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EASTER to pentecost 2021

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Lent candles

 

25 APRIL 2021


My dearest brothers and sisters in Christ,

The Good Shepherd is the topic which our Holy Gospel is telling us about today.

Let us firstly look at the Gospel reading in John 10: 11-18 (from the New International Version):

 

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life —only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

 

Let us take a closer look at what we being told in this Gospel chapter:

 

Christ is telling us what it means for him to be our shepherd and for us to be his sheep in seven wonderful ways.

 

1. Christ has received you as a gift from the Father.

“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:29)

 

Christ’s sheep are a gift that he receives from the Father.

 

Now how would you know if you are one of Christ’s sheep? How would you know if you have been given by the Father to the Son?

 

The identifying marks of Christ’s sheep are stated clearly in this verse: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (10:27). But what does it mean to hear his voice?

 

Jesus says earlier, “You do not believe because you are not among my sheep” (10:26). So it follows that believing is a distinguishing mark of the sheep given to the Son by the Father. Christ’s sheep hear his voice, they believe his Word, and they follow him.

 

So, if you believe and follow Jesus Christ, you are one of Christ’s sheep. You have been given by the Father to the Son.

 

2. Christ knows each and every one of us completely.

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…” (10:14-15)

 

Jesus Christ knows us all completely! There is never a time when we are ever a mystery to Christ.

 

In the Psalms we read, “The Lord knows our frame…” (Psalm 103:14). Christ knows our temperaments, our moods. He knows what lifts us up, and he knows what gets us down.

 

There is nothing any of us could ever tell Jesus about ourselves that he does not already know completely.

 

Here is the joy of following Jesus Christ. Because he knows us so completely, he is able to lead us effectively. The good shepherd knows exactly what we need, and he is able to give us what we need at precisely the time that we need it.

 

3. Christ gave himself for each and every single one of us.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.…I lay down my life for the sheep.”(John 10:11, 15)

 

This is something so very wonderful: The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

 

Everything Jesus endured in his passion was for us. When he gave himself into the hands of the arresting party in the Garden of Gethsemane, it was for us. When he was scourged and beaten, it was for us. And when he was condemned to death, it was for us.. When he hung on that cross in agony, it was for us.

 

We must never ever forget that our Lord and Saviour, Jesus, chose to suffer and die for each one of us. This was not imposed on him. He gave himself willingly. “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (10:18).

 

Jesus accomplished everything he had come to do and then he gave himself into death. And this is what he has done for us.

 

4. Christ called us and brought us to himself.

“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” (John 10:16)

 

How does he bring us to himself and make us his sheep? “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (10:3). The sheep who are called by name in John 10:3 are the same sheep who enter by the door in John 10:9. And Jesus says, “I am the door.” Christ is the door, and “if anyone enters by the door, he will be saved”(10:9).

 

We each come through the door when we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. But when we believe, we will very quickly have an awareness that there was something going on beyond our believing. Somehow he called us. Somehow he brought us. He did not stand back and wait to see if we would come to him. Like the shepherd who went out to find the lost sheep, he laid us upon his shoulders and brought us back home.

 

5. Christ owns all of us and will never ever abandon us.

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…My sheep hear my voice…”(John 10:14, 27)

 

What a marvellous thing to be owned by the Son of God! The contrast here is with the hired hand. The hired hand “does not own the sheep” (10:12). The hired hand has no real investment in the flock. He shepherds the flock because he is paid to do so. The hired hand has to calculate whether it is worth the effort and risk of doing this job for what he gets paid. There is a point when the hired hand may say, “It’s just not worth it.” There are limits to his commitment.

 

Christ does not care for us because of what he can get out of us. That would be the spirit of the hired hand. Christ cares for us because we truly are his. There will never be a time when he will say, “You aren't worth it.” He made us his own, at the cost of his life and, having made us his own, he will never leave us; he will never forsake us.

 

With such a shepherd committed to us for life, what do we indeed truly have to fear?

 

6. Christ gives us eternal life.

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish…” (John 10:28)

 

Jesus does not say, “I will give them eternal life at some time in the future.” He says, “I give them eternal life!” If Christ is indeed our shepherd, this precious gift of eternal life is already given to us.

