wrote a post for FB, and also gave a shout out to my nephew who went a step further and donated bone marrow. There was no need to get up in arms that I couldn’t do it. Others supported blood-donating-connected charities, such as Blood Bikes or went to a local centre to encourage the volunteers, and nurses who were there. I didn’t quite understand why some people got quite so worked up about the focus of the Acts. Hey ho.

After all, the aim of 40 Acts is being generous, finding a way to go an extra step or two…It doesn’t have to be exactly what it says on the day’s post. Sigh.

 

ACT 9

BE PRESENT

PROMPT: ‘Being present for someone’ might conjure up images of therapeutic chats and tissue boxes. But really, all it means is intentionally putting yourself in the presence of others, for their benefit. It’s giving the best of your time and the best of your attention to make someone feel valued. Maybe today that’s someone who you’ve overlooked, or who doesn’t usually get invited out.

LINK: HERE

This is a good reflection, reminding us that we need to support friends through good and bad times. I’d like to add a Thank You to those friends, both “real life” friends and blogging friends, who supported me so much during my last year. I wasn’t always cheery, but I knew that folk were there, to talk or not to talk. To make me laugh. To sympathise. You were invaluable.

ACTS: Green: Spend some quality time listening to a friend or family member. Why not have breakfast or lunch together today?

Amber: Strike up a conversation with a colleague or classmate who you haven’t ever sought out friendship with. Make sure the first three questions are about them.

Red: Be present with quality listening. If someone has shared their worries with you recently, follow up with them and try not to jump in with advice before it’s due.  If you’re up for it, take some courses (like this one) to help you get better at listening.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 NKJV)

This is quite a tricky one for me – I don’t meet up with friends very often, and work is fairly manic so sitting down with a colleague for a heart-to-heart isn’t really possible.

But I decided that today would be the day when I got off my backside and arranged to visit someone who I do consider a friend, but who I rarely see. Charlotte befriended me in the hospital during my first chemo session, and helped me feel better about it all. She has terminal cancer, having chemo every three weeks, and so our sessions often overlapped as I was on a three week rota too. She is so cheerful, and optimistic, despite her terminal prognosis, and the last time I visited I spent ages talking to her. But she lives some distance away, and I don’t want to disturb her if she’s just had chemo, and I’m busy at the weekend and…and…

So I read the challenge yesterday and immediately messaged Charlotte to ask if she was free this weekend. She is, so I’m going to see her this afternoon (today’s Saturday) And I will make sure that my first three questions are about her!! I’ve made scones to take, with some marscapone and strawberry jam too!

I also popped in to see my friend Monique – she lost her husband a couple of months ago – with a tiny plant…Gave her time to talk a little. It’s hard for her, but she is, little by little, coming to terms with it.

ACT 10

DROP EVERYTHING

PROMPT: How do you view the resources you have at your disposal? Are they there for your benefit only or the benefit of those around you? Today we’re dropping our personal intentions for things we own and using those very things as generous gifts for someone else.

LINK: HERE

ACTS:  Green: Think of an everyday item that’s in good condition. Find a recipient and give it away. Umbrellas, handcream, etc.

Amber: How do you get around? Can you give a friend a lift too?

Red: Just like Mary with her alabaster jar, what can you give away that you can’t undo? Maybe it’s a bottle of perfume, or a favourite jumper. Bless someone else with something that means something to you.

“While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, ‘Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.’ And they rebuked her harshly. ‘Leave her alone,’ said Jesus. ‘Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.’” (Mark 14:3–6 NIV)

When I saw these Acts I immediately thought “Ah, the amber one!” You see, over and over I’ve thought I really should put my journeys to work on BlaBla Car – but actually, that’s quite a selfish thing, because you get money for it! But I should still do it! I know the times I’m going to Clermont, even if I don’t know exactly what time I’m coming back, so I could easily post those times and take somebody. It means that I’m not just one person in the car.

But in my heart of hearts, I knew that actually it was the Red challenge that was calling me… As I said before I’m visiting Charlotte this afternoon. She is a wonderfully flamboyant person, and I have a scarf that I love. It’s a muted brown/maroon paisley pattern, but on it are pearls and sequins, all shiny and pretty and “out there”. It’s lovely. I will admit I don’t wear it very often, but I love it. Dammit, God, I thought, you want me to give that to Charlotte, don’t you?

