Second Chance: Good Friday 2018

 

Oh Your cross, it changes everything
There my world begins again with You
Oh Your cross, it’s where my hope restarts
A second chance is Heaven’s heart

My future hangs on this
You made preciousness from dust
Please don’t stop creating me

Your blood offers the chance
To rewind to innocence
Reborn, perfect as a child

Oh Your cross, it changes everything
There my world begins again with You
Oh Your cross, it’s where my hope restarts
A second chance is Heaven’s heart

When sin and ugliness
Collide with redemption’s kiss
Beauty awakens by romance

Always inside this mess
I have found forgiveness
Mercy infinite as You

Oh Your cross, it changes everything
There my world begins again with You
Oh Your cross, it’s where my hope restarts
A second chance is Heaven’s heart

Countless second chances
We’ve been given at the cross
Countless second chances
We’ve been given at the cross

Fragments of brokenness
Salvaged by the art of grace
You craft life from our mistakes

Black skies of my regrets
Outshone by this kindness
New life dawns over my soul

Oh Your cross, it changes everything
There my world begins again with You
Oh Your cross, it’s where my hope restarts
A second chance is Heaven’s heart

 

 

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2018 40 ACTS :: 2 :: ANON

Old Grumpy Pants is back!

I think that this period of waiting – waiting for all the appointments, waiting for the chemo, waiting for the effects of the chemo (& probably/ possibly the anticipation and imagining is worse than the reality will be!) – is getting to me. Even though I have tried to keep myself occupied, I am getting grumpier and more depressed (though not in a “black dog” sort of way. I don’t want to measure my “down” against clinical depression ion any way) so, in a way, I’m glad that today things are getting moving.

I have an appointment with my “designated nurse” – she will give me my prescriptions for a wig, and for ambulance transport; she will explain procedures more, and, I assume, give advice where needed. Mr FD is taking me out to lunch in the “English bakery” that we tried to go to a couple of weeks back and we will do the week’s shopping too. Well…it gets me out of the house!

Yesterday grumpiness really did get the better of me, so I decided that it would be A Good Thing to do something for others. So I put Rend Collective onto Spotify, rather more loudly than I would have done had Mr FD been in the house, and I prepared some more “Ninja Notes”. How apposite! Look at today’s Challenge…

ANON

The most thrilling type of generosity is done when no one’s looking. When there’s no one to impress. So: give in secret. Act in the shadows. Leave anonymously before you’re noticed. And if you’ve struggled with generosity in the past, give this sort of anonymous giving a go – see if a switch goes on for you.

GREEN: This could be a tricky act if you can’t keep a secret! Leave something anonymously for someone you know: a coffee on a desk, an encouraging letter taped to a car, a box of pastries left in the shared kitchen.

AMBER: Think differently: tape some change to a car park machine. Or the office vending machine. Or, wheel all your street’s bins back after the lorry’s been. Three key words for this act: creative, helpful – and stealthy.

RED: Leave something anonymously for someone you don’t know. This is your chance to do something you’d never do otherwise. You could jump onto a random wedding gift list, or pay for someone’s petrol before they make it into the shop.

You can read the meditation here as it speaks of some of the anonymous acts that people have done in the past.

Well, I think that this obviously calls for Ninja Notes to be left around the hospital today…

Some of them have verses from the Bible on them, some of them just have encouraging quotations. Here are some of today’s selection:

.

They will be left in toilets (!) or on chairs, in lifts or in corridors…I will trust God that the right person will find them.

Weep with Me

I know I’ve just posted, but …

With all the shittiness of the recent terror attacks, in Manchester, in Kabul, in Egypt, in London, and in other places around the world, I feel wordless.

Yet two different things have helped.

The first are the words of another blogger, Katy Boo,who always seems to have the right words to say. She writes forcefully about matters close to her heart. She does not mince words. She is funny, and she is emotional, she is an activist and she is a wordsmith. Her most recent post The Answer is Still Love is a heartfelt message of love in the face of terrorism. I urge you to go and read it.