 

And notice also the word “give”. In other words, we did not earn this priceless gift.Eternal life is freely given by the shepherd and is freely received by his sheep, simply because he is the shepherd and we are the sheep.

 

The life Jesus gives is eternal. Eternal life, by definition, is a life that never ends, and if we have this life, it is ours forever!

 

7. Christ guards us and will keep us forever.

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29)

 

What reason do we have for confidence as a Christian when all the pressure of life stands against us? Can what is ours in Christ ever be taken away?

 

Christ’s sheep are in his hand. That’s the answer! And as if that wasn’t enough, our Lord adds, “No one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (10:29-30).

 

The hand of Christ is beneath us, and the hand of the Father is above us. Thus we are forever safe and secure.

 

Are these things true of your life?  Have you accepted the Lord as your Shepherd?

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Let us pray:

O Lord Jesus Christ,
     good Shepherd of the sheep,
     you came to seek the lost
     and gather them to your fold.
Have compassion on those who have wandered from you.

Feed those who hunger,
     make the weary lie down in your pastures,
     bind up those who are broken in heart,
     and strengthen those who are weak,
That we rely on your care,
     find comfort in your love,
     and abide in your guidance to our lives’ end:
For your name’s sake.

Amen.


[by L. S. T. Sherwood]

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11 APRIL 2021

LOW SUNDAY


Low Sunday, for many people, is precisely that!  After the diligent fasting of the Lenten period and the high drama of Passiontide and the roller-coaster ride through the Pascal triduum, the first Sunday after Easter can leave many a little disjointed and even dis-spirited.  Perhaps you feel this?  I know I do.

We may intelligently know that Christ is Risen, Alleluia!  But the period after Easter leading to Pentecost is one of seeing, but maybe not quite recognising, as happened on the road to Emmaus.  A period of knowing some facts but of being unclear of the truth, of needing to be shown anew the wounded hands and side.  Of accepting again the invitation to feast on a breakfast of grilled fish, at the invitation of Jesus.  A period of turning two-dimensional snapshots into a fully formed recognition, acceptance and joy that this was indeed, the Risen Lord.

As I write this brief reflection, I do so with joy that Our Lord Jesus is risen indeed, and I for one own Him as my Lord and Saviour, with tremendous gratitude.  A gratitude that seems to deepen as the years go by, and I know that a time will surely come when I must go to meet my Maker and give an account of myself.  I also write with sadness, in the immediate aftermath of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.

As I drove home on Friday, I heard some of the news coverage, and there will be much more to follow.  What became apparent was that to many people in the United Kingdom, latterly, Prince Philip had come to be represented and understood as a rather two-dimensional figure: a grumpy grandpa who didn't much mind his P's and Q's, someone who was rather out of touch with modern society. ..... But was this the truth, or was it rather a failure in recognition?  I noted Archbishop Welby's description of Prince Philip as a profound theological thinker.  I heard footage of Prince Philip talking about environmental matters and the urgent need, not merely to intend good things, but also to do them.  I noted the gratitude of people who had participated in and benefitted from the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme.  This was so much more that the two-dimensional figure so readily portrayed in press and media.

So as we come to approach Low Sunday, I look forward to beginning to unpack again the events in the life of the Lord Jesus after His resurrection  ̶  of seeing the steady growth of recognition that this indeed was the Risen Lord.  And I also look forward to seeing some television coverage about the life of Prince Philip, so that he also may be seen and recognised for the great man that he was.  May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

The Reverend Elisabeth (Liz) Jones  ̶  Guild of St Thomas Cantilupe.



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4 APRIL 2021

EASTER DAY


There is always hope

 

Croeso Pawb.  Hallelujah!  Christ is risen!  Hallelujah!  Easter is here!  Now if you’re anything like my three children you will have had some chocolate and may or may not have wanted said chocolate for breakfast … Today is a day of celebration though and, like Christmas, it’s a day where we think about what it is to be in the body of Christ, to be saved by the blood of our Lord and beloved of our God.