Grumble. Grumble.

Harrumph.

‘Nuff said.

I’ll do BlaBla Car too.

40ACTS2019::7:: JOYFUL, JOYFUL!

ACT 7: JOYFUL, JOYFUL!

PROMPT: Joy is the gigantic secret of the generous. But it’s hidden in plain sight, and easy to reach. How? Simply, find those generous acts that you know bring you and other people joy, and then do them more. Is it cooking meals for friends? Is it picking out the perfect gift for an acquaintance who’d never see it coming? Find the joy that sustains your sacrificial kindness. (Or, as the LOL cat above would say “Emit your miracle fibres of joy”!!)

LINK: HERE

ACTS:  Green: Do something that costs you nothing but brings someone else joy: a walk, a view, a book.

Amber: Think of a fun evening plan that will bring someone else joy as well as you. Plan it, and get inviting.

Red: Give something that costs you, and isn’t particularly joyful, but brings joy to someone else.

The Bible quotation is: Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

****

I’m not great at joy. Particularly on the hormone therapy medication that makes me anxious and a bit depressed at times. And what is “joy”anyway?

Apparently it is:

1a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight
b : the expression or exhibition of such emotion : gaiety
2 : a state of happiness or felicity : bliss
3 : a source or cause of delight
(I shudder to read that it can also be used as an intransitive verb…Today people are all going to joy in what we do for them? Seems a bit odd. Anyway…)
I have always thought that joy has something more than just delight, or happiness, about it. Something deeper, so that even when one feels unhappy, we can still experience joy in God. Rend Collective sings about this:
The joy of the Lord is my strength
The joy of the Lord is my strength
In the darkness I’ll dance
In the shadows I’ll sing
The joy of the Lord is my strength.
I try to sing this to myself when doing something I don’t enjoy and feel like getting grumpy about, especially if I feel it’s something Mr FD should be doing – it does help!! And actually, I think this might be the best way for me to complete this Act. It’s not a “Today Only” task…it’s a Continuing Act : to do Stuff, even though I think Mr FD should do it, or even if I don’t want to do it, but to try to do it with that cheerful heart. Reminding myself that the joy of the Lord is my strength, wherever I am, and whatever I am doing. It’s not going to be easy, but…
On a brighter note, my two students who had a car accident are at home. I thought that their injuries were more severe than they are – I think it’s mostly just whiplash. They are ready for a lesson today, so I will take some flowers and chocolates ( carry over from yesterday’s Chocolate Tuesday!) to help cheer them up!
So, come on, everybody, let’s emit those miracle fibres of joy!!
(I appear to have lost any paragraph spacing…Sorry if it’s hard to read!)
UPDATE ON YESTERDAY’s ACT: I wrote my blog post in the evening, so it’s a looking back. Generally reasonably successful, I think: even if the chocolate was not abundant, it was appreciated!

40ACTS2019::6:: CHOCOLATE TUESDAY

I think I use this LOL cat every year!!

PROMPT: We see it every year. Giving out free chocolate is an uncannily sure-fire way to inspire even more generosity and gratitude. So, hit the commuters in line at the station, the postman you only ever get thirty-second chats with, the students running between classes – free chocolate, everyone, everywhere.

LINK: HERE

ACTS:

One option today: buy a bag of chocolate bars, and joyfully distribute them everywhere you go!

****

It’s funny, everyone seems to love Chocolate Tuesday, but I’ve always felt uneasy about it – I wouldn’t accept chocolate from a complete stranger, or eat a chocolate bar I found lying around… But maybe I’m just a grumpy old bat. Anyway, in the spirit of Chocolate Tuesday, I called into Lidl on my way from my lesson to the office, where I had preparation to do. Happily I found Fair Trade mini- chocolate – bars, which fitted the bill perfectly, and a bunch of tulips for Claire (for yesterday’s act)

On arriving at Bonjour World, I set out the chocolate next to the coffee maker:

I helped myself to one, and left them there for students & staff. I think they were well received! They were very nice…I may have to get another box for myself!! (Is that in the spirit of Chocolate Tuesday?!)

