Lent 2020

March 1st, 2020

At Church, we have joined with millions of Christians throughout the world and have entered into the Season of Lent –  the time when we mark the beginning of Jesus’ stay in the wilderness – forty days and forty nights – fasting, praying, thinking, seeking and searching for God’s will, as he prepared to begin his public ministry…

I don’t know if any of you have ever visited or ever spent time in any kind of desert…

When I was a student at university, I had the privilege of working in Israel for six weeks and one of the highlights of my stay was a coach trip down to the Dead Sea and to the caves at Qumran where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

We only spent a short time there but just travelling through the desert and being at the Dead Sea – swimming in the Dead Sea, even – the lowest inhabitable point on earth – I was struck by the remoteness of the wilderness – the sheer size and sense of space; the aloneness – even when I was with a bunch of tourists; and, of course, most overwhelmingly of all, the relentless, all-consuming, all-enveloping heat…

Israel, generally in the summer, is a very hot country. Out in the wilderness, the heat intensifies; and my friends and I seemed to spend all our time drinking water to stop dehydrating; putting our sun cream on and seeking out whatever shade we could find whenever possible.

Yes – being in the desert was an awesome and humbling experience spiritually; it was also, on a more prosaic and practical level, very, very, very hot indeed!

Now, when we think of the wilderness, of desert places, most of us, I suspect, have certain distinct places in our mind. We probably think of the Biblical wilderness, or the great deserts of the Sahara in Africa – images from the film, Lawrence of Arabia spring to mind. Deserts and the wilderness are places, in our mind’s eye, that are long distances away from us – part of another land, another culture – completely distanced and removed from our western, urban way of life.

Any yet, we are all aware, we are in the midst of a climate crisis. Climate change, according to most scientists and environmentalists, is a reality; and if these scientists and environmentalists are correct, and at the moment, it seems like they are, then the hot, relentless heat that is usually experienced only in the desert, could soon be the experience of many, many more millions of people.

Just think of the lived reality of hundreds of thousands of people in Australia these past few months with all the bush fires which have been raging – caused by record temperatures day after day after day…

Our climate is changing, most of us believe. Because of human wastefulness and exploitation and our degradation of the earth, our planet is warming up, is getting hotter. And as a result, we are on a knife-edge – a tipping point, which, if we cross over it, will mean that we will possibly never ever be fully able to reverse our environmental destruction of our planet.

And whilst for many millions in our world, global warming means more and more areas in our world becoming deserts and wildernesses; for many millions of others, global warming means rising sea levels, unpredictable storms and rain and huge amounts of flooding. Just think of what we’ve seen in the past few weeks in our own country – the devastation caused by storms Ciara and Dennis.

Something is happening to our planet that seems to be unprecedented; and the cause of this change is, to put it bluntly, us – us human beings and our use and abuse of mother earth.

Now during the season of Lent, we, as Christians, are called to prepare for Easter by journeying with Christ – firstly into the wilderness and then walking alongside him on the road to the Cross.

Lent is a season of spiritual discipline – of examining our lives; and of  thinking of how we can change – can change for the better – so that we grow in faith, vocation and discipleship – able to reveal more fully the love of God to our friends and family, to our community, to the wider world.

Lent is a time when we are called to practice self-denial – to put God and others before ourselves.

And so, given that we are in the season of Lent, and given the seriousness of climate change and of global warming, the Church of England – including our very own Diocese of Lichfield – is challenging each one of us to look very truthfully and honestly at the way we live our lives; to think about what it means to be a disciple and to follow Christ in a practical, every day ways which make a real difference not just to the people we come across but to all peoples, to the whole world.

During our service on Ash Wednesday, we began Lent by receiving the sign of the cross in ash on our foreheads. And as we did so, these words were spoken to us: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return…”. The words echo the creation story in Genesis 2 which describes God forming Adam “from the dust of the earth”; and so the crosses of ash which we receive are not just signs of repentance, they are also a reminder that we human beings are intimately linked with the earth. Everyone and everything is part of the community of God’s creation; and the redeeming mission to which Christ calls us, is not just about people – it encompasses the whole of creation – the whole created order made by God and redeemed by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

So Lent is also about reminding us that we are a part of the world – not separate from it; and that we have a duty to show God’s love to all that God has made.

We are all called to play our part in making a difference to our world. When we think about climate change and about global warming, it is easy to get defensive and to try and absolve our own guilt by blaming others – blaming governments, international businesses, the airplane companies, growing economies. And it is true, they are all undoubtedly part of the problem; but so too are we, so too are we. Because whether we like it or not, in today’s global society, we are all intricately connected with one another. And as individuals, our actions do affect others; and as a family, a community, a church, our corporate actions affect others too.

And it is because we are all so interconnected, that the Church of England is this Lent encouraging everyone to undertake the 40 day challenge Live Lent – Care for God’s Creation.