Let’s put ourselves in the position of the Disciples for a moment  ̶  how would they have been feeling in the days leading to today?  Scared?  Lonely?  Fretful?  Doubtful?  They had been on this wondrous journey with Jesus, they had found a home with Him and they had also seen their leader, their teacher and their friend put to death  ̶  but now they waited.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday feel almost distant now  ̶  those emotional moments where we truly think of what Jesus suffered for us.  We let our own parts in that be known to us, and many of us struggle with those moments as they remind us that we are fallible, that we do need Christ  ̶  but that is not a bad thing.  In acknowledging our own weakness, our own fallibility and turning to Christ we gain strength that is immeasurable, unstoppable and based on universal love.

One of my favourite movies is Rocky II (1979) the second in a series of movies focused on Rocky Balboa, an Italian/American boxer.  In this movie the titular character Rocky has a world title fight scheduled when his wife, who is wholeheartedly opposed to his boxing, prematurely goes into labour and lapses into a coma.  Rocky neglects his training in order to stand vigil over his beloved and eventually she regains consciousness.  As they are holding their new-born son together, she asks him to do something for her. He gladly tells her anything and she simply says one word: ‘Win’.

In that one-word Rocky is given permission; but more than permission he’s given strength, drive, freedom.  For me, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday can be seen as our times in vigil over our beloved Christ; but, like Rocky’s wife, He awakens, he returns back to us, on the third day and gives us that one word that changes us, that pushes us to achieve more.  It could be ‘win’ or maybe it’s ‘hope’ ‘joy’ or ‘love’ it was love that sent Him to that cross, love for us.

Hope, joy and love formed part of our advent journey and it’s no coincidence that they feature now in Easter, Jesus is the Hope, He is the Love, and He is the Joy.  Trystan Hughes writes on Hope in his book Opening our Lives* when he says, ‘the resurrection carries a message that can turn this world upside down and inside out  ̶  a message about faith, love and hope’ (*2020 p.188).  Back to the Disciples and their wait  ̶  hope is what I would say was closest to them, they had seen Jesus’ miracles, they had seen Him live His message. They had to have held hope closer than any other thing at this time.

This holds a very tangible parallel for me with where we are as a nation, as a people at the moment.  We seem to be slowly emerging from the darkness of the Covid-19 pandemic, some of us are daring to hope  ̶  a tentative, sliver of hope that this may all be over soon; that a new dawn is coming.  Not unlike the hope the Disciples held on to as they waited for Jesus’ promised resurrection.

That hope in the Lord is well placed: we see this in Jesus’ victory over death, in the salvation bought by His blood on that cross.  As a child I remember hearing a sermon on Easter Sunday and the preacher said that Jesus gave us hope via His resurrection but He also holds a hope for us too  ̶  in that he hopes we will turn to Him, He hopes we listen to and learn from Him.  I remember being amazed that Jesus hoped something for me, little, insignificant me.  To a small child it’s like finding out your favourite footballer wants your autograph but that really is the truth of today my Brothers and Sisters  ̶  Jesus Hopes for us too: He went to that cross for us, and He returned, for us.

I can’t express in words what an honour and pleasure it has been to be able to walk alongside you all for Lent, Holy Week and Easter, and as our journey through this time draws to a close let me leave you with these words from Archbishop Desmond Tutu: ‘He (God) does not give up on you or on anyone, for God loves you now and will always love you’(*p.11).

My final encouragement on this Blessed Easter Sunday my Brothers and Sisters is this; take a moment to sit and focus on the Hope in your life, what makes you feel Love?  What brings you Joy?  As you think on them, thank God for them.

Let us close in prayer together.

Father God.

We gather today in hope renewed,

in the presence of our Risen Saviour,

in the love and fellowship of the Holy spirit.

We thank you Lord for all you give us,

for the unconditional love you bear each of us

and we strive to always be a channel of this love

reflected to our Brothers and Sisters.

We pray this in the name of our Risen Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

 

[by Darren, Assistant Chaplain]

 

* “Opening Our Lives – Devotional Reading For Lent” by Trystan Owain Hughes,
published by the Bible Reading Fellowship, November 2020. (p.188).

Tutu, Desmond (2005) God Has A Dream. Random House Inc. St Ives, p.11.