The second is a new song by Rend Collective. “Weep with Me” is a lament, in the tradition of the Psalms, and is another message of love

As always, Rend Collective have managed to write a song that meets my need, and says what I fail to be able to say.

Listen.

Sing.

Weep.

Pray.

 

Brexit + Rend

I’m not going to say anything about Brexit, and (what I consider to be) the catastrophic result.

Except:

  • I don’t know what it will mean for us, but I’m waiting-and-seeing.
  • and this is my prayer for a divided Britain (Take it away, Rend Collective!):

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

Come set Your rule and reign
In our hearts again
Increase in us we pray
Unveil why we’re made
Come set our hearts ablaze with hope
Like wildfire in our very souls
Holy Spirit come invade us now
We are Your Church
And we need Your power
In us

We seek Your kingdom first
We hunger and we thirst
Refuse to waste our lives
For You’re our joy and prize
To see the captive hearts released
The hurt, the sick, the poor at peace
We lay down our lives for Heaven’s cause
We are Your church
And we pray revive
This earth (We’re prayin’ for revival)

Tomorrow’s sermon

I’m preaching tomorrow. Here’s the text of the sermon, should you care to read it…

THE JOY OF FORGIVENESS

Readings: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10,13-15; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

There is a story of two sisters, who had fallen out sometime in their past, probably over something not very serious, but in such a way that neither would climb down and apologise. So over the years, their disagreement grew and grew until they both refused to speak to the other, to have anything to do with the other, to even acknowledge the existence of each other. Their separation was complete. And as they grew older, each became more bitter about the whole affair. Then one of the sisters became friendly with a woman from the local church, she started going along to services, she heard the Good News of forgiveness and reconciliation, and she started to remember that on top of the wardrobe in the spare bedroom there was a portable typewriter. And her thoughts of this typewriter became more and more frequent; it seemed that every time she went into the room she thought about the typewriter, she couldn’t get it out of her mind. Then she had the strange urge to get it down and to write a letter to her sister whom she had not contacted, about whom she had not spoken for years, and to ask her forgiveness for the rift that had developed between them. And so, eventually, that is what she did. And even before she posted the letter, as she was folding it up to put it in the envelope, she said her whole body felt as if it was being washed all over and she had a sense of being forgiven. The burden had been lifted and she felt free of the bitterness and hurt and rejection that had been a part of her life for so long.

And this really is the theme of Psalm 32 – it is about the joy of forgiveness, and how it feels to know that sins truly are cleared away and gone. The first verses speak of this fact. “Happy are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sin is put away. Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, and in whose spirit is no guile”. In some versions the Psalm reads “Blessed are those…” but I like the more exuberant translation to “happy” reminding us that we should be joyful in being forgiven. Sometimes Christians are accused of being too “po-faced,” of not enjoying life; but we have New Life through the wonderful forgiveness of Christ and we should in fact be the happiest people on earth – and show this in our actions, in our demeanour, in our whole living. Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven.

In the New International translation, the first two verses of this Psalm read: Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. The expression “whose sins are covered” can be a little confusing; it sounds as though we are talking about “covering up” a sin, hiding it away so that it isn’t known about. But in this case, it means forgiven, as it does in 1 Peter when Peter says, “love covers a multitude of sins”. It forgives a multitude of sins, not hides them. As the Psalmist continues, “Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against him” we are reminded that we have been forgiven, we are blessed because, in the slightly old fashioned phrase we have been covered in the blood of the Lamb” – it is the sacrifice of Christ that brings us forgiveness, it is through his blood that we are cleansed. Our sins no longer count for God. It is through him, through his love, that we are brought true happiness by forgiveness of our sins.

