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Thought for the Day : Wednesday 30 September

Thought for the Day by Nigel Greenwood (St Chad’s)

Readings: 1 Kings 17 and Acts 20:1-16

PSALMS / ISAIAH / SAMUEL : THE ROCK OF LIFE

On a recent walk with friends, we struggled through a marshy area to reach higher and firmer dry ground on which the largest rock in Yorkshire is located on moors above Keighley – the so called ‘Hitching Stone’. From the start, about half a mile away, it was simply a distant block but as we got closer it dominated the landscape.

Views from the top were stunning, looking over heather moorland to dales villages and the mass of Pendle Hill lurking in the distance – all part of God’s formation.

The symbolic solidity of the Hitching Stone above the surrounding countryside gave a powerful image of God’s presence above and indeed amongst our humanity – but going up the final slope and nearing the plateau, the effect was overwhelming.

Earlier in the day, we had walked along the nearby escarpment of Earl Crag to view the monuments of Wainman’s Pinnacle and Lund’s Tower.

Impressive structures, but surely over-shadowed by the magnificence of God’s creation – for Isaiah reminds us: ‘Go into the rocks, hide in the ground from the fearful presence of the Lord and the splendour of His majesty!’ Perhaps this is illustrated by a silhouette of the tower against the mottled skyline as the sun goes down.

Scripture contains many references to God as our rock, for Psalm 18 both challenges and reassures us: ‘Who is God besides the Lord and who is the Rock except our God?’ – then: ‘The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Saviour!’.

Samuel reinforces this: ‘There is no one holy like the Lord, indeed, there is no one besides You, nor is there any rock like our God’. We hear in Psalm 89: ‘You are my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation’. There are also many references to God as our ‘corner-stone’, as in Isaiah: ‘Therefore thus says the Lord God, behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly corner-stone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed’.

As we turn to God in our current pandemic, knowing He is our corner-stone, we take both comfort and strength from further words in scripture: ‘The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation; my stronghold in whom I find protection; He is the power that saves me, and my place of safety’.

This link to the hymn ‘Rock of Ages’ shows the true majesty and solidity of our rock:

Thought for the Day : Tuesday 29 September

Thought for the Day by Tony Whatmough

Readings: Daniel 12:1-4 and Acts 12:1-11

And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

Revelation 12:7-12

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels carries with it a particularly violent image.  St. Michael is grappling with the devil, piercing it with his spear. We can imagine him dusting his hands and walking off with an air of triumph.

But I wonder who the dragon really is? Is it some mythological beast which must be defeated in order that humans might live, and having been slain by Michael, is it dead and gone for ever?

I prefer to think of the dragon as something within myself. I know I have dragons that must be defeated, selfishness, ambition, greed, anger and all the rest of them, and I also know that they are not defeated once and for all.  The fight against the devil and all his works that are within me is something that I must combat day by day. The devil I know is not done and dusted as easily as it is described in our reading.

We have seen a lot of dragons surfacing recently, particularly in the Black Lives Matter movement, and every time we open our papers we see evidence of greed and discrimination.

But also during Lockdown, we have seen good things come to the surface. Neighbourliness, kindness, thoughtfulness. One of the phenomena I’ve observed is the growth of WhatsApp groups. When we moved to Moor Grange Rise, we were invited to join the WhatsApp group which had been set up at the beginning of the pandemic, which offered  shopping to the vulnerable and various offers of advice and help. Indeed, soon after we arrived, out TV was misbehaving, and via the Group, someone was able to come and fix it for us. Not world shatteringly important, but good neighbourliness.

The poet, Malcolm Guite seems to sum it up, as he so often does:

Michaelmas gales assail the waning year,
And Michael’s scale is true, his blade is bright.
He strips dead leaves; and leaves the living clear
To flourish in the touch and reach of light.

Archangel bring your balance, help me turn
Upon this turning world with you and dance
In the Great Dance. Draw near, help me discern,

And trace the hidden grace in change and chance.

Angel of fire, Love’s fierce radiance,
Drive through the deep until the steep waves part,
Undo the dragon’s sinuous influence
And pierce the clotted darkness in my heart.

Unchain the child you find there, break the spell
And overthrow the tyrannies of Hell.

Thought for the Day : Monday 28 September

Thought for the Day by Richard Barton (All Hallows)

Readings: 1 Kings 12:25-13:10 and Acts 19:8-20

“It aint what you do, it’s the why that you do it!”

When you do a good deed. Why do you do it?

When you call up someone during lockdown to check to see how they are. When you pick up groceries for a housebound neighbour. When you reach out to somone you don’t naturally relate to listen a tale of woe about health problems. Why do you do it?

