Book Review: The Beantown Girls ***(and a half)

Yes!Another one!! But after this I will have done my duty and reviewed the books sent by Net Galley. Like most of the books I review on my blog I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review. So, here it is:

 

The blurb says:

It began slowly, and I wasn’t engaged by the characters. At all. They didn’t seem very believable and I found them rather annoying. But, I continued, as I felt obliged to do, and finally found the story drew me in. I wasn’t totally convinced by the descriptions of the English countryside, and although this is based on real life characters and true events, I find the idea of unlimited doughnuts and coffee during rationing to be a bit odd. I know the US troops had access to food and other supplies that the British were denied but all the same…However, a quick google tells me how wrong I am, as the picture below shows.

Generally I ended up enjoying the book more than I had expected at the beginning, and while I wouldn’t rave about it, as many reviewers have, I think it deserves a three-and-a-half stars. Which is down graded to three stars for NetGalley, as they don’t do half stars.

There’ll be no more book reviews for a while. Sorry there was such a sudden glut of them now!! I’ve just started to read Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks series again. I didn’t enjoy the last few but thought I’d start the series over again and see how I get on!

Book Review: The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes *****

I’m sorry if you’re not interested in book reviews – I need to catch up on my reviewing commitments. I received an e-copy of this book free from Net Galley in return for an honest review. And so, here it is!

The Net Galley description reads: Ruth Hogan, the international bestselling author behind the The Keeper of Lost Things returns with an irresistible novel of unexpected friendships, second chances—and dark secrets…

They say friends make life worth living…

Once a spirited, independent woman with a rebellious streak, Masha’s life was forever changed by a tragic event twelve years ago. Unable to let go of her grief, she finds comfort in her faithful canine companion Haizum, and peace in the quiet lanes of her town’s swimming pool. Almost without her realizing it, her life has shuddered to a halt.

It’s only when Masha begins an unlikely friendship with the mysterious Sally Red Shoes, a bag lady with a prodigious voice and a penchant for saying just what she means, that a new world of possibilities opens up: new friendships, new opportunities, and even a chance for new love. For the first time in years, Masha has the chance to start living again.

But just as Masha dares to imagine the future, her past comes roaring back…

Like her beloved debut, The Keeper of Lost Things, Ruth Hogan’s second novel introduces a cast of wonderful characters, both ordinary and charmingly eccentric, who lead us through a moving exploration of the simple human connections that unite us all.  

I enjoyed “The Keeper of Lost Things” very much, and so was looking forward to reading this. It was highly enjoyable and I would happily recommend this. However, I need to admit that I read it at least two months ago, so can’t remember that much about it!! This is what I do recall:

Even though there was a slight sense of trying a bit too hard to have whimsical characters, all of the people delineated were believable and likeable. It gives a moving portrayal of how grief and guilt can stall a person’s life, and how friendship can help to finally bring a person out of the darkness. The themes of death and grieving are well handled, as is the idea of the importance of friendship.

The ending was satisfying. Not what was expected, a bit hard to read, but yes, satisfying.

I’m sorry this isn’t a better review, but I know that this was a five star book. That doesn’t happen very often.

Book Review: The Good Priest

Oh, oh – I’m sorry, NetGalley!! I have been neglecting my duties! I have read books but completely forgotten to review them, as I’ve been busy with 40 Acts. So here is a catch up review on one of the books:

The Net Galley description reads:

What do I write about now?!

I’ve been so focussed on my 40 Acts journey every blog post, practically, has been about that.

What now?

Back to the mundanities of life in a small French village.

But things to look forward to this week:

  • not quite so much work – not quite an Easter break, but less to do. (though the less I do, the less I get paid!)
  • meal out on Friday with Louis and Odette
  • Friend Cathy arrives on Sunday or Monday – huzzah!
  • I should get my new bank card soon too.