 

I don’t think there was anything deeply spiritual or holy about the deliverance of chocolate, but I hope that the little label may have sparked an interest in a few people. I’m getting into tweeting a bit now as well! Oooh, get me!

 

UPDATE ON YESTERDAY’S CHALLENGE:

As I said I was working from home, so I found time (rather longer than I expected!) to make two cards, one for my Directors,

and one for my Head of English:

to say “Thank You” for what they do. I gave Claire a bunch of tulips too – she was very happy!!

40ACTS2019::5::BLESS THE BOSS

PROMPT: Today, we’re turning our generosity loose on bosses, managers, pastors and head teachers. Our culture doesn’t always bless upwards. But generosity goes all ways. We often only think to focus our generosity on those in dire straits, but when we bless upwards, we discover something that changes us, too.

LINK: HERE

ACTS:

Green: Thank the boss. Take a moment to start the work day letting them know they’re appreciated by those around them (specifically you).

Amber: Leave them a nice note – and talk to one of their friends and see what kind of gift card you could slip in there too.

Red: Take them out for a meal, bake them a cake, or give them a voucher for a meal.

***

We have new bosses in the language school where I work. My old boss was great: he had started the business himself and it was his “baby”; it had a real family feel about it, and although he had to make me redundant at one point, he obviously felt bad about doing so! He re-employed me on a contract basis as soon as possible afterwards. He trusted us teachers to get on with what we were good at, with minimal interference. But towards his retirement, he seemed to lose some interest, and things started to get dropped…Last year, the business was bought by a young, dynamic couple, ambitious and with money to spend… They have introduced new methods of teaching, want to use technology more, and are in the process of creating and setting up a new online learning platform. It’s a bit scary for me, as a bit of a Luddite! I would have been happy pootling on for another 7 or so years to my retirement as I had been doing under the last director. Still, onward and upward!

Today I’m working from home, so I won’t be going in to the office; tomorrow I will probably be popping in to do some preparation for the week ahead – so what can I do? I think I’ll prepare a card for Melissa and Tomas, our new directors, just to say Thank You…but I would like to do a bit more for my Head of English, who seems to be becoming more frazzled, as she is asked to do more and more. There’s nothing I can do to take the workload off her shoulders, but I can at least let her know that she is appreciated! So I will go from my lessons to the office via a supermarket and maybe buy a plant or some chocolates to give to her, together with another card.

I won’t be providing the Kitteh as well though!

UPDATE ON THE LAST CHALLENGE: Not much to say, really… I’m going to start saving up my 5€ which will probably go to PC4R or Lend With Care – but may be used for other items if necessary. My Church group enjoyed this one, posting I really like this Act 4!….. reminds me of a Lent activity we did in Canada back when our children were growing up….place a container at the dinner table and everyone put the day’s change or another amount in the container at dinnertime , to then give at the close of Lent and  This reminds me of many years ago when good friends told us of their ‘Lord’s Pot’, which was money put aside for when someone needed something or e.g. some hospitality was needed but when money is tight. Arguably, it’s not quite in the spirit of sacrifice – but it has served us (and more importantly I hope – others) well over the years.

This LOL cats doesn’t really fit, but I really enjoyed it!

 

Walking “progress”

Hey ho. I started March all full of enthusiasm, and completed a couple of 3.2 km days, courtesy of Lesley

Then on Wednesday my back decided to play a few mean tricks on me, and I ended up being able to hobble from one place to another.

Never mind…I  am becoming less hopeful of completing 600 km by the end of October, but I will continue to increase my walking. I won’t say that I won’t complete it, but I’m doubtful that I will!

Back-wise, it’s still painful, but the strong painkillers help to make it bearable. The pain now is mostly focussed in one place, rather than the dull ache of before, and this is something that I’m used to. I’ve got the TENS machine going which helps as well.

Now…back to that sermon!

40ACTS2019::4::CASH STASH

TODAY’s ACT: CASH STASH

PROMPT: Generosity should cost us. Often our imaginations fail us when it comes to finding ways to be generous at a cost to ourselves. So today, we’re getting our resources ready to move into truly sacrificial generosity – that generosity that’s terrifying, wildly fun, and, if we’re ready to let it be, transformative.