I’ve put details of this on our Facebook Page. You can also go on the Church of England’s web-site and sign up to receive a daily reflection and suggestion of how you, your family and your church can come together to meet with God, to rejoice in the beauty of God’s creation, and to commit to make a difference to God’s world.

https://www.churchofengland.org/more/church-resources/lent-2020-church-resources

That’s one way in which we undertake a spiritual practice this Lent.

Another aspect which we are thinking about at Furzebank is to do with our church kitchen. This year, we are seeking to become an Eco Church and to receive a bronze accreditation. There are lots of good things we are doing already – including recycling paper a lot more and trying to use much less plastic. However, one way we could be even better than we are now is by thinking about the tea, coffee, sugar and milk we buy for our church refreshments and the products we use to clean our church kitchen.

Can we possibly use our purchasing power to make a difference by buying more Fair Trade or Organic or RainForest Alliance tea, coffee, sugar and milk? Food and drink that is kinder to our planet and which ensures that the people and the animals who produce it are treated fairly and with respect. Could we clean our kitchen with plant based cleaning fluids which are far less damaging to our environment and which are less polluting to our water systems.

It’s a challenge because these products are more expensive – it will cost us more to buy them. But if we could buy them and use them more, we will be making a real difference as a church.

And not just as a church, perhaps you could do the same thing with your family at home.

Because the reality is that this Lent, at Furzebank, we will be raising a lot of money for Njarange through our Sunday School Lent Shop; but the truth is, it’s not just enough to raise money for Njarange. If we want to make a real difference to the people of Njarange, we need to act in a way to help bring a stop Climate Change. Because the truth about climate change and about global warming is that the people who are affected most by it, the people who suffer the most are those who are already the poorest and most vulnerable people in our world.

As we know, Njarange has recently suffered a devastating drought – as has all of Kenya and much of East Africa; and whilst droughts have always been more common in that part of the world, there is a feeling that the droughts are becoming more frequent and more severe and that this is due to climate change and to global warming.

The crisis for our planet is affecting the poorest people the most. So if we want to help Njarange, I would suggest, we don’t simply raise money to throw at the problem; we realise that we are actually a part of the problem; and that we need to act to make a difference to our broken and exploited world.

This can be seen in the excellent video produced by Christian Aid which talks about this issue of climate change and poverty….

So this Lent, let us rise to the challenge. Let us be willing to look at ourselves and our lifestyles and to make the spiritual decision to try to make a difference to our world – the world which God made, the world God loves so much and has redeemed through Christ.

Revd. Helen Duckett

March 2020

Epiphany

January 5th, 2020

A few years ago, my nieces – Emily and Lydia – were visiting my Mum and Dad at their home. Lydia was quite young at the time; and when she walked into my parents’ sitting room; their television was on; and on the screen there was a news report about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christmas Day Sermon – it was Rowan Williams who was the Archbishop at that time.There he was dressed up in all his finery with his mitre, bishop’s staff, chasuble, cloak etc; and Lydia apparently took one look at him and shouted out to my Mum: “Look Nanny! One of the Three Kings! He’s on the telly!”

Well today as I have said is Epiphany Sunday; and on this day we remember of course, the Three Kings; or rather the Wise Men as we should more appropriately call them. We don’t actually know if there were three of them or more or less. There were the three gifts that we know that they bought for Jesus – Gold; Frankincense; and Myrrh.  And popular tradition has inferred from the three gifts that there must have been three men and has indeed given them names – Caspar; Melchior; and Balthazar.

But the Bible doesn’t say how many there were; and it certainly doesn’t call them Kings. Rather Matthew – the only gospel which contains their story – emphatically refers to them as Magi – or Magoi – in the Greek.  For him, they are not royal figures but rather are astronomers.  Magi in the ancient near eastern world of Jesus’ birth were experts in the science of the stars and in the interpretation of dreams. Priests and sages from Persia who followed the Zoroastrian religion. And their practice of ancient astronomy was regarded by many cultures as an extremely well revered and well respected occupation.

The Magi would track the movement of the stars and would use the alignments of stars and planets to give meaning to events in the present; and occasionally to predict the future as well. And so for the Magi in our gospel reading for today from Matthew; when a new star suddenly appears in the sky in the East; they interpret it as a sign that a new king has been born; and they follow the star to Israel – first to Jerusalem; and then to Bethlehem where Jesus has been born.

Now the story of the Magi is undoubtedly a very familiar one to us all – even people who are not regular church-goers know something of their tale from pictures on Christmas Cards or School Nativity Plays. Some one here may actually have had the distinction themselves of starring as one of the Magi in their school play when they were young! But actually despite what we might picture from our school plays and Christmas cards; underneath all the comforting familiarity and tradition, Matthew, in his story of the Magi, is actually trying to say something incredibly important about them and about what they symbolise and represent in his understanding of God’s salvation plan which has been revealed in Jesus Christ.