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2 APRIL 2021

GOOD FRIDAY

My Brothers and Sisters In Christ… here we are, Good Friday.  I always feel a weight at this time of year, not an unpleasant one but a weight nonetheless.  My Grandad used to joke that his soul knew what today was. For an old Naval man, I often wonder if he were more insightful than even he realised.

I think today we will all feel that weight inside us, our souls know full well what today is.  I would share something with you if I may; years ago when I first returned to my faith (like most teenagers I thought I knew best and wandered the wilderness for a few years) my parish priest at the time had the most legendary poker face, but you could always tell when he was happy.  One day I noticed his rosary and asked him about it, we got talking about meditations and I mentioned I’d not long begun to read around Ignatian meditation.

Shortly after this he taught me how to use the rosary (I’ve not been without one since) but in doing so I was able to really let my imagination, mind and heart wander as I delved into the Bible.  Inevitably I found myself on Golgotha, looking up at the cross.  It was the first time my faith had made me cry but it was also the first time I had truly understood what happened that day (as much as any of us can): Jesus was on that cross, for me.

Trystan Hughes tells a story in his book Opening our Lives* of an American woman whose husband was very ill in a Christian hospital, this went on for many months and in the end, seeing her husband suffering so badly, it just became too much.  The woman stormed out to the large crucifix in the courtyard and began to throw large clumps of dirt and stones at this crucifix,  Security moved to stop her but the chaplain stoped them and explained: “She’s praying”.

In reading this story I was amazed at the chaplain’s reaction at first but the more I thought about it, the more I realised he was right.  How many of us have battled with feelings of anger and loss over this last year. Covid-19 has devastated so many families, communities have been decimated, not just financially but in the loss of so many, people, places, societies and clubs.  We as a nation and as a people have lost so much this last year.  Separately of course there are non-Covid related losses to contend with, those who passed through accident or disease and outreach programmes that have ceased.

I imagine that many of you reading this can at one time or another sympathise with that woman outside the hospital.  Jesus Himself wondered in the garden of Gethsemane, and again on the cross in the Gospel of Matthew 27:46 we see Jesus asking “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” or “my God, my God why have you forsaken me?”.

Having these doubts, having a moment where we throw stones at a statue (metaphorically) is actually quite normal and more than acceptable to God.  He loves all of us, not just our happy, bouncy, devout selves.  He loves us at our angry, our questioning and our low moments.  Jesus refers to the Eternal One as ‘Father’. This gives us a glimpse of a loving, supportive, accepting relationship.

This kind of relationship is not exclusve, God wants us all to access Him that way  ̶  to tell Him the good and the bad, to talk to Him about anything on our minds or hearts, be it work, our neighbour, family, worries of any kind, or in the case of my eldest son, the latest Cardiff City Football Club scores!

The point is, God wants us to talk to Him, He wants us to love Him, He wants us to bring all of us.  He didn’t make us to be happy all of the time, He created us to feel and as such He wants to help us make sense of those feelings.  He wants to support, love and guide us through all of our times.

That’s why Jesus went to the cross, my friends.  He did it for us, He did it because He knew in suffering, bleeding and in dying He would save us all.

My encouragement to you on this Good Friday my Brothers and Sisters is this; find a calm, quiet place.  Sit with God for a while give him your ugly thoughts, your anger, your tears, also give Him your joy, your love. Remember He created you, He knows you inside out.  Let Him hold you, let yourself be loved.  You.  Are. Worthy.


A Prayer:

Father God.

We come before You today heavy hearted, tired and hurting.

We see You on that cross and we weep at Your suffering.

Help us to understand that we are worthy, that we matter.

Help us to see Your love in our lives and

help us Father to understand that you don’t desire perfection

You just want us.

                                  Amen.

 

[by Darren, Assistant Chaplain]


* “Opening Our Lives – Devotional Reading For Lent” by Trystan Owain Hughes,
published by the Bible Reading Fellowship, November 2020. (p.177).


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1 APRIL 2021

MAUNDY THURSDAY

Helo a croeso fy ffrindiau.  I hope thhis finds you well.  Welcome to Maundy Thursday.

I was sitting with my daughter having lunch a few days ago when she asked me “Dad, what is Maundy Thursday?”  I mentally prepared the answer involving a celebration of the last supper, of Jesus washing the feet of His friends and companions when I stopped myself and realised I wasn’t really listening to her question.