For the non-religious there may be range of reasons many of which probably ultimately derive from the Christian culture of this nation whether that person knows it or not. But for us as Christians there can still be a surprising range of reasons both good and bad. Do we do our good deeds out of guilt from a recent sermon from our vicar? Are we doing things in order to win ourselves a place in heaven some time down the road? Are we helping others so when we are in a bad spot they or others might help us, a sort of moral quid pro quo? Do we do our good deeds in order to be seen to be good and gain favour and importance amongst our community?

This last is the implied reason the seven sons of Sceva in Ephesus went about driving out or trying to drive out evil spirits. They saw how Paul had become respected and admired for his healing acts in the name of Jesus. The saw a chance to use the magic names of Jesus and Paul and gain popularity and acclaim in an easy healing gig. The evil spirit in the man they were trying to heal, saw straight through them. “Jesus I know, Paul I know, but who are you?” And the man promptly beat all seven of them up.

So if we carry out acts of love and kindness because we are moved to this by knowing the acts of love and kindness that God through Christ has done for us, through what we read and through what we experience from others around us. I suspect this is the best approach to motivation and we are least likely to get, metaphorically, beaten up by our conscience.

People may respond with “So you are telling me I don’t just have to love my neighbour, but have to do it in the right spirit as well?” And the answer is, er, yes! Or (with apologies to Bananarama) “It aint just what you do, it’s the why that you do it!”

Sunday Worship 27 September 2020

Thought for the Day : Saturday 26 September

Thought for the Day by Gill Griggs (St. Chad’s)

Readings: 1 Kings 12:1-24 and Acts 18:22-19:7

When I was about 10 or 11 I went pretty regularly to services at the local Parish Church. This was All Saints, Sedgley, a sizeable village, set in-between Dudley and Wolverhampton, two towns on the edge of the ‘black country’.

All Saints was a well-patronised church and some might have questioned the need for a group of people who came ‘in mission’ to the church. I wish I could remember more of what the missioners said and did. I do know that whatever I have forgotten in the intervening years since then, they were amongst those who kindle the fire of the Spirit and who help people to come closer to God..

We might say that Paul, in his visits to different communities, had a similar effect; so much so, that when he came to Ephesus, people tried to persuade him to stay longer. Paul realised that people who had listened to Apollos, and knew only John the Baptist’s message of repentance, could experience something richer. This had to do with a new way of life in which people knew that God’s grace was readily available to them, and not everything was dependant on them.,They didn’t have to ‘work for it’. When Paul laid his hands on them, they began to speak with tongues and to prophesy. (I have always found the idea of speaking with tongues difficult, which may be one of the reasons why I have not shared that experience.)

One of our close friends has suggested that for him, God is mediated through music, both listening and singing. Others might well say that for them God is communicating through the natural world. God can speak to us directly or indirectly; the method doesn’t really matter. What is important is that we know that God’s grace can be mediated to us in all sorts of experiences and relationships.

Thought for the Day : Friday 25 September

Thought for the Day by Robin Fishwick

Readings: 1 Kings 11:26-43 and Acts 18:1-21

Outside the box

We have started the new academic year at the Chaplaincy this week, including our first discussion in our series “Engaging with Theology” which is pretty much what it says on the tin and I found this cartoon a good conversation starter. Whoever drew it has a poor view of theology, but I also remember how years ago I think it was the late Owen Conway, a former vicar of St Michael’s who advised me “You can never have too much theology”. What is it about theology which incurs suspicion from some and enthusiasm among others? And what is the relationship between faith and theology?

I suspect that the cartoonist would have been making the same point if they had not labelled the box, but labelled the man. Is the cartoon really targeting theology or theologians? If some theologians are guilty of putting God in a box, does that invalidate the whole discipline of theology? To me that seems equivalent to blaming accountancy errors on mathematics. The aim of theology is partly to help us mortals have a better understanding of the nature of the divine and there are two ways of doing that. The hard way, the better way, is to improve our comprehension; the sloppy way is to try to make God more comprehensible. Too often, trying to make God more comprehensible really is like putting God in a box. I hope the cartoonist was not oblivious to the irony of the fact that by depicting God in the traditional way of a man (presumably) in a white robe, they too were putting God into the box of traditional portrayal.

Is there also a suspicion of “clever people” influencing the cartoon? Is there a fear of the intellectualisation of faith? Is the complaint not just of God being put in a box, but being put away in a box, out of the reach of ordinary mortals? It certainly is an occupational hazard among “career” theologians to become fascinated by the intellectual conundrums that theology throws up and that might leave the rest of us feeling we are not clever enough to understand God. You begin to see how difficult it is for these theologians – they either oversimplify God, putting God in a box too small, or go on about how incomprehensible God is, thereby putting God beyond our reach. Is there a Goldilocks zone of cleverness- the right degree of cleverness to have a healthy faith? The bad news is that there isn’t. Well actually, that’s the good news. The Good News include a story of theologians being astounded by a young boy and stories of that boy growing up to marvel at the faith of people displaying little or no theological credentials.