The next verses read: “While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, because of my groaning all day long. For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.”. This reminds us of the belief of the ancient world that unforgiven sin caused physical illness. You may remember the story of the paralytic who was lowered through the roof by his friends. Jesus did not heal the man by saying, “Get up and walk”. No, he was more perceptive than that; he knew that the man believed it was his sin that held him there on his bed, and so Jesus’ words were “Your sins are forgiven”. It was that forgiveness that released the man from his sickbed so that he was able to face the world – and his creator – again.

In these verses the Psalmist speaks of the physical distress he felt when he did not confess his sins, when he knew he was hiding what he had done from his Lord. Like the old woman in the story, he was growing bitter, and ashamed of his rift from God, and it hurt.  But, as he affirms in verse 5, in acknowledging his sin and confessing to God, he is brought release from his guilt and his pain. Just as when the old woman climbed down from her position of pride and wanting someone else to make the first move she discovered a sense of freedom and forgiveness, so it is with us.

In Scotland there is the island of Iona, where the Celtic saint Columba lived having brought Christianity from Ireland to Britain. There is the Abbey, which he founded, and a guesthouse, where pilgrims can stay and rest, learning more about their faith. I remember when I was staying with a group on the island; we followed the pilgrimage around the island, to places of significance in the life of Columba. We arrived at the beach where the saint landed his tiny coracle-boat hundreds of years before, and there the leader told us to find a pebble from the many thousands that were lying there. We all picked one up, and standing, looking across the sea, and feeling the weight of the stones in our hands, we remembered the secret sins that were on our hearts; then we asked God’s forgiveness and flung those stones as far into the sea as we possibly could. Our hands were weightless – our sins were forgiven.

Now think of the woman in the Gospel reading. We do not know who she was, we do not know what she had done, but what we do know is that she was truly sorry. She knew that her sin was weighing her down, that she would have done anything to rid herself of the dis-ease, the shame, the pain of the knowledge of what she had done. And she was offered the opportunity to throw all of her burden at the feet of Jesus – and she did. Finally, for her, there was no hiding, no deceit, no pretending: she came, broken and hurting before her Lord and gave it all to Him. And he took it, and he forgave it all. It no longer counted against her. Like the stone thrown into the sea on Iona, it was gone.

The Psalmist’s first impulse on recognising the joy that comes from sins forgiven is to tell others. “Therefore, let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. You are a hiding place for me, you preserve me in times of trouble, you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.” I wonder if that is the case with us. When we know the joy of God’s forgiveness are we so filled with the joy of it that we share it with others? When we have been to church, when we have been at our devotions do people recognise that we have been with Jesus? I wonder…

When Moses had been on Mount Sinai, speaking with his God, on his return his face was shining, so that all could see that he had been with God. When we return to our homes after Church are our faces shining with the wonder of having been with our God? I can only speak for myself, but I’m pretty sure the answer is No more often than it is Yes. Perhaps today, bearing in mind what we can learn about the true joy of God’s wonderful forgiveness, we can return home and shine, just a little bit for God!

Then, when people we know ask us questions, we can share more convincingly the Good News of how Christ is our refuge in times of trouble. How, when the mighty floods of calamity hit us, we know that we can trust God to be there for us. I thank God that so far in my life, I have not been sorely tested; I have not suffered the difficulties in my life that others have. But every now and then, I look ahead, and pray sincerely that, whatever life may bring, I will be able to trust God to be my refuge.

We have already sung a hymn today, called Rock of Ages, which was written in the 1700s, by Augustus Toplady. I must confess that it is nowhere near number one on my list of favourite hymns, but it fits so well with the theme that I wanted us to sing it today. You see, Toplady wrote this hymn – or at least had the idea for it – when he was riding to a preaching engagement, and was caught in a horrendous storm. There was thunder and lightening, a complete downpour of rain, and the only place he could find to shelter from the storm was a small cave, hardly more than a crack in a rock. And as he cowered there, safe from the storm raging around him, he realised how Christ was the only refuge he had from the storms of his life and the guilt of his sin. “Rock of Ages,” we sang, “ cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee”.