I didn’t tell you I’d lost my bank card, did I? I used it on Saturday in the bank, and discovered on Sunday that it was missing. Not sure if I’d shoved it in my pocket and then pulled it out with my gloves somewhere outside, or whether I’d left it in the bank, I decided (after a panic attack and tears – this bloody hormonetherapy!) to cancel the card. Of course, on Tuesday evening (bank closed on Monday) I got a phone call saying I’d left my card in the bank!! But it’s too late, of course, as I’d cancelled it. So I’ve been without it for a week, and I’m not likely to get it for another few days. It’s been a pain as many shops in France don’t take cheques – luckily supermarkets do, so I’ve been able to get the food shopping, but I’ve had to plan my petrol buying more carefully, as the kiosks are only open at certain times. It has meant I haven’t impulse bought…but there’s a handbag I’m definitely considering!!

For those who might be interested I’ve created a new blog for our Church sermons. We’re hoping to post most of the weekly sermons on this site. Do go over if you’d like to read them. Oh Taste & See

This is Christ Church, Clermont Ferrand

The Easter procession: Lift High the Cross

Summing up 40 Acts

While I don’t want to say “Hey! Aren’t I great?!” I thought I wanted to do a summing up of 40 Acts and what I did. It’s more to encourage myself, I think AND to remind myself that there are things I still need to do, as well as to see that there were lots of small actions which made a difference. There are one or two other actions I diid which haven’t really fitted in to the chart, and there are two blank days when I didn’t do anything…

Some of the remaining actions are on-going things, and others are one-offs which need to be fulfilled…

 

  ACT WHAT I DID

 

WHAT I STILL HAVE TO DO
1 PLEDGE Continued to blog about 40 Acts & to encourage others as they blogged  
2 PEOPLE WATCH   Purposely look for opportunities to be generous
3 PERIOD POVERTY Gave sanitary protection to the Food Bank collection at church  
4 CASH STASH   Keep an extra 5€ back a month to give to charity
5 BLESS THE BOSS  Gave a card to Melissa & Thomas, and flowers & card to Claire.  
6 CHOCOLATE TUESDAY Bought chocolates for students at Bonjour World  
7 JOYFUL, JOYFUL!   The joy of the Lord is my strength… to remind me not to get grumpy!
8 BRING LIFE Encouraged others to give blood by posting on FB.  
9 BE PRESENT Went to see Charlotte & made time to go to Monique’s too.  
10 DROP EVERYTHING Gave shawl to Charlotte and (later) cross to Angel  
11 HIDDEN HEROES  A couple of boxes of biscuits to the PO people. A chance to talk about 40 Acts  
12 PRAYER CIRCLE  Helped a young Serbian woman by buying nappies etc for her.  
13 NEEDS MUST Washed up for Bonjour World and have continued to do so.  
14 GREEN   Buy – and use – beeswax covers rather than clingfilm.
15 LEG UP Gave my pay for 1 lesson to PC4R and offered to do a zentangle Highland Cow zentangle
16 DIRTY HANDS   Not look the other way when the cat trays need changing!!
17 MISSION ACCOMPLISHED Cards & gifts for Lunch Bunch helpers  
18 BROTHERS & SISTERS Cards and letters sent to persecuted Christians in Cuba  
19 NEXT DOOR Cup cakes made for Roland & Marion & the children.  
20 CLOSE TO HOME    
21 FROM YOUR SEAT Some encouraging/ Thankful messages sent  
22 OPEN INVITE e-card sent to friends to say I was thinking about them.  
23 GRIN Bought croissants etc for students/staff at Bonjour World  
24 LOST SIGNAL   Write letters!!!

 

25 ROADWORK AHEAD Prayed for my Wednesday students

 

 
26 WITHOUT BORDERS Told people about PC4R and set weekly reminder for the Friday Conga  
27 DISAPPEARING ACT Placed some Ninja notes around Paris. Ninja Parking meter!