So instead, we talked about how Jesus, the Son of God, who had power like no other, emptied himself, took on a servant’s nature and put himself in the collar of service.  The Greek word Kenosis translates as to ‘make himself nothing, or to empty himself’.  In doing this Jesus took on the yoke of slavery so that He could free others.  Thus I sat with her and we discussed this at length; as we drew to a close I asked her a simple question  ̶  “when did you last serve someone?”

During this academic year at Theological College I have served as community exec  ̶  essentially I’m a student rep who focuses solely on the community, on my fellow ordinands, their families and their wellbeing.  In this role I was also required to maintain the social side of things (quiz nights, days out etc).  As this year has all been virtual, I have felt that side of the role has been hamstrung a little.  However, I did put together a Christmas quiz on Zoom.  I had three people attend, one of whom was myself.

It would have been easy to have been hurt by this  ̶  I’d sat and researched facts, I’d downloaded and edited film clips etc but instead the three of us who did attend ended up chatting for a solid two hours and by the end of it the three of us felt so much better about everything.  It was then I realised that this was service, this was the role for which I’d volunteered.

So never be discouraged if you feel that an act of service is small, or inconsequential.  The truth is, no act of service is ever inconsequential: I’ve often said even something as simple as a smile in the street to someone you’re walking past can make so much difference.

Trystan Hughes puts this well in his book Opening our Lives* in which he says ‘Kenosis demands that we sacrifice our selfish, separate selves and be reborn again as more selfless, servant souls’ (2020 p.176).  As I was reading this I was reminded of our own Order - ‘The Order is devoted to works of charity and humanitarian action’ (Statutes 2020).  In joining the Order my brothers and sisters we recognise that servant’s heart inside ourselves, we embrace it and want to express that same loving service to all of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

So, to close my Sisters and Brothers let me offer this encouragement: be aware of those moments when you can use that servant’s heart, be aware of those moments when you can, as it were, wash the feet and serve the supper.  Let us be aware of the Kenosis chances all around us.

A prayer to close:

                                          Loving God, you crafted us in Your image,
                                          You gave us these hearts with which to love
                                                 and serve You and Your people.
                                          Keep us this day as we remember He
                                                 who emptied himself,
                                                 washed the feet of his companions
                                                 and fed those around him.
                                          Allow that example to inspire us,
                                                 to live in us and keep us emptied of selfish desires.
                                          We ask this in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
                                                                    Amen.

 

[by Assistant Chaplain Darren]


*Hughes, Trystan. (2020) Opening Our Lives The Bible Reading Fellowship. Abingdon. p.176


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27 MARCH 2021


THE SIXTH SUNDAY IN LENT - PALM SUNDAY


Croeso  my brothers and sisters.  Holy Week is here!  We begin this week with Palm Sunday and the image that always springs to mind here for me is that image of Jesus riding into Jerusalem, the palm leaves strewn before him, the crowds cheering with hope, belief and love.

How quickly this would change however: the crowd’s cheers would change and Jesus would find Himself arrested, beaten, tortured and crucified only to rise again 3 days later as the fulfilment of His saving work.

Holy Week in itself is a journey in which we can be changed, grown and developed in both our own hearts and in the way we move through the world.  Interestingly the Greek word for transformation is Metamorphoomai  which is of course tied to our English word ‘metamorphosis’; to change or alter, to transform.  Mark uses this word in his Gospel when we see the transfiguration of Jesus atop the mountain.  Paul uses this word in his letters too, most notably in Romans and 2 Corinthians when he discusses the transformative power of Christ in our lives.

Loren Eisley is a philosopher who tells a story about a man who was walking along the beach after a storm when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.  Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”.  The boy replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean.  The surf is up and the tide is going out.  If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”  “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realise there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?  You can’t make a difference!”  After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf.  Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference for that one.”

This story highlights how seemingly simple, small acts can often serve God’s kingdom if enough Christians do these small acts.  Trystan Hughes discusses this at length in his Lenten book Opening our Lives* when he likens Christians doing these small acts to grains in a loaf of bread.  ‘Once the loaf is baked the individual grains cannot be identified.  We are left with one loaf that has one purpose to feed and nourish’ (2020 p161).