May God give us all the strength that we need to face the storms that are in our lives now, or those that are to come. He may not necessarily take those storms away, but he will always preserve us and be with us. We only need to take his hand and cry out in our fear, and he will be there.

The next verses remind us of this loving care. One translation reads: “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Do not be like a horse or a mule without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with a bit or bridle”.  “I will counsel you with my eye upon you” I must admit that I can’t help thinking this sounds a little threatening.  When I was teaching it was a phrase I used a lot, “Just remember,” I would say to the unruly brats, “I’ve got my eye on you.” Basically, I was saying, “I know what you’re like, I know that you’re likely to get into trouble, so I’m just waiting for it. I’m watching…”

I suppose, sadly, that is the case with God. He DOES know what we’re like; he DOES know that we’re likely to get into trouble. But all the same I prefer the translation that says, “I will counsel you and watch over you” – it sounds more loving and less threatening. Whichever translation we prefer the meaning is there: God watches over us, God cares for us. Sometimes I know it doesn’t feel like it, but we must learn to trust him and follow his ways for us.

And in the last verses we are reminded again of the rewards of trusting in God “Steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord”. The Hebrew word that is translated here as “steadfast love” is a word that is used when talking about the covenant made between God and Abraham, but it has a more emotional content as well, taking it far beyond a sense of legal obligation. God has made the covenant with those who put their trust in him, but it is not simply a legal covenant. It is a covenant full of love, and compassion and life. The rewards of taking this covenant out with God are so great, how can we refuse? Those of us who have made a covenant with God, those of us who have opened our lives to him, know this steadfast love. We know that we can trust God to be always there, to take our hand and to lead us in the paths of justice and of truth. And those of us who haven’t? Who still hold back from making the step that will bring us freedom, and reconciliation and forgiveness… Well, God is waiting. I was going to say, he is waiting for you to take the first step, but he isn’t, because he has already taken the first step by coming to earth as a man, by showing us the way, by dying a terrible death on a cross and by rising again. He has taken every step necessary except one. And God is there, waiting for you to take that last step, the one that takes you into his loving arms and opens the way to full and free forgiveness for all the sins that are holding you in your life of paralysis, the step that leads you to new life.

And then we can all follow the exhortation in the final verse: “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” What else can we do? When we look at the wonderful gift that God has given us through his death and resurrection, when we realise that the guilt of unforgiven sins is taken from us, we are shaken from our paralysis and brought to life. We can but sing for joy, we can but rejoice and thank him, so that all who we meet do indeed know that we have been with Jesus.

***

As you may have noticed, I have played around with the order of service today – usually with morning prayer we have our confession at the beginning of the service, but today I wanted to put it after this sermon. I want us to really think about the joy that real remorse and forgiveness can bring. Remember the woman who came before Jesus, weeping and full of sorrow for her sin, and her joy when she received Christ’s forgiveness, confirming her, re-affirming God’s love for her, even after all she had done.

And today, in place of the words of confession from the service book, we are going to listen to a beautiful song from one of my favourite worship bands:

I am broken at Your feet
Like an alabaster jar
Every piece of who I am
Laid before Your majesty

I will bow my life
At Your feet, at Your feet
My lips, so lost for words
Will kiss Your feet, kiss Your feet

Oh, the gravity of You
Draws my soul unto its knees
I will never be the same
I am lost and found in You

 

As you listen, consider your sins, confess them to our God, and ask his forgiveness, and his help to walk once more in the ways he has planned for you. Bow your life to him, give him all that you are, that being lost you may be found in Him.

 

 

After the Acts

Now that 40 Acts is over I have stopped regular blogging- though, to be honest, I stopped regular blogging when we went away with the Cycle Club, a week before Easter. (more about that later) I also stopped thinking about “doing” the Acts, although I still received the emails while we were away. But like I said in my last post, 40 Acts wasn’t just about doing 40 Acts in Lent, and then stopping being generous. It’s about changing attitudes and mindsets. And I think I’ve seen a little bit of a shift in mine – there have been various “incidents” where I’ve initially taken one stance or started to behave in one way and then stopped, and thought Is this what 40 Acts was about?