For firstly, the Magi are presented in the gospel as being willingly led and guided by God from the very beginning of their search for the new born king. God gives them the star in the East which leads them to the land of Israel; and then when they make the mistake of looking for Jesus in the palace of King Herod in Jerusalem; it is by hearing a passage from the Old Testament – a prediction from the prophet Micah – that they realise that God’s Messiah will be born in Bethlehem – not in Jerusalem. So the Magi are led and guided by God. And moreover, when, after their long and arduous search, they finally find Jesus, and Mary and Joseph; they can do nothing more than fall down on their knees and worship him. They offer to Jesus their praise, their wonder, their awe, their thanksgiving. And they also offer to him those three gifts which reveal how much they understand of the nature of Jesus’ person and mission. Gold – the gift for a king, a Messiah. Frankincense – the gift of a priest – reflecting Jesus’ priestly role – the bridge between God and humanity. Myrrh – a prophecy, a foretelling, of Jesus’ death. The Magi are led by God. They bow down and worship Jesus. They offer gifts which reveal the depth of their spiritual knowledge and understanding.

However, and secondly, what is remarkable about all of this is that of course the Magi are NOT Jews. And Jesus, let us not forget, was born first and foremost as a Jew. Ethnically and in terms of their nationality, the Magi are not Israelites. They are not members of God’s Chosen People. They are instead Gentiles – foreigners; outsiders; people from a strange country, far, far, away from Judah.

They didn’t even worship the Jewish God. In terms of their religious and spiritual beliefs, they were not converts to Judaism but rather, as I have said, probably practised Zoroastrianism – a religion which was very different to that of Jesus and his people. In other words, from a Jewish perspective – the Magi were totally other.  And yet, here they are, in Matthew’s gospel – the only gospel that mentions them; the gospel often regarded by scholars as the most Jewish of all the gospels. Here they are, worshipping God’s Anointed One, the Messiah, the King of the Jews. And this tale of their worship of Jesus is included quite deliberately by Matthew, I think, to give the clearest indications, the clearest sign that can be given, to show that in the coming of Jesus’, in the birth of Christ, God’s salvation – God’s love, and mercy, and forgiveness – is open to all – regardless of race or religion; or colour or creed; or nationality or belief. And Matthew, in presenting the Magi thus, is also alluding to the prophecy from our Old Testament reading that is set for Epiphany Sunday, from Isaiah chapter 60 where the prophet foretells of a time for Israel when, “Nations shall come to your light… and they shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” For Matthew, the Magi are representatives of all non-Jews; and as they kneel and worship Jesus, by their very presence, they symbolise the revelation of God’s light and God’s glory – not just to Israel; but to the whole of the world – a revelation that, as Isaiah’s prophecy reveals, was part of God’s plan of salvation from the very beginning…

But what does this tale of the wise men who studied the stars mean for us over two thousand years later in Short Heath in Willenhall?  Well as I have pondered the story of the past week, I have been struck by the challenge it presents to me about how I regard people who are different from me – people who are from a different country than me, or who have a different religion to me; people who have a different culture to me; a different educational experience to me; people who are a different age to me; or who have a different outlook on life to me.

How do we respond to people whom we think are different?  That’s the challenge of the story of the Magi.  Do we accept them? Do we respect them? And in our churches, do we allow ourselves to embrace those whose worship and religious perspectives and even their image of God may be different from our own? And do we allow ourselves to listen to them, allow them perhaps to teach us a different understanding of God which stretches our own faith and and our own spirituality?

In her book about the Nativity story, the writer Maggie Dawn has written about the Magi and she says this about them and about their story: “In the story of the Magi, Jesus is seen as receiving gifts and worship from people of other nationalities and religions. These men were not converts. Rather they recognised something greater in a context other than their own. The Church often waits for people to affirm their beliefs before we will accept the genuineness of their worship. Perhaps these visitors to the holy child act as a reminder that God does not stand at the door of the church, checking people’s doctrinal credentials before he will receive their worship…”

So the Magi then, are symbols, representatives, of the inclusiveness of the gospel, of the all-embracing nature of the God news of God’s love that Jesus came to reveal to the world.  Where people from all nations and creeds, are embraced and welcomed by God; and where we the Church are called, I believe anyway, to mirror that divine embrace and divine welcome in all we speak and do in Christ’s name.

As we enter into the Season of Epiphany, may we be led by the Magi, to worship Christ, and to kneel alongside ALL those who seek him from whatever background they come from, from whatever creed they profess, and with whatever understanding they offer to him. Amen.

Revd. Helen Duckett.

Advent

December 2nd, 2019

Adapted from a sermon preached on the First Sunday of Advent 2019.

I wonder how many of you can name the Roman god who is depicted in this picture:

The god is Janus. As you can see, he is depicted as having two faces and it was believed by the ancient Romans that he was a god who could look to the past as well as to the future. And as such, Janus was believed to be the god of time, of beginnings, of transitions. His image was often carved or painted on doorways and gates – marking those points when people would pass from one space to another.

The reason I have shown an image of Janus is that he came to mind when I was thinking about Advent. Because in the Season Advent, we acknowledge that we, as Christians, are, I believe, caught between two places, two extremes, so to speak. Like Janus, we are looking back into the past; but we are also, paradoxically, looking forward into the future.