Picking up on that thought for a moment we can ask the question, ‘How do we feed and nourish?’  Physically many of us do that already with donations to food banks, collections of clothes for donations, fundraising for charities and supporting local businesses.  Looking at feeding and nourishing of the mind, the spirit though, how much do we do?  We can pray for our brothers and sisters while sharing the word with those willing.

I would like to share a little something with you.  I arrived in my placement parish around June and last year when I arrived we had very little connection with the local area in terms of social media presence.  As I sit typing this in March the following year our Facebook page gets hits from Leicester, Wolverhampton, our own diocese and those neighbouring ours we’ve even reached as far as Australia from what I have been told.  I know we are not the biggest Facebook page out there often I share photographs of the Church, or reflection videos on Sundays yet those seemingly small submissions have already made a difference to how our churches are reaching the community.

Sometimes we may not feel that we’re making the impact we want to make.  We are all subject to these feelings as it is human nature to doubt but, in trusting in Christ and His power to transform, we have to trust that it doesn’t mean we’re not making any impact at all, on those around us, our communities and even on ourselves.

My encouragement today therefore, my brothers and sisters, is that we will be able to look at our own Metamorphomai, our own transformation with Christ and that we can trust in Him in faith, we can celebrate Him in our lives as He was celebrated on that first Palm Sunday.

Finally, let us close in prayer:

Father God we thank you

For your guidance through this time,

we thank you for making us

part of your kingdom, your body.

For giving us the faith to act in Your name,

we ask, Father, for the courage and wisdom

to continue to act for others  ̶

To see You at work in our lives and transform us.

We ask this in Jesus’ name, Lord.

                                               Amen.


[by Darren Lynch, Assistant Chaplain]

* “Opening Our Lives – Devotional Reading For Lent” by Trystan Owain Hughes,
published by the Bible Reading Fellowship, November 2020.  ISBN 9780857468826.


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21 MARCH 2021


THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT - PASSION SUNDAY


Helo fy Ffrindiau
.  I hope this finds you well; we have walked such a journey together already through Lent and now as we stand on the hill we can see home in the distance; Holy Week is indeed fast approaching.

This week I would like us to look at opening our actions to God’s compassion.  Did you know the Latin word compassio, which is the root of our English word compassion means ‘to suffer with’?  I didn’t I will admit.  Yet it makes perfect sense that it should  ̶  what is compassion if not a chance to feel what others are going through?

When I think of compassion I often make the distinction between perceived compassion and true compassion.  Perceived compassion is what we see in the media.  It is used by politicians, journalists and celebrities when they want to show how much they care, maybe posting #BeKind on their social media accounts and yet actually doing very little to make a genuine difference.

True compassion is what we see in those who volunteer to be a companion for the lonely, it’s in those we see who work with very little resources who yet find a way to include and support others.  True compassion isn’t always posted about on social media; it’s just done because it’s the right thing to do.

Jesus himself in the Gospel of John (15:12) tells us ‘My command is this: love each other as I have loved you’'.  Even in His moment of betrayal Jesus finds a way to emphasise compassion, kindness, love.  Of course during His ministry Jesus talks of compassion a lot, the story of the Good Samaritan is one we often teach our children to show that we should never judge a book by its cover but I would also maintain that this parable shows us what true compassion is. The Samaritan had nothing to gain by helping the man and yet he did it anyway because it was the right thing to do, the compassionate thing to do.

Trystan Hughes in his Lenten book Opening our Lives* discusses compassion in terms of how we perceive each other, how Christians are called to view each other as brothers and sisters.  He discusses how often labels are given to ‘the other’, those who aren’t always ‘one of us’ and offers up the concept of seeing others as our family.  He writes: "for Christians there is no opt-out clause in the bible’s invitation to view others as family.  Instead it lies at the very heart of our faith and is fundamental to our radical call to live out the compassionate kingdom” (2020 p.141).