I do still want to try to complete the Acts I didn’t do, but it will be gradual. I won’t worry about it every day…but I’m left with

32 : ANON: Anonymous generosity can often be the most fun and freeing. No need for explanations, no expectations of grand thank yous: just a simple act of kindness.

I have a plan for this one, but it needs to wait until half term is over in the UK.

33: HATS OFF: You’ve got a brain the size of a planet. Your shirt matches your eyes! You’re so good with numbers/animals/children/words/taxidermy! It’s good to let folks know why they’re great. Go and pay them a compliment today.

This is quite tricky – I’m worried that my compliments sound sly or patronising. But I am trying to thank people sincerely when they help me. In fact that reminds me of a Thank You I want to do over on FB. I was asked to prepare the Communion table during the Eucharist today, and there was one young acolyte who was very helpful & calm when I went into frozen rabbit in the headlights mode when something didn’t quite go as planned. So Thank You to Malaya on the Christ Church FB page.

34: INCLUDE: Invitations are the fun bits of mail that come in the post, once in a blue moon, in amongst the bills. Everyone likes to be included and invited, so extend a warm invitation to someone today, especially to someone who doesn’t normally make the guest list.

This is about inviting people round for cups of tea and so on.  Oo-er. I will shift uncomfortably in my seat. Not sure if I can do this one. Not sure how to do this one. I’m going to have to wait for inspiration.

35: BUOYANCY AID: We all live in the centre of our own narrative, but it’s helpful to remember that everyone around us has their own story too. It has highs and lows, and sometimes those lows are seemingly invisible. Today we’re each going to be a lifesaver for someone going through a tough time at the moment. Ask their friends and family what that person needs instead of asking them, and be sensitive to the person’s privacy and dignity.

I really wasn’t sure about this one, when it came up…What could I do here? But I was out shopping later on in the week and saw the guy who is often begging outside Lidl. Mr FD is a bit dismissive, but I always think he seems genuine, with his sign saying “Looking for work: will do anything”. So, being sans Mr FD, I asked him what he’d like me to buy for him, and he asked for “Bread…milk…anything really…” So I bought some bread, and milk, and biscuits, and a ready meal. Then as I handed over the bag, something inside said “Talk to him…” So I did. If you’ve read these 40 Acts blog posts you’ll know that I’m not too good at talking to people, but I think I said something like “Where are you from?” and his story came flooding out. I was there for about 10 minutes, as he told me about his family, about his children, where they were living, how difficult it was to find work… I only made noises, or asked a leading question for him to speak more. Yes, he needed the food, I don’t doubt that, but I think, at that moment, he needed someone to acknowledge him, to speak to him and to make him feel visible. I hope I did that.

36: WILD CARD: Today you get the chance to play your ‘wild card’. It’s the act we left a big question mark over so we could let you—the 40acts community—give us direction. What you told us was (1) there were some acts you went all out on and would love to repeat and (2) there were some you bailed out on and would like another chance to try. The Bible is full of people who received second chances, and even third and fourth chances: Peter, Jonah, Mark, Samson, David, the list goes on.

So that gave us an idea: let’s make today the day of the Second Chance. Another chance to embrace the challenge you loved or another chance to step up to the one you missed first time round. So seize your moment– this is your second chance.

Earlier on in Lent, the 40 Acts team asked us to give suggestions for the Wild Card Act. I suggested something connected with the Refugee Crisis, and gave them the link to Socks for Refugees, an organisation I support. I really, really hoped that this simple organisation would be publicised across the 10,000 40 Activists, who would send socks galore to the group. It wasn’t to be… but my Wild Card is to buy more socks than I probably would have done, and to send them off.