On the one hand, we are waiting to remember and to celebrate an event which has already taken place – Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem. 

And on the other hand, we are anticipating and waiting to celebrate an event which is still to come – Jesus’ Second Coming as Lord and King at the End of Time; when God’s Kingdom will be fully realised.

We are in Advent, in a time of transition; a liminal time – caught between the past and the future. And as we find ourselves in this liminal time, in this time of transition, we are called to wait. To wait to celebrate, once more, the birth of Jesus; and to wait and to long for Christ’s second coming as King and the fulfilment of God’s reign here on earth.

The birth of Jesus, brought in the Kingdom of God; but although the Kingdom is present in our very midst, just as Jesus’ taught, it has still to be full realised…

And so as we journey through the Advent Season, we will be aligning ourselves with some of the significant figures in our Christian tradition who themselves waited for Jesus – the patriarchs and matriarchs – the ancestors of our faith like Abraham and Sarah; the prophets; John the Baptist; and Mary, Jesus’ Mother.

The Old Testament reading for this year’s First Sunday of Advent is a passage taken from the words of the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 2: 1-5); but Isaiah is just one of the many prophets whose message we read in the Bible during the Advent season – there were also Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi – all who talked in some way, we believe as Christians, about Jesus – the coming King, the Messiah, the one that Israel had been waiting for. And the prophetic movement itself stretched over hundreds and hundreds of years – beginning 700 years before the birth of Jesus and continuing into Jesus’ own life-time with John the Baptist continuing the prophetic tradition many centuries later.

Now the prophets were not, I think, the easiest people to live with and to listen to – after all, a lot of their message was about speaking God’s judgement and calling God’s people to repentance.

But although they spoke harsh words at times, the prophets weren’t all gloom and doom. They also had a tremendous vision of the future – a future in which they believed that God’s purposes would be fulfilled and that God’s kingdom would be established on earth – a kingdom where justice and mercy would prevail; and a kingdom where God’s people would co-operate with God and shine as a light to the nations – a beacon of hope and of peace to all.

And over the hundreds of years, as the prophets spoke about this glorious future, so they became increasingly convinced that this future would ultimately be brought forth by the Messiah – God’s anointed King – who would be the one who would bring in God’s reign and rule – the one whom we Christians, believe was Jesus – God’s beloved Son…

That’s why in Isaiah chapter 2, we hear these words:

“In days to come
    the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.”

Here we have a vision of God’s future kingdom – the city of Jerusalem standing as a beacon of justice and righteousness for all nations.

It is a wonderful vision – a vision of hope, security and peace. 

The issue though we have to live with, particularly as we enter into Advent, the issue we have to live with is that although Jesus was born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago – the one who was believed by Christians to be the Messiah, the one who was destined to bring in God’s Kingdom; the world, sadly, still hasn’t been sorted out; and we are still waiting for the second coming of Christ and for Isaiah’s vision to be fully brought about.

And that is why, alongside a vision of hope, we also have in our Bible readings for Advent 1, a vision of judgement. In Matthew’s Gospel (Mat. 24: 36-44), Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man, coming in a cloud with power and with great glory to bring judgement at the End of Time; and he warns his disciples to keep watch and to be ready, to make sure they are prepared to face his judgement and that they are not found wanting:

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what dayyour Lord is coming.”

These two Bible readings – the one from Isaiah and the one from Matthew point to another paradox that lies at the heart of the Advent season – the paradox between hope and judgement.

So in Advent, we are caught between not only the past and the future; we are also caught between hope and judgement – we are being pulled in two directions. And as we find ourselves caught like this, so we, I believe, are called to be like the patriarchs and matriarchs, the prophets, John the Baptist and Mary to wait – to wait for God’s kingdom – the kingdom which was begun with the birth of Jesus and which is present in our midst today; but the kingdom which also is not yet fully present with us but will reach its ultimate fulfilment at the End of Time.

But this waiting for the future, for the fulfilment of God’s purposes, is, I believe, no passive waiting. For the visions of the End of Time are not there to encourage us to simply hang around, waiting for Jesus to come back, getting more and more depressed as the days go by about the state of the nation.

NO!! The vision that the prophets and then Jesus give us, are visions that are meant to inspire us in our waiting – visions that encourage us to be active and to seek out the signs and the glimmers of God’s kingdom that we can find in the present, in the world around us.

Because, if Jesus’ birth began the process of bringing in God’s kingdom; then even though the End of Time has not yet happened; nevertheless, we believe as Christians, that God’s kingdom is present and is growing in our midst – even if it seems very muted and almost secret at times.