 

28 CLEAR THE DIARY Gave time to prepare canapés; gave extra time at our table in the Cathedral.  
29 ANYTHING ELSE?   Write to hospital to offer services/ cards for English speaking chemo patients.
30 YIKES!    
31 HOPE FOR THE HOMELESS Nothing too overwhelming – gave a bit more than usual to a beggar.  
32 BETTER THREADS   Try to be a bit more thoughtful about my clothes buying. Do I NEED it?
33 BIG DEAL Giving time – made cookies for Raphaelle’s family  
34 ADOPT Plan to give cross to Angel and to have coffee with Rabab  
35 I-SPY   Have a conversation with people you don’t know – engage more!
36 COMPASSION Continue to pray for those close to me who are suffering – COMMITMENT! Continue to pray for those close to me who are suffering – COMMITMENT!
37 SEEK OUT   I know & God knows. Enough said.

 

38 BEHIND BARS Wrote cards & letters to three Christians imprisoned for their faith.  
39 70 x 7   Living with constant forgiveness of others. Bonhoeffer quotation.
40 THE NOW & NOT YET Coffee and talk with Rabab.  

All in all, I found this year’s 40 Acts to be encouraging and inspiring. It was a honour to have been asked to write a reflection for them, which seemed to be well-received. I enjoyed “meeting” other bloggers, and also catching up with others from past 40 Acts blogging. I felt that perhaps there were a few too many monetary based challenges, but – of course! – there is nothing stopping us 40 Act-ers going “off piste” and finding another time/talent based act to do!

There is something written by Baptist minister and Civil Rights campaigner Howard Thurman which speaks about after Christmas:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

Equally I think we could say:

When the chocolate has been eaten,

when we have gone back to work,

when the wonder of the stone rolled away has faded,

the work of Easter begins:

To proclaim resurrection life,

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

And so, let us begin.

 

40ACTS2019 :: 39, 40 :: 70×7 & The Now & Not Yet

Ah, so here we are…It’s actually Easter Day, and 40 Acts is over for another year… Here are my thoughts on the last two Acts:

ACT 39

70 x 7

PROMPT: If generosity means giving more than we have to give, then forgiveness can be a deeply generous act. We forgive in the same ways that we’re generous: sacrificially, unconditionally, freely. Take a dive into some (maybe) uncomfortable memories: Who might you need to forgive today? What would it take for you to forgive from a generous place? How can God help you with that?

REFLECTION: Link here

ACTS: Read the Easter story in the Bible (Luke 23) and focus on Jesus’ words of forgiveness. Ask God to help you forgive.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Matthew 18:21–22 NIV)

I actually struggled with this Act today: not because I found it hard to forgive, but because I don’t think that there is anyone I need to forgive… I certainly cannot think of anyone who has wronged me who I need to forgive. There was, in the past, someone, but I managed to come to terms with their actions a while back (through the first 40 Acts I think) and have forgiven them for what they did.

But it was today that I read on Bishop Mark Edington’s FB page, this quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship…can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts…” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, d. 9 April 1945

Mark says this: Bonhoeffer is here speaking specifically of the fellowship of marriage — but his wisdom applies to any Christian community, or at least to any community that claims itself to be centered on faith in Christ. And it is wisdom exactly because, despite how we may regard ourselves, forgiveness is not something we are naturally disposed to do; it takes discipline, as all discipleship does.

I will try to live by this – both in my marriage, but in my life outside my marriage. They seem good words to live by.

ACT 40

THE NOW AND NOT YET

PROMPT: The Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is a strange place. But it’s where lots of us live our lives – caught between mourning and moving on, between pain and joy, grieving different losses than death alone. If you look, you’ll find many around you in a place like that. Offer more than a half-hearted hug today. Help people encounter generosity in places of deep pain.

REFLECTION: Link here

ACTS: Green: Think of someone in your world that has experienced grief in the past 12 months. Give them a random call, tell them they’re on your mind, and ask them how they’re doing.

Amber: Are you struggling with anything that you haven’t told anyone? Confide in someone you trust. Giving others the opportunity to help and support you is generous because helping people makes us feel good.

Red: Think back to a difficult time in your life where someone was really there for you. Send them a text or buy them a small gift and let them know that you’ll be forever grateful.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

I love the title to this Act – The Now and Not Yet – it’s a really intriguing, exciting title that makes me yearn to know more. I feel like it’s reaching out to something beyond us now. I love the reflection too, that reminds us that God uses our bad times and our good times.