So was I misadvised all those years ago, about the need for theology? If theological prowess is not essential to faith, can we do without it? Quite frankly, I’d like to see us try. Theology is something we all do whether we are Christians, Buddhists, Wiccans or Atheists; whether we are helping the Pope with an encyclical or drawing a cartoon about God. And if we want to have a relationship with God, we cannot avoid thinking about God. That leaves us two choices, either to try and place our idea of God into a box of our comprehension, or to take the harder way and de-limit and unshape our concept of God – to think outside the box. That does not demand cleverness so much as a sense of humility and wonder. And faith,too; not a faith that keeps you in its box but a faith that summons you out into God’s greater reality.

Thought for the Day : Thursday 24 September

Thought for the Day by Bob Shaw

Readings: 1 Kings 11:1-13 and Acts 17:16-34

Today’s NT reading gives us the famous speech Paul made to a group of intellectuals in Athens. He certainly rose to the occasion seizing the opportunity to proclaim Jesus as the one who reveals the true identity of the ‘unknown god’ as inscribed on a Greek altar at the Areopagus. We can understand how Paul the apostle managed to acquire saintly status although we know from St. Paul’s own teaching (1 Cor 6:2 and Rom 1:6-7) that all Christians are saints simply by virtue of our membership together in a spiritual body with Christ at its head. Nevertheless, we are aware that a good number of Christian men and women are now remembered specifically by name as worthy of the title ‘Saint’. As good examples of this we might think of Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, Francis of Assisi and of course not forgetting Chad of Mercia and Far Headingley.

 But there are other Christian saints who are less well known yet equally worthy of our attention.  I wonder how many of you are aware that today, 24 September, is the Feast Day of St. Robert of Knaresborough. He lived over 800 years ago. Being the son of the Mayor of York he certainly had a privileged upbringing but he gave that up and spent most of his life as a hermit living in a cave by the River Nidd near Knaresborough. It was there that he gave a saintly example of prayer, simplicity and compassion towards those around him who were most in need of support. He became well known and attracted pilgrims from across Europe. The Pope himself acknowledged his saintliness. King John also once paid him a visit in the company of the Constable of Knaresborough Castle. It was there that they found Robert at prayer and refusing to be disturbed! When he was pressed Robert produced an ear of corn and said ‘Is your power such, my Lord King, that you can make something like this out of nothing’? When King John admitted that he couldn’t Robert replied that his devotion was given first of all to the One who could, a not too subtle reprimand to the king for disturbing his time of prayer! Robert wasn’t afraid to speak his mind so he was a true Yorkshireman, a worthy candidate indeed for the title ‘Patron Saint of Yorkshire’.

The saints still have much to teach us about our Christian priorities, not least during this challenging time of pandemic and also during this month of Creation-tide by encouraging us to become more worthy stewards of the world God has made for us to care for responsibly and to share equally. I hope this prayer will help to focus our thoughts, words and actions today and don’t forget to make a pilgrimage to St. Robert’s Cave next time you’re in Knaresborough, just half an hour’s walk down Abbey Road.  

Thought for the Day : Wednesday 23 September

Thought for the Day by Toby Parsons (All Hallows)

Readings: 1 Kings 10:1-25 and Acts 17:1-15

Making an impression

Wow!  That’s amazing!

Gazing up in admiration at the intricate arches of a historic building.  Looking out in wonder at the majestic mountains rising to snow-capped peaks.  Listening with rapt attention to the inspired oratory of a great speaker.

There are things that make us stop in awe and wonder.

When the Queen of Sheba met Solomon in today’s passage from 1 Kings, she was amazed by his wisdom and wealth.  And she was a person of high position herself, who brought quantities of gold and spices that in turn amazed her hosts.  You can imagine a warmth and friendliness to the visit, even if expressed with regal restraint.  There was perhaps something of a mutual admiration society – two powerful people aware of their riches and greatness basking in shared glory.

The contrast with Paul’s visit to Thessalonica in the verses from Acts 17 is notable.  He reasoned with his hosts, using words not physical gifts, and some people responded positively.  But others formed a mob and started a riot, forcing the visitors from the city.

Solomon was indeed blessed by God.  We read of the wisdom of his judgements.  We hear of the overpowering presence of the Lord at the dedication of the temple.  So on one level it’s neither surprising nor inappropriate to be impressed by David’s successor. 

But if we just admire the man himself, or wonder at the physical splendour of his kingdom, we may lose sight of God’s presence in the heart of it.  But it’s that core which we need to focus on.

Sometimes God’s goodness and love may be obvious – it may overpower our senses through what we see and hear.  But sometimes it may be hidden – just as it was to the people of Thessalonica, in a new message shared by a visitor.