Jesus – God’s King – has been born; and as we wait for him to come again; so Jesus calls each one of us to be inspired by the Spirit and to work now, in the present, to bring God’s kingdom nearer and closer at hand… 

Jesus calls us to look out for, and to celebrate, those times in our world when Isaiah’s vision becomes a little bit more of a reality: like when, for example, white South Africans finally began to try and recognise black South Africans as their sisters and brothers; when in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein and the Unionist Party agreed to try and share power; when a mother and father whose child was killed tried to forgive the killers rather than seeking revenge; when in your own life, you have tried to forgive someone who has hurt you rather than give vent to your anger.

These moments may not be 100% perfect but they are instances of God’s kingdom breaking into our world today…

So during this season of Advent, as we wait for Jesus’ coming as king; let us be willing and ready to wait, yes; but in that waiting let us also be led to seek to bring about God’s kingdom and to celebrate its presence in our midst; and in doing this, perhaps, to bring just a little bit closer the fulfilment of God’s purposes and the reign of God’s kingdom…

A reading of some words by the theologian H.J. Richards. Taken from part of a meditation he wrote about Advent which he entitled: “He comes again and again.”

“Why do the gospel readings repeatedly proclaim (is it a promise or a threat?) that the End is Nigh?

Could it be that we need reminding, at least once a year, that Christ comes not once, but again and again?

What Christians believe in is not a ‘second’ coming, but a constant coming of Christ into their lives.

Christ is not the goal towards which they are striving but the hub around which their lives revolve.

He ‘comes’ to establish the Kingdom of God, not in the future but now.

The Kingdom is not something we impotently yearn for.

Its coming is in our hands, and how near or far it is depends on the extent to which we are helping to bring it about…”

Revd. Helen Duckett, December 2019.

Giving Thanks

September 12th, 2019

I don’t how many of you saw this report on the news the other week which was headlined: “An Optimistic Outlook ‘Means You Live Longer’”.

The report was based on research conducted in the United States on over 70,000 people and it concluded that positive people – optimists – were more likely to live to the age of 85 or over. Indeed, the study claimed that the most highly optimistic people had a 11 – 15% longer life-span than the most pessimistic people.

Now this was only one study but it does link into a lot of research that is currently being undertaken in the scientific world – particularly in the areas of the psychology, psychiatry and neuro-science.

There is a growing awareness of how feelings of stress, depression and general pessimism can impact upon our immune systems – causing us to be less able to fight infections.

And there have been several studies undertaken which have linked stress and negative thinking to with the shortening in our bodies of telomeres – a part of our chromosomes which apparently, when shortened are associated with cellular ageing and a higher risk for illness and diseases.

Alongside this, there has developed over the past few years a greater promotion of the benefits of the practice of Mindfulness, Yoga and other forms of meditation – which G.P.s in this country are beginning to prescribe to patients alongside the usual medicines as a way of coping with stress and depression – encouraging people to take note of the small, everyday things in life which bring them happiness and joy.

Now, you may or may not agree with all these studies; but they do make you think – they certainly make me think anyway – particularly as I am a person who can get very stressed and anxious about things; and not only do these studies make us think about our physical and emotional health; they also, I think, are pointing to something about our spiritual health as well.

Because at this time of year, the Church year turns to the Season of Harvest and the glories of God’s creation; and with that, often comes a focus on praise and thanksgiving to God – being positive – affirming God for his goodness and for all the blessings he has given to us, to our families and friends, to the whole of the created world.

As Christians, we are called, I believe, to lead lives of thankfulness, of gratitude; and when we are in church then it is pretty easy isn’t it to get caught up in the music and the singing and being with our fellow Christians and feeling uplifted and positive and thankful.

However, when we’re on our own, at home, by ourselves, it can be more difficult to keep on praising God, to keep on being thankful – especially when we come to times of quiet and of prayer.

Because I don’t know about you, but I often find, that whenever I sit down to pray and to be quiet and spend time with God, as soon as I try to settle myself and to concentrate on him, then immediately, lots of different thoughts and feelings come into my mind to distract; and often these thoughts and feelings are focused on difficult or unpleasant experiences.

And I start to dwell on all those things which have happened in my day or in the past week which have been negative and upsetting. For example, if someone has had a go at me or has criticised me; or if my day has been really busy and stressful and I’ve been running around all the time and I still have loads of things I’ve got to get through on my to-do list; or if I’m worried about my children – about something which has happened to them at school – it can be anything.

But what these negative feelings and thoughts do is to make me feel sad and depressed, and I begin to lose my focus on God and focus instead on me and my life, and how difficult and depressing everything is; and if God does get a look in, then what I do is just fire off prayer after prayer listing all these negative things at him – I’m asking for his help, yes, but I’m not really listening for his response – I’m just bombarding him with requests…. Sound familiar to anyone?

Now, I’m not saying that difficult and horrible things don’t happen in life; and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pray to God about them; but what I am saying, is that, as Christians, we need to try and find a balance – between asking God for help and praising and thanking God for God’s goodness.

Because the God we believe in as Christians is a God who is present throughout all of creation; and not only is God present, God also wants to bless us with his love and grace. God has so many good things he wants to give to us; and if we allow ourselves to be caught up in negative and depressing thoughts and feelings all the time, then there is a danger that we will not recognise and acknowledge all the gifts, all the blessings, all the grace which is being divinely offered to us.