I think I fulfilled this Act by accident on Good Friday, as I met up with someone for coffee. She poured out her heart to me, confiding things she says she has never told anyone. I hold her in my heart.

It was on the same day that this Act arrived in my inbox that I also got a message from Rend Collective. It sums up what this is all about. I hope it’s okay to share it here:

This Is My Resurrection Day

Romans 8:11

The resurrection of Jesus means that we have full assurance of life BEFORE death.

Of course we also can count on life after death – that is definitely one of the most amazing promises of scripture and not something I would in any way diminish.
But what if the resurrection is even better than that?

You see, when my alarm clock blares at me on a Monday morning and I drag myself “Walking Dead” style to the coffee maker, I don’t really find myself energized to wake up and live for the kingdom by acknowledging the fact that when I die, I will rise again.

If anything, when I see the resurrection as only applying to me post-mortem, I might as well just go back to bed and seek shelter under the sheets and just try to stay comfy until the trumpet sounds.

No, what I need to set a fire in my weary bones is not the thought of a life after death but the reality that I can have abundant, meaningful life BEFORE death – and we find that in scripture.

Romans boldly proclaims that the same power that raised Christ from the dead is burning inside of us: begging for resurrection not to be about the afterlife but to be our way of life.

Wendell Berry, one of my favorite poets ( yes – I may just be the last person alive who reads poetry for fun!), puts it like this: “Practice resurrection.”

You may be saying to yourself right now that this seems like a really uplifting thought for a poem…but how do I actually do that in real life?

Every time you take something lifeless and broken and revive it, you are practicing resurrection.

Something as simple and ordinary as recycling your cardboard.

Coming alongside a couple whose marriage is on life support and speaking words of hope.

Sharing Jesus with a friend who doesn’t understand why, even though everything is fine on the surface, she just doesn’t feel alive.

We live out the message of resurrection: that dead things don’t have to stay that way and that even the bleakest of circumstances imaginable can be restored.

But maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Before we start practicing resurrection out in the world, maybe we need to look inside and see those areas inside our own souls that need CPR.

Maybe right now you feel like you’ve fallen and you’ll never be able to get back up again.

Maybe you’ve failed so catastrophically, the weight of shame is just keeping you pinned to the floor, unsure if you’ll ever get up again.

In these seasons we need to remember that the risen Jesus – “the resurrection and the life” – is the lifeblood pounding through our veins.

With the fierceness that comes with knowing that we are invincible in Christ, we need to join Micah’s battle cry:

“Do not gloat over me my enemy, for though I have fallen I will rise.”

The fact is, if Jesus can rise up out of the grave, you can definitely get up off the floor.

Because by now we’ve realized the resurrection is not just our future hope – it’s the hope alive in us right here, in this very moment.

So let’s breathe resurrection into our own lives and into the world around us – starting right now.

– Rend Collective

40ACTS2019 :: 38 :: Behind bars

PROMPT: Behind bars for good reason or not, people in prison are often locked out of experiencing basic human kindnesses – the simple joys of community life. Today, offer generosity to people who might feel locked out from ever receiving it, and who might never be able to pay it back: prisoners, young offenders, young people in pupil referral units, and so on.

REFLECTION: Link here

ACTS: Green: Write a letter to a prisoner. Tell them you wanted to get in touch just to say that someone was thinking of them.

Amber: Send a gift to a prisoner, or help prisoners send a gift to their children.

Red: Visit a prisoner.

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.’  (Hebrews 13:3 NIV)

I am not “dissing” the good people at 40 Acts here. I admire what they do, and really appreciate their commitment and their hard work. It cannot be easy to come up with 120 different acts, which have varying degrees of difficulty and commitment, and cost.

BUT…

I followed the link given on the email (but not the “blog” post on the 40 Acts page) to the Prison Fellowship website, thinking that I would be able to fulfil the Green option, by writing a letter to a prisoner. Just add it to the long list of other letters waiting to be written!!