But while we’re talking about second chances, let me link to the wonderful Rend Collective’s “Second Chance”

37: TESTIFY: Our testimonies are often the best advertisements for Jesus. You don’t have to have a perfect life. You don’t have to have all your ducks in a row. But being able to articulate how God changed your life is generous because it offers someone else hope. It says to them, ‘If he can do it for me, he’ll do it for you too.’

Still to do. I imagine that it will be via FB, but I’m not sure

…but what I have done today is reply to another FB post.  Attached to another heart rending article about the death of refugees, including children and babies, was the comment “Is there a God?”, followed by numerous “No, there isn’t” comments. So I posted:

YES!!!!!!!!! There IS a God. Sadly there are bastard people who don’t give a shit about others but there is a God. Who is in the hearts, minds and souls of every person (Christian, Muslim, Jew, agnostic or atheist, of any or no religion) who cares for others, who reaches out to help, who weeps over the death or diminishment of another. I don’t blame God for this awful situation; I blame humankind. But it is also wonderful humankind who are trying to help, who are sacrificing themselves, giving all they can, to do something about it.

38: WASHDAY: Today is Maundy Thursday, the day when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. It was a simple act that said so much about service, humility, love and much more besides. So in the spirit of that, prepare to get wet.

Not sure how to fulfil this one…Perhaps I will try washing our windows, which always seems to fall on Mr FD. I suppose the fact that, at our friend’s party over the weekend, Mr FD and I did a heck of a lot of washing up, might count…

39: HUMBLE: Humility is necessary for both forgiving someone and apologising. Don’t let your ego stand in the way of reconciliation and freedom today.

I think this is what I’m trying to focus on after 40 Acts. When Mr FD and I have a “discussion”, or when there’s something I feel he should have done that he hasn’t (or hasn’t done, that I think he should…) I’m trying hard to let it go. It’s not “me” who matters here. I don’t always have to be seen to be “right”, I don’t have to argue my corner every time. If it was Jesus who hadn’t turned the lights off for the umpteenth time how would I react? (an interesting thought…!!)

40: SACRIFICE: Lent is usually marked by giving up: chocolate, TV, social media, whatever it is—we ‘sacrifice’ those everyday pleasures as a discipline. But how much of a sacrifice have we made? How far should our sacrifice go? Today – as Lent concludes and we look forward to the new hope that Easter brings – we’re turning it up a notch. We’re going to ask you to commit to a life of sacrifice; beyond just simple abstinence. It’s time to reconnect to the ancient view of sacrifice, to offer up our very best to God. The kind of sacrifice which opens our hearts and minds to a life of true generosity.

As I said at the beginning…40 Acts is for Life, not just for Lent!!

And a quick update (upon which I will write more another time) on Act No 8 “Dirty Cash

I said I would save 2€ coins and then start a Lend With Care account. Well, I’ve just counted, and I have 31€ . For the mathematicians amongst you who spotted that if I was saving 2€ coins only 31€ would be tricky to make, I can tell you that I popped various coins into my Space Piggy Bank! This 31€ equates to just under £25. So I’ll be starting that off in the next few days.

Behind on the Acts – but it’s okay.

I am behind with my 40 Acts, but that’s okay. Generosity is for life, not just for Lent. I will catch up after Easter.

But today is Good Friday. I’m still working, as it isn’t a Bank Holiday in France, but I have time to pause…

to reflect…

and to listen…

 

You bled your heart out
Now I feel love beat in my chest
How wonderful
You gave your beauty
In exchange for my ugliness
How wonderful

You left your perfection
And embraced our rejection

How marvellous, how boundless
Is Your love, is Your love
How wonderful, sacrificial
Is Your love for me

You put on our chains
Sent us out through the open door

How wonderful
You took our sadness
Crowned us with joy and real peace
How wonderful

You left Your perfection
And fought for our redemption

Yes Jesus loves me
Yes Jesus loves me
How wonderful
Yes Jesus loves me
This is love
You gave Yourself