So how can we pray in way when we are on our own that can help us broaden and shift our focus and allow us to celebrate the goodness in our lives as well as mourning the difficulties and the pain?

Well, one way to do this is through an exercise which is often practised in the Ignatian spiritual tradition – The Review of the Day.

The Review of the Day works with the premise that God is always at work in our lives and is always blessing us and showing us his love – often through the loving words and actions of other people. And what The Review of the Day suggests is that in order for us to appreciate these blessings, we should train ourselves to sit quietly at the end of each day and make a deliberate attempt to recall the past day and ask God to show us how and when we have been blessed.

For example, someone might have smiled at us as we passed them in the street; a neighbour might have popped round to check how we are; we may have seen some beautiful flowers in our garden; we may have had a walk in the park and have enjoyed the beauty of the leaves turning golden brown upon the trees; we may have had a laugh or a joke with someone on the bus. All these things may seem small, but they are examples of God blessing us through others.

And if we recall these things, then as we recall them, we allow ourselves to dwell in them; we say a specific thank you for each one of them; and we receive them as blessings, as gifts of grace – we allow their goodness to sink deep, down into our spirits and fill us with gratitude and thankfulness and praise….

Now the idea of the Review of the Day is that it won’t work if you do it a couple of times and then stop. It has to become a habit – part of the routine of your regular prayer-life. But if you do make it this, it does work, it does encourage you to be more thankful, more grateful, and more able to praise God for all this gifts, for all his goodness.

So as the season  turns into Autumn; as we celebrate Harvest and the beauty of God’s world and the many blessings which God has given to us – especially in the wonder and magnificence of creation – let us remember to live lives of gratitude and praise; and to remember, each day, to thank God for his many, many blessings to each one of us…

And if you’re not sure how to start giving thanks, then perhaps these words from Psalm 148 will inspire you:

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his host!

Praise him, sun and moon;
    praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
    and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever;
    he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
    stormy wind fulfilling his command!

Mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
    creeping things and flying birds!

Kings of the earth and all peoples,
    princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
    old and young together!

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
    praise for all his faithful,
    for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!

Easter

April 17th, 2019

I am writing this blog on the afternoon of Palm Sunday. Holy Week has just begun and, like the millions who follow Christ around the world, I am preparing to enter into the most holiest days of the Christian year – journeying with Jesus on the way to the Cross and then entering into the glory and wonder of his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Holy Week and Easter Sunday are preceded by the long season that is Lent; and because there is such an emphasis these forty days of reflection and preparation, and because Holy Week itself can often be, spiritually, an emotional and demanding journey, that when we get to Easter Day itself, it can be very easy to celebrate Jesus’ rising from the dead on the Sunday but then, once we have eaten all our chocolate eggs, to pretty quickly get back to normal life again and almost forget about what we have marked and participated in.

And yet, Easter is not simply one day in the Christian calendar but is, rather, a season of fifty days – it is, indeed, the longest season in the Church’s year. And in the Easter season, we are, as Christians, called to celebrate the risen life into which Christ has entered and into which all of us are invited to participate. Easter is a season in which we are invited to live into the reality of our own risen life; and that is why perhaps it is the longest season of the year, because we need the time and the space to grasp what exactly it means for us to say that we are raised with Christ.

Just as the early disciples could not at first comprehend the reality of Christ’s resurrection, but needed to meet with the risen Jesus at different times and in a number of different ways; so we too require space and time to grasp what it might mean  to be called an Easter people and what it can mean to live a risen life.

And because we need the time and space to start to unpack and to understand the meaning of Easter, I am delighted that this year the Church of England is producing some resources to help us pray and reflect on what it means to follow the resurrected Christ. The resources are a follow-on from the Lent Pilgrim reflections which some of us have been following this Lent and are intended to be used from Easter Day until Ascension Day. They are a series of daily readings and prayers entitled Easter Pilgrim. They focus upon the Lord’s Prayer and are written by Steven Croft. Then, from Ascension Day to Pentecost, there will be more resources published to help individuals join the global prayer movement Thy Kingdom Come. All these are intended to help us all, as followers of Jesus, to deepen our understanding of the Christian vision for human life and to think about how prayer shapes our lives and our discipleship. If you want to find out more, then visit the Church of England’s web-site where you can order digital or hard copies of both Lent Pilgrim and Easter Pilgrim and will also be able to find more information about Thy Kingdom Come. The address is: https://www.churchofengland.org/lent

May I wish you a holy and blessed Easter and may you know the joy and wonder of the Risen Christ not just on Easter Sunday but throughout this Resurrection Season and beyond.

Revd. Helen Duckett.

Lent 2019

February 11th, 2019

6th March is Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of the season of Lent – 40 days of reflection and contemplation as we think about Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness and, then, as we draw nearer to Holy Week, as we enter into the story of his Passion.