LINK: HERE

ACTS:

Green: Make a pot of money – a Giving Account, or a literal pot of cash – for you to use only on generosity.

Amber: Decide to give a weekly chunk of cash into that pot. Even if it’s only a couple of pennies.

Red: Decide to give an amount of money, into that pot. Get specific: redirect money you would spend on every Tuesday’s coffee, for example

***

OK, so things are starting to get a little more uncomfortable now…”Generosity should cost us”… I’m OK with generosity when it’s only a little here or there, but I start getting twitchy when I hear words like that. And yet, and yet…This vulnerability, this “costing” is something I’m struggling to write a sermon about for next Sunday (not tomorrow, I hasten to add!) It requires great courage to make oneself vulnerable, and I’m not sure I have that courage! I’m still guarding what I have, and saying to God “You can have this…and this… but not this…”

It reminds me of when I played Cain in one of the many versions of the Mysteries that we performed over our 18 years in Milton Keynes. There’s always been a question for me as to why God rejected the offering of Cain, yet accepted that of Abel. I suspect it was something to do with the attitude in which the offerings were made. In the play it was rather neatly shown with Abel freely offering up the best of his produce to God, where Cain was divvying his up, giving the thin sheaves to God, and keeping the thick ones for himself. “One for you, and one for me,” he said. Then “One for you and two for me…” (See below…)

I fear I’m a little like Cain: while I’m not quite sorting the good and bad things, and offering the less attractive to God, I do rather tend to hang onto things, rather than freely offering to God. I don’t tend to “give until it hurts”; I don’t even “give until you notice”. I give a bit. Having carefully considered whether I can afford to. (I am generally talking about money here.)

My pledge for Church is one of these: I have considered what I can give without noticing. And I give that.  I do feel though, that as Mr FD isn’t a church goer it is unfair of me to take too much from the monthly incomings to support something he has no interest in. (Two for me…)

So, to today’s Act. How am I going to put it into practice?

One of my students pays me by cash each month. I usually take my monthly pledge for Church out of this before banking the rest. So, what I will do is keep back another 5€ a month. This will then be donated to either Phone Credit for Refugees or to Lend With Care I love Lend with Care, because once you have given £15 to a micro entrepreneur, they pay it back to you. You can, of course, take your money back, but equally you can let it accrue and when £15 has been paid back to you, you can finance another micro-entrepreneur! So, for the initial outlay, you can just continue to help people over and over! And PC4R is just such a wonderful example of how one man was moved by the plight of others to actually get up and do something!

It’s not giving till it hurts. But at least it’s giving…

With a little exploration of t’internet, I come across a site dedicated to that very version of the Mysteries!

Here’s a photo of me  playing one of the gossips in the Noah scene, who mock Noah and his wife, but end up getting washed away by the flood. I’m the big tall one.

And, even better, here I am as Cain, being “marked” by Death.

CAIN: One sheaf, one; and this makes two!

Neither can I spare for you.

Ah, here! Another making three,

Yet also, this shall stay with me.

For I will choose these three to keep,

He shall not have the best I reap.

(Selecting a very poor sheaf)

Ah, take this one, Lord, as your due

For this is all I give to you!

ABEL: Cain, be advised and tithe aright.

Fear you not God in all his might?

CAIN: My tithing need not lose you sleep,

Be off and tend your scabby sheep.

For if you would meddle more with me

Then it will be the worse for ye.

Four, five, six; and seven –

Oh, go not these to God in heaven!

Seven … seven. Now this is eight…

ABEL: Cain, brother, beware God’s hate!

 

UPDATE ON YESTERDAY‘S ACT: I went to Carrefour in our village to buy myself coffee, as I’d forgotten to put it on the shopping list, and there was someone collecting for Restos du Coeur. As I knew I would be unable to help at the collection today (and was feeling a bit guilty about it!) I bought quite a lot of items for his trolley. Sanitary protection wasn’t on the list of products needed that I was given, but I bought some packets to give to Sheryl at church next week. She helps out at the RdC distribution centre, so knows where to put them so they’ll be used. Happy I was able to do my bit!!