But there isn’t an option there to write a letter: instead the organisation wants letter writers to commit to sending a monthly letter to a prisoner. I already know, from my aforementioned list, that I can’t commit to this; it’s a lot more than a “green” option! I could donate money – but we’ve already discussed this, haven’t we?! – so I’m left with a feeling of not-sure-what-I-can-do.

I’ve emailed Prison Fellowship with the following message:

I’m following 40 Acts, who have provided a link to your page. One of the “acts” is to write a letter to a prisoner. I see from the information here that you require (in my opinion quite rightly) a commitment to writing regularly. I can’t give this commitment; I know I would be unable to keep it up. Is there the option of writing a “one-off” letter, or is this not part of your work?

and I await a response. If the “one-off” option exists I will gladly take it. If it doesn’t, well…I’m less sure what I can do.

 

….PAWS FOR THOUGHT….

 

Aha! I know we have already had an Act focussing on writing to support persecuted Christians around the world, which I did, writing cards and short letters to several people in Cuba, but there are also Christians imprisoned for their faith. Inaddition, there are Prisoners of Conscience too. I explored the Amnesty International site, and they have a targeted letter writing campaign in November, but there may well be the option of writing to prisoners on a one-off basis there. More thought needed there.

I have also found a site called “Prisoner Alert – this site has details of many Christians who are imprisoned for their faith, and gives the opportunity to send letters.The letters all appear to be created using provided formulae (“Choose up to 12 phrases from the following list”) which means that the prisoner will receive the letter in his/her mother tongue.  Having constructed the letter, you then print it out with the address, so that you can then send it to the correct place. This makes it an easy “green”option, requiring only a little time commitment – and, of course, the postage costs!

Maybe it’s not quite what 40 Acts were thinking of, but it certainly fulfills the brief! I have no lessons this morning, so I’m going to print off three or four letters, add them to a card, and take them to the Post Office before I go to work this afternoon. If I get a positive reply from Prison Fellowship I will also write a letter to a prisoner in the UK.

 

40ACTS2019 :: 37 :: Seek out

PROMPT: If we’re honest, as Christians it’s easy to develop blind spots for people who don’t fit our categories. One example is people who’ve left the faith. How often do we find ourselves being generous to those who don’t share in our beliefs any more? Find a way to make someone feel loved without holding back the truth of what we believe.

REFLECTION: Link here

ACTS: Green: Get coffee with an old friend who isn’t in church any more – and hang out with no strings attached.

Amber: Ask that person to tell their story, and just sit and listen.

Red: Don’t shy away from talking about Jesus, even if it’s awkward.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

If I’m honest, I think this is an odd one… The reflection seems to suggest that many Christians drop friends like hot potatoes if they lose their faith. What a bizarre suggestion! The reflection also seems to suggest that for most Christians the majority of their friends will also be Christian. Which, apart from when I was at College, has never been the case for me.

Yes, I have friends who are Christian – but that’s not the reason I’m friends with them! I’m friends because I like them and they (I assume!) like me. We have things in common, but we have other things that are not in common. In fact, of the 4 friends that I would say are closest, two are and two aren’t Christian. I would never stop talking to, or seeing someone just because they lost their faith!

I feel I can’t really fulfil this Challenge because I only have one friend that I know of who has lost her faith – and she lives a long way from here! I won’t be meeting her for coffee any time soon. I can send her a letter, I suppose…I have a long list of people I should be sending letters to! I have a friend who doesn’t come to Christ Church any longer, he goes to another church (he’s an organ player and afficianado. Our little keyboard did nothing for him!!) I guess I could try to get in contact with himù too, although he is in-and-out of the country with work… I’m meeting someone I don’t know well for coffee later this week – maybe I can fulfill the Amber act by just listening to her story.

I’m a bit “meh” about this Act, both for the initial assumptions that it seems to make, and for the challenges themselves.

OK, this is as far as I got with my blog post before I read the reflection again.