Lent is a time for us to reflect upon our faith – upon the beliefs and values that are important to us and that shape our lives. It is also often a time when people ‘give up’ something or ‘take on’ something extra – a particular commitment which can challenge us and take us our of our usual comfort zones.

To reflect this mixture of contemplation and challenge which lies at the heart of Lent, there will be various events taking place throughout March and April.

On Saturday 2nd March, we will be holding a Parish Quiet Morning at Holy Trinity from 10.00 am to 12.00 noon. This will provide space to pray, worship and reflect as we prepare to enter into the season. Then, on Ash Wednesday, we will be holding a special contemplative service in the evening at 7.30 pm. Everyone is very welcome to both events.

Lenten challenge can be found in two other initiatives: Firstly, we will be running a Parish Lent Course on Tuesday evenings, 7.30 pm, at Furzebank. The Course is entitled, ‘Talking Jesus’ and is all about encouraging us to grow more confident in talking about our faith and sharing what we believe with family, friends and work colleagues. The first session will take place on 12th March and the course will run until 16th April. Secondly, during the Sundays in Lent, I will be encouraging our congregation to take part in ‘The Lent Shadowing Challenge’. The Challenge will be asking each member to spend just one Sunday in Lent shadowing/helping someone as they do their normal job in church. For example, being with the people who normally get the Church ready for worship and helping them set up; being with the people who normally make the drinks after the service and helping them in the kitchen; help with running the lap-top and projector and making sure the service is playing correctly on the screen. There are lots of important roles that certain people take on during a Sunday morning, and the idea of the Challenge is to encourage more people to ‘have a go’ and to become more confident in getting involved. In this way, we can share more of our Sunday morning work with more people and so make everything easier for everyone – rather than relying each week on the ‘faithful few’.

Do please consider how you can become more involved and how you will choose to mark the season of Lent. It is one of the most important times in the Church’s year; so please pray and think about how you spend times of quiet and contemplation and also how you can allow yourself to be challenged.

Wishing you a Holy and Life-giving Lent.

Advent 2018

November 11th, 2018

Advent is the name given to the four-week period before 25th December when people prepare to celebrate Christmas. It is often a time of frantic rushing around as we all get caught up in writing cards, buying presents, putting up the Christmas tree, and buying and cooking all the festive food.

However for Christians, Advent can also be a time of a different kind of preparation, a different kind of getting ready. It can also be about an inner preparation – a preparation of the heart and mind – a time for quiet, space, reflection, prayer and waiting – a spiritual preparation as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus – for many of us, the true meaning of their Christmas celebrations.

In order to help us enter more fully into this different time of preparation, we are holding a Parish Advent Study Course which will be focusing on the themes of time and of waiting entitled So What Are You Waiting For. The Course will begin on Tuesday 20th November and will be held in the Worship Centre. Everyone is very welcome to come along. Further details can be found below:

If being in a study group is not your cup of tea, then the Church of England has once more published 14 daily reflections to help people engage with the Christmas story. The theme this year is #FollowTheStar and the aim to encourage each one of us to follow Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men to undertake a life-changing journey to Bethlehem. Each reflection includes a picture, a short Bible passage, a simple prayer and a challenge to reflect or act differently. You can find out more details and download the reflections by going to www.churchofengland.org/Christmas

We will also, of course, be holding our own Advent and Christmas celebrations at Furzebank – do come and celebrate with us!:

Sunday 2nd December, 6.30 pm – Advent United Praise at Holy Trinity Church

Sunday 9th December, 11.00 am – Christingle Service

Sunday 16th December, 6.00 pm – Carols By Candlelight with Short Heath Junior School Choir

Monday 24th December, 11.30 pm – Midnight Mass

Tuesday 25th December, 11.00 am – Christmas Day All-Age Holy Communion Service

So as you prepare for Christmas, may I wish you and your loved ones a happy and holy season; and may the peace, joy and hope of the Christ-child be with you.

St Giles Bereavement Help Point

September 30th, 2018

If you are familiar with our church logo, you will know that we have as our tag-line: “Serving Our Community… the Church at Rosedale School.” One of the most important aspects of being a church is, I believe, a commitment to helping others; and this month, Furzebank Worship Centre will be embarking upon an important project – working with St. Giles’ Hospice and the Short Heath Federation to set up a Bereavement Help Point.

Bereavement Help Points are the creation of St. Giles’ Hospice. They are to be found all over the Lichfield, Walsall and the surrounding areas and their aim is to provide a listening ear and practical information and support to anyone who has been bereaved. Our Bereavement Help Point will be starting on Friday 19th October and will take place every Friday morning from 10.00 am to 12.00 noon. It will be staffed by volunteers from the church, school, and St. Giles; and it is open to anyone whose loved one has passed away whether recently or many years ago – they don’t need to have been connected to St. Giles for you to come along.

If you would like further information, please do phone (07972 523162) or email (revhelen.duckett@gmail.com) me; and if you know of someone whom you think would benefit from such a group, then please do let them know.