I often wonder about compassion however, in terms of our dealings not just with each other but with the world around us; our attitudes to consumerism, food, animal welfare.  These are all issues that are currently populating the media.  Indeed as I’m typing this there is an advertisement on the television for the RSPCA asking for donations.  I’m sure you’re all familiar with them  ̶  images of animals that have been so poorly failed by us who were tasked to be stewards of Creation.  As I look at these animals I am keenly reminded that compassion is not just something we need to have for each other but for all of the wonderful creatures God gave us and placed in our care.

How does compassion extend to those who feel they no longer matter?  Years ago I worked with young offenders and I will always remember one young man.  I’ll call him Shane, not his real name of course.  Shane was a violent offender  ̶ known for a short fuse and explosive temper.  He had been sent to live with his grandparents after his parents could no longer deal with him.  I was almost into my second month on the job when Shane came for his first appointment.  As I asked him his name etc he answered rather robotically: it was when I put my pen down, looked at him and asked him how we was that he realised I was actually interested.

He gave me a shrug and said “I’m alright” so I waited a moment and simply asked him “are you?”  He had never been asked that before.  We began to talk and he told me many of the problems he had.  To him they were mountains but as he talked to someone who was actually listening to him he seemed to realise that almost all of them were indeed solvable.

Shane began to open up over the course of our meetings, he eventually managed to get a job and even went to anger management.  Eventually, he finished his time with us and went on with his life.  I often wonder about Shane and I frequently pray that he found happiness.  The point I make with Shane’s story is that two simple words helped a young man who felt society had given up on him.

So my encouragement to you my brothers and sisters is to keep compassion alive in you, see when we can be the Samaritan, see when we can further that kingdom with a genuine word, a kind deed.  Something that can seem small to us, like a two-word question, can make an impact.  God looks on us with boundless compassion and so let us pray:

                      May we reflect that compassion Lord,
                      may we be a channel of it and
                      may we be brave enough to welcome it
                             when it is shown back to us
                             by our brothers and sisters -
                      in Your name.
                      Amen.


[by Darren Lynch, Assistant Chaplain]

* “Opening Our Lives – Devotional Reading For Lent” by Trystan Owain Hughes, published by the Bible Reading Fellowship, November 2020.  ISBN 9780857468826.


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14 MARCH 2021


THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT

Bore Da my brothers and sisters, here we are at the fourth Sunday in Lent already!  So far, we have looked at opening our eyes to God’s presence, our ears to His call, our hearts to His love and this week I would like to look at opening our ways to His will.

As I have mentioned in previous entries, I battled an illness in 2014; some results of my surgery were blood clots and pneumonia on my lungs.  Every breath felt like I was underwater and that I had a knife in both of my sides.  I can imagine if anyone reading this has had the condition you will be nodding along.

During my recovery in hospital, I remember being on a ward (without a TV) and the World Cup was due to start the following day: I remember joking with one of the night nurses through my gasped breathing that I could handle the pain and discomfort as long as I could watch the football.  Well sure enough the following day I was moved to a side room with a television and as I turned on the television the first ball of the tournament was just being kicked.

It was a small comfort but for 90 minutes I got to feel like my old self again, just sitting enjoying football.  The pain of my initial surgery, the impeded mobility, the pain in my chest, the difficulty breathing none of it mattered just for 90 minutes and let me tell you my friends those 90 minutes were bliss, an oasis in the desert.  I often wondered how things happened with such timing; I always come back to the same answer God heard my prayer.

In his Lenten book Opening our Lives* Trystan Hughes discusses our noticing God’s will in our lives, how sometimes we are able to glimpse God in the small things.  I’m sure even reading this now you will have a moment spring to mind when you have seen God in something small His will, His encouragement shown to us in a seemingly small moment.

I would like share something with you along these lines.  When I graduated from university I had already met my wife, we were very much in love and didn’t want to separate - she was from South Wales and I was from the West Midlands and so the conversation turned to who would leave home.  We discussed it openly and honestly but without a clear resolution.  Finally, I took a coin from my pocket and simply said ‘heads’, I would move to her, and ‘tails’, she would move to me.  I flipped the coin and sure enough ‘heads’ came up as a result I have lived in South Wales for almost 12 years now, had 3 children and become an Ordinand in the Church in Wales.  It was God’s will that the coin was always going to land on ‘heads’.