This time a certain paragraph leapt out at me: We don’t know what God’s great plan for our lives is and that goes for our friends too. We can pray, love and support, knowing that while we can’t make those we love fall in love with Jesus, we can show them his love by continually sharing “the hope that [we] have… with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15) and continually praying that they will return home to the Father.

I know what I’ve got to know. God knows what I’ve got to do.

 

Not saying any more, but I’ll admit to feeling less “meh.”  Just a tad overwhelmed instead.

 

40ACTS2019 :: 35, 36 :: I-Spy, Compassion…& Notre Dame

Firstly, I feel I need to say something about the tragedy in Paris. Not, thank goodness, a tragedy involving loss of life – although reports are that one firefighter has been seriously injured – but rather the tragedy of the fire blazing through Notre Dame last night

Suggestions are that the start of the fire might be linked to the restoration work going on – rather ironic, one can’t help feeling. I wonder what exactly : a faulty extension lead, a spark from a welder’s tool, a cigarette butt from a sneaky cigarette smoked behind a gargoyle… I ask myself if there is one workman (or many) who is thinking “Could it have been me that started it…?”

But the building is still standing – although the spire has collapsed – and Macron is pledging that it will be rebuilt. I hope that it is still structurally sound, and that at least some of the many treasures within have been saved. It looks as though the stained glass windows have mostly survived – the Rose window seemed to be still intact when shown on the news.

It is a tragedy, yes, but it could have been so much worse…

ACT 35: I-SPY

PROMPT: By now you’ve probably caught on – a startling amount of living generously is simply noticing people. We often only realise people are lonely when they actually tell us. But there are plenty of lonely people who never say a word. Today, put those people-watching skills to good use.

REFLECTION: Link here

ACTS: Green: Watch for lonely people this week. At church, look for those at the sidelines. At work, look for those who eat lunch alone.

Amber: Make a point of connecting with someone you know, but have avoided spending time with because they’re a bit socially awkward.

Red: Strike up a chat with someone you don’t know – at the bus stop or café maybe – who looks a little sad.

When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’” (Luke 13:12 NIV)

 

For reasons I don’t need to go into 40 Acts was off the table yesterday. And possibly today too… I’m not sure how engaged I’m going to be able to be this last week, due to personal circumstances.

But I will try and bear it in mind for future reference AND I’m not excusing myself from acts of generosity, however small. (I did the washing up at work – over 20 cups & mugs needed washing!!)  It’s just that I might not be able to manage the big ones that 40 Acts is ramping up to.

 

ACT 36: COMPASSION

PROMPT: The word ‘compassion’ simply means coming alongside suffering – co-suffering with someone. That can sound a bit daunting, but when you think about it, what a gift to be able to offer someone your presence and the feeling that you’re with them.

REFLECTION: Link here

ACTS: Think of areas where you’ve suffered in the past, and find a way to share time with someone who’s suffering similarly today.

When I first opened this act on my email, I’m sure there were 3 options of Acts…Now there’s only one. How bizarre.

I suppose this is another time I use my “wiggle room” card, the one that says “I’ve already done this” or “I’m doing this”. We’re already supporting someone through the loss of her husband. Due to her dependency problems, it’s a bit of a hard slog, and there are times when, quite frankly, I could do without it. But there you go.

But there is also the Challenge (that I was sure was there earlier!) which is to commit to pray for those who are suffering – my boss has just lost her mother, my friend has lost her husband, other friends going through cancer treatment…I will continue to hold these people, and others, in the living, loving light that is God.

 

 

Sermon this week: The Freedom Road

The theme for this sermon is a phrase that has been resonating with me for a few weeks, and one which Presiding Bishop Michael Curry used in his sermon last week: “The Freedom Road”; Now, this will, of course, conjure up different pictures  for different people, dependent on points of view, on personal stories, on the individual’s life experiences. I like the title because, for me, it echoes Jesus’ statement at the beginning of his mission, that he was bringing freedom to the oppressed, and it reminds me also that Jesus brings us all liberty from the oppression and the binding of sin’s chains in our lives. It also conjures up an image of a road winding into the distance that we all can travel, as pilgrims together, welcoming others as they join us on our journey, with Jesus leading us all onwards. But it also reminds us that Jesus called himself “The Way”. So, not only is Jesus showing us all the Freedom Road, but also, in a sense, he actually is the Freedom Road.