What amazes us as we go about our lives?  What makes an impression on us?

The great and the good?  Physical splendour?  Wisdom and intellect?  The natural world?

We may find God’s presence in all of these, but we have to look beyond our immediate, superficial wonder.  And we need to remember that God can reach out to us in much less impressive ways, in the modern version of an itinerant preacher sharing a new message.

Thought for the Day : Tuesday 22 September

Thought for the Day by Janet Lindley (All Hallows)

Readings: 1 Kings 8:63-9.9 and Acts 16:25-40

He had finished. After 20 years meticulous planning and highly skilled workers, building works were complete. A home for his household and a dwelling place for God. 

Well not quite. Construction works had finished and the dedication had been magnificent. Thousands came and were overwhelmed by Gods presence. 

But this wasn’t the whole story, it was the start of a new chapter. God’s presence had filled the temple, but how would they respond in continued worship and action? 

Did Solomon need this reminder from God? It would be easy for Solomon to be a little proud of the achievement. He was, after all, the first to build a temple for God! 

We are all God carriers, reflecting in part the one who made the world in which we live. Our daily lives filled with acts of creation in our studies and work, our actions and activities. 

This is not separate from our worship. God can’t only be found in the temple or in a church, God through the Holy Spirit dwells in each one of us (1 Cor 6:19).  How we inhabit the ordinary day to day and choices, inviting God in, becomes a fragrant offering. 

What would our day-to-day be as worship? Choosing to walk not drive? Seeking inner calm in traffic jams? Looking at the world around us?? Giving thanks for this wonderful creation? 

What will we open to God in the rest of our day? Our cooking the dinner, sorting the recycling, saying hi rather than hurrying on, saying thanks to the delivery driver, paying the bills or responding to that inner prompting to make a call.  

We invite God again into our lives to guide and shape, to breathe new life again.  We offer ourselves and our everyday moments as an act of worship. 

Thought for the Day : Monday 21 September

Thought for the Day by Katherine-Alice Grasham (All Hallows)

Readings: 1 Kings 19:15-end and 2 Timothy 3:14-end

For today’s reflection, I wanted to share again the Black Lives Matter prayers that I shared at All Hallows yesterday, which were written by Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in London, who are part of the Inclusive Church network just like us.

Loving and forgiving God, we come to you today recognising that in matters of ethnicity we have no choice – we are who we have been made to be. Before you we rejoice at our diversity, and our hearts lift at your great vision of a worshipping multitude gathered from every nation, tribe, people and language. But nonetheless we recognise that our present reality is very far from this ideal.

We have each of us been shaped by different forces; some of us have been ground down, whilst others have been built up. Some of us have been worn away, or have become fractured and broken. Some of us have found life a burden rather than a joy. None of us have experienced the perfect life.

Some of us have inherited powerwhilst others of us have inherited powerlessness.

Some of us have been born white, in a world where whiteness confers privilegeOthers of us have been born black, in a world where darker skin carries disadvantage.

We know that this is not the world as you would have it be, but it is our world, and it has been our experience.

None of us asked for our skin colour, none of us asked to be born the heirs of oppression, none of us asked to inherit power or powerlessness.

So before you, and in the name of Jesus Christ who loves all people equally, regardless of ethnicity, gender or social status, we come now to recommit ourselves to your vision of the world.

We come now to pray ‘your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven’, and to offer ourselves once to live out your coming kingdom of equality and justice in our lives, in our churches, and in our communities.

And so we confess our own complicity in the status quo which divides and distorts humanity. As we pray, we ask that you will release us from guilt, and will help us to find ways of laying down the burdens we have inherited.

Help us to discover our true and rightful place within the new humanity created in Christ Jesus. All races together, we confess that we have sinned, and that we have fallen short of the glory of God.

We confess our failures to speak out against injustice. We confess those times when, as individuals and as churches, we have witnessed the fracturing of humanity along ethnic grounds, and yet have remained silent. We confess those times when we have been the powerful ones and have chosen to withhold that power whilst another human suffered.

We confess the sin of racist exclusion, the abuse of power to oppress and demean. May those of us who have ourselves experienced exclusion be the first to speak up for others. May we create spaces for reconciliation.

We pray for our churches. May they become places of reconciliation, where each human soul is valued, and where equality in Christ is a reality in our midst. Forgive us those times where we do not live out our calling as your people. May our churches model the new humanity of Christ to those in the communities where we live.

We pray for our communities. Where there is division, may we bring restoration. Where there is inequality may we bring justice. Where there is powerlessness may we lift up the broken hearted. Where there is damage may we bring healing.

Loving and forgiving God, hear our confession, hear the desires of our hearts to be different, grant us your forgiveness, and remake us according to the likeness of Christ.

Amen.