Revd. Helen Duckett.

King David

July 17th, 2018

During the Summer Holidays, we will be running a series of Messy Church activities focusing upon that great Old Testament character – the shepherd boy, David, who became king and ruler of God’s people.

King David is a figure who appeals to children – especially in the tales of his early life where we hear about him wrestling with the lions and bears who are attacking his flocks of sheep; and, of course, fighting and defeating the huge giant, Goliath. But David is also a figure who can appeal to adults too. He had a strong faith in God, an intimate and spiritual relationship with his Creator – he was the composer of many of the Psalms, especially Psalm 23 – “The Lord’s My Shepherd” – one of the most well-loved and well-known Psalms, even today. David also had a strong emotional bond and friendship with Jonathan, the son of Saul, Israel’s previous king; and he grieved and mourned deeply when Jonathan was killed on the battle-field. And as King, he won many famous victories, he established a kingdom, and he restored and rebuilt the city of Jerusalem –making it his capital and moving to Jerusalem, the Ark of the Covenant – that sacred symbol of God’s presence with Israel.

However, as well as being a great King, a great spiritual and national leader, David was also a man who could be deeply flawed at times; a man who made significant mistakes that were far-reaching in their consequences and brought tragedy to many people. Perhaps the most well-known of these was his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba who became pregnant with David’s child. To prevent news of their relationship reaching Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, David deliberately ordered Uriah to be sent into a ferocious battle, knowing Uriah would be slaughtered in the fighting. Then, when Uriah was killed, David married Bathsheba – undeterred by the fact that he was responsible for Uriah’s death – a responsibility tantamount to murder…

David later repented of his actions, but his initial decisions and choices reveal a man who was an extremely complex character – a man capable of tremendous faith and spiritual insight; but a man who could also leave destruction and misery in his wake.

I suspect, it is this very fact that David is presented as being such a complicated character that makes him someone who appeals to adults, as well as to children. Because in David’s story we see God at work in a real, three-dimensional human being – not a picture-perfect human being, but a human being who is more like us; a human being who is capable of making wise and foolish decisions; a human being who can rise to great heights but also plummet to great lows; a human being who one minute can feel incredibly close to God and who can desire nothing more than to do God’s will and who the next minute, can make disastrous and tragic choices and who can want nothing more than his/hers own selfish desires. And because God could be present with, and work through, someone like David; then we too can have hope that God can be present with, and work through, someone like us. The story of David shows us that none of us is beyond the transforming power of God, none of us is beyond the mercy of God, none of us is beyond the love of God.

So if you are a parent / carer of young children, can I invite you to bring them to learn more about David at our Messy Church activities (we will be omitting the story of Bathsheba!) which will be taking place from Monday 6th August to Thursday 9th. More details can be found on our Facebook page. And if you are an adult, and you wish to read more about David’s life, you can find his story beginning in 1 Samuel 17, continuing throughout 2 Samuel, and ending in 1 Kings 2.

An Easter message

March 22nd, 2018

During the past couple of months, a small bunch of snow-drops have been flowering in my front garden. Despite the dreadful winter weather which we have had recently, these snow-drops have stood steadfast and resolute – their tiny white petals peeping out above the snow and ice as a small sign of the approaching Spring – a sign of hope, of new life that the darkness and cold will eventually past and the days will become brighter and warmer.

 

In this part of the world, when Christians speak about Holy Week and Easter they often use images from nature, and particularly of Spring, as a way of speaking about Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Winter, when the ground all around is hard, life-less and frost-bitten, it is hard to believe that anything will ever grow. But of course, under the soil, there is life – seeds and bulbs are changing and growing and eventually, as Spring approaches a tiny stem, a tiny flower emerges – small and vulnerable perhaps, but new life nonetheless – just like the snowdrops in my garden.

 

Similarly, as Christians reflect on Jesus’ pain, suffering and death on the cross they also, alongside the anguish of the crucifixion, hold onto the hope and the joy of Jesus’ resurrection; hold onto the belief that no matter how horrible and painful and tragic life can be at times, pain, and sickness, and suffering and even death are not the end – they will never, ever, have the final say. In the cross and resurrection of Jesus, Christians believe that we see a God who is right there with us – right there in the suffering and the pain; but also a God who can raise us up out of that suffering; raise us up out of the pain; and can bring us new life, new hope, a new future…

 

For me, nowhere is the imagery of Spring and of Jesus’ resurrection depicted so beautifully as in the hymn Now The Green Blade Riseth, written by John Macleod Crumb (1972-1958):

 

Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

 

In the grave they laid Him, Love who had been slain,
Thinking that He never would awake again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

 

Forth He came at Easter, like the risen grain,
Jesus who for three days in the grave had lain;
Quick from the dead the risen One is seen:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

 

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Jesus’ touch can call us back to life again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

 

So as we enter into the holidays, may I wish you and your loved ones a blessed Easter; and may you catch some glimpses of the hope, the promise and the joy of Spring.

 

Revd. Helen Duckett.