The God pictured in the Old Testament is a dynamic God, active in his people’s lives, moving in mysterious ways for the good of those he loves. He brought the Israelites out of Egypt in a most dramatic way; he provided food and water when they were desperate; he guided and loved them through the most difficult of times. He was there; he was Jehovah, the God who rescued his people Israel.

Nowadays, I feel that there is a lack of this sense of a dynamic God. Because many Christian doctrines are modelled on Greek philosophical patterns of thought God can sometimes appear to be more passive. To many people today their image of God is an old man in a white nightie who sits in the clouds, surrounded by angels strumming harps. He may send the odd disaster now and again, just to remind us all that he’s up there, but he doesn’t actually DO anything constructive, he doesn’t actually care.

But in Jesus, and in all that he does, we find that this is not the case; in Jesus we see what God is really like ~ he takes risks for the love of human beings. He does get involved. Jesus knew that he was unpopular with the powerful religious leaders of the day, but this didn’t stop him riding publicly into Jerusalem. In fact one could say he drew attention to it, for not only did Jesus process into the city, but then he had the audacity to go to the Temple, and cause a disturbance there as well!

The Temple was being mis-used; moneychangers and sellers of animals and birds had set themselves up in the courtyards. This in itself was no bad thing, as the Jews were only making it easier for people to follow the commands of the Law. People were able to buy their perfect sacrifices in the place where the creatures would be sacrificed. But the costs were becoming extortionate, and the fact that Roman coinage had to be changed to the currency of the Temple, often at falsely high rates of exchange, meant that the whole set-up had become a racket for gaining money through cheating the ordinary person. It was that that Jesus was protesting about when he went into the Temple, and turned over the tables of those who were there.

Jesus knew what this would mean. He understood that his actions ~ his triumphal entrance into the city, his provocative cleansing of the Temple ~ he understood that these would bring his enemies out of their bolt-holes. He knew this, and yet he still went ahead, for God is a God of action, of dynamics, who takes risks for the people he loves.

As Jesus came, on his donkey, the crowds yelled their hosannas and waved their palm branches. In a way, I find it hard to see how a crowd who were so pleased to see Jesus on one day were baying for his blood only five days later; but I suppose it is an example of what is often called “Crowd mentality”. Most of the people there were swept along by the emotion of it all, little realising or caring who or what they were shouting for. I have heard of an ardent anti-monarchist who found himself shouting greetings to the Queen when she visited the area ~ just because everyone else was doing it, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. It is hard not to be swept along by the rush of adrenaline. Sadly I think this is what happens with football violence: it only takes one or two to start and soon many others have joined in, carried along by the excitement, the rush of blood to the head.

So we have a crowd, some of whom believe Jesus is the Messiah from God, come to rid the country of the occupying Romans, others shouting for the man who healed them, or brought peace to their hearts, and yet more simply having a good day out in the sunshine. They may never have met Jesus face to face, and so may have little or no opinion about him, but others have met him, and meeting Jesus always brings a response.

For some the response would be hatred, for he was upsetting their comfy little lives.

To the Roman occupiers he was another of the tiresome Jews who called themselves Messiah. It may be hard for us to believe, but during Jesus’ time there were many people who thought they were the Messiah; they had followers too, and they were nearly always executed by the Romans. To the occupying forces Jesus was simply another of these. But maybe there was something more to Jesus ~ maybe the others hadn’t had such a great following, maybe the others hadn’t healed. Whatever it was, to the Romans Jesus was a symbol of all they disliked, such as the Jews desire for freedom from oppression, and the Romans wanted to get rid of him.

Jesus was upsetting the lives of the religious leaders of the time. He was reinterpreting the scriptures, and the Law; he was speaking to God with an unsuitably intimate turn of phrase; he referred to the religious leaders as whited sepulchres; but worst of all, he committed blasphemy by calling God “Father”, and by implying, if not actually stating, that he was God also. This man needed to be got rid of… and fast!

But it wasn’t just the high-up people in charge that, when meeting Jesus face-to-face, reacted with hate. Ordinary people too could well have felt this way. Imagine how you would feel if you were there in the Temple courts, going about your daily, legitimate business, when this jumped-up nobody from the country town of Nazareth appears, and calls you a thief and a cheat. Many would be disgruntled, upset, and could have reacted to Jesus with hate.

People were being shaken out of their familiar lives ~ and many didn’t like it.

But coming face-to-face with Jesus could also elicit great love and commitment; people were liberated from the constraints that had held them for so long and reacted with gratitude and love.

There was blind Bartimaus, who Jesus met just previously to his entry into Jerusalem. In healing him, Jesus took away his livelihood; admittedly begging was a precarious way of making a living, but at least it was a familiar thing. When he was healed Bartimaus would have to find a job, would have other responsibilities which his blindness had exempted him from. He too was shaken from his familiar routine, but met Jesus with love, and, when told by Jesus to “Go your way”, Bartimaus went the only way that he could: he followed Jesus, he trod the way of the man who had set him free.

Maybe even in the temple precincts, there were those who faced Jesus with love, who were freed to follow their hearts. I don’t know how many of you know Dennis Potter’s play “Son of Man”, but there was a part in it that I really like. Who knows if it really happened? I like to think that it did. Jesus strides into the Temple, and turns over the table of one of the moneychangers, who reacts with anger and dismay; he then turns towards another moneychanger, who stands behind the table, and, with a small gesture of acceptance, the man takes hold of his own table and throws it to the ground.

“Are you with me?” Jesus asks.

“Yes, I am with you,” comes the reply, “Always I have longed to do what I have just done.”

He had been held fast by his job, knowing it wasn’t right, but unable to break free. Then Jesus enabled him to do what he had always longed to do, to travel the Freedom road.

Jesus offered this road to all. As he rode into Jerusalem he showed himself unafraid of ~ or, at least, willing to face ~ all the hatred that this would stir up. He was willing to take risks for those he loved, even if their response was to turn their backs and to repay him with hatred and death.

And what of today? What does this mean to us, here in Clermont Ferrand? We too have been offered freedom by Jesus, and we have had the choice. Many of us here have made that choice, and our response was that of the moneychanger in Dennis Potter’s play. We turned over our old lives to follow our Lord. He gave us sight to see where we had failed him, and we took the chance to begin our journey on the Freedom Road.

When Bartimaus followed Jesus into Jerusalem he was lining himself up on the side of the unpopular one. But despite this, he was willing to take the chance. He trusted the man who had brought him liberation from the chains of blindness and poverty of life. This is what we must do also.

Jesus asks us to follow him in his Way, and although, as it was to Bartimaus, that way might be strange to us, we must trust in our Lord to lead us in the steps of the dance he wants us to dance. It is scary sometimes, it is joyful, it is sorrowful; at times it is hard, and we stumble over unfamiliar steps, but at other times our feet seem to fly and our spirits are at one with God.  In Jim Cotter’s book “Prayer in the Morning” there is a line which never fails to lift my heart whenever I read it: “Spirit of the Living God, open my whole being that I may dance your life this day”.

When we are open to the Living God, the dynamic God who was embodied in Jesus, then we can only dance our way along the Freedom Road.

Jesus showed us how far God was ready to move for those he loved; he was ready to die for them, for us. In riding into Jerusalem, Jesus came face-to-face with many people who reacted in different ways: some with hatred, and some with love, and others just went along for the fun of it, they were, in a way, indifferent. It is still the same today; there are those violently opposed to Christ’s message, and who hate him, there are those who love him and follow him, and there are those who are indifferent… but as those indifferent people in Jerusalem were influenced to shout Hosanna! by the disciples as they shouted for their Lord and Master, then maybe in the same way, we might also persuade people to join us on the Freedom Road through our liberated and liberating dance, led along the Way by our Lord, the Living God, the Loving God, the Way of Life himself.