Of course, when looking at God’s will, when opening ourselves to it, we have to be discerning.  Indeed, the selection process when one is looking at training for Ministry is known as ‘discernment’.  It is important for us to recognise that God’s providence is always at work.  Trystan refers us to the theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, who referred to this as ‘Theodrama’ or the story God wants to tell using us as opposed to our own ‘egodrama’ where we live for ourselves.

How do we listen to God’s will when others are concerned though?  I’m a father of 3 and often our battles will rage on the same hills: have you cleaned your teeth?  shared with each other?  etc.  There are also other battles though encouraging my eldest son to pay attention in church for example.  We have to be aware of how we impact others, if we push too hard we can push them away, conversely, if we do nothing we are ignoring what we saw, ignoring our place in the tapestry God weaves.  Those moments in life when God reveals His will about others can be so challenging we often see a relationship with God as wholly personal, often not realising we are part of a wide family, the tapestry I discussed last week.  If we are fortunate enough to discern God’s will; to see His providence for another then we should give thanks for that, pray and do what we can to help.

With the announcement that things are beginning to approach ‘normal’ again; some of the restrictions are to be lifted in Wales soon and, hopefully, we can begin gathering again.  I would encourage us in those first few weeks to be mindful of others as we all emerge from the events of the last year and to ask one simple question; ‘How can I help?’.

To close my brothers and sisters let me offer this prayer.

Father God who is all around us,

You reveal Your will to us

in ways we don’t always recognise at first;

Guide us Lord that we are able to keep our hearts open,

to see Your providence,

to see Your love and

to see Your guiding hand

in all we do.

Amen.

 

[by Darren Lynch, Assistant Chaplain]

 

* “Opening Our Lives – Devotional Reading For Lent” by Trystan Owain Hughes, published by the Bible Reading Fellowship, November 2020.  ISBN 9780857468826.


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7 MARCH 2021


THE THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT

So far my Brothers and Sisters we have looked at the Lord’s presence and our own calling.  For this 3rd Sunday in Lent I want to address one of the cornerstones of the Lord’s work, Love, and in particular how do we open our hearts to His love?

In the Letter from James (5:13-14) he wrote, “Is anyone among you in trouble?  Let them pray.  Is anyone happy?  Let them sing songs of praise.  Is anyone among you ill?  Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.”  Many of us will have, at one time or another, been part of the support network that flows from fellowship with Christ or we have leaned on that support.  That outpouring of love and support is, in my experience, a very real representation of the love God feels for us.

For some, the idea that they are loved completely is alien to them; this can sometimes come from some childhood trauma or difficult experience.  Growing up in an impoverished, single parent household in the West Midlands I often found myself as a child asking if I was truly beloved of an Almighty and loving Creator.  In his Christmas address last year, Pope Francis said, “In a world where everything seems to be about giving in order to get, God comes down freely.  His love is non-negotiable.”  This statement echoes that of Trystan Hughes who tells us in his book Opening our lives: “In God’s eyes we continue to be unique, irreplaceable and infinitely loved.”The truth is God does love us, He never wants us to suffer.

A few years ago, I suffered a serious illness and during my ongoing recovery I remember chatting with an ordained friend of mine.  The conversation turned to what I had been through and he asked me plainly, “Do you blame God?”.  The truth is I never had for a moment, indeed the answer I gave went along these lines, “God knew what I would suffer He prepared me to fight to the last; my whole life.  He made me a survivor”.  But that is the truth as I believe it.  Through love He prepared and guided me to face that: I always said He stood right beside me the whole time.

Often, only in hindsight can we see such times during which God has stood beside us, the important thing is not when we recognise it but that we recognise it at all.  For many of us, acting in love can be almost sacrificial in nature; putting others before ourselves an example of this could be ensuring that those in the most need eat first such as happened with St Paul and his early church in their “agape” meals.

Recently in Wales we celebrated St David’s Day, or Dydd Gŵyl Dewi.  St David was a bishop of Mynyw in the 6th century; St David is famous for a great many things but what I want to share with you are his final words. He said, "Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do."  There are four words in there that I find to be very poignant; ”Do the little things”.

How often do we rush or overlook the little things?  All too often this transfers to our dealings with other people also but it is worth keeping in mind that for God, everybody has a role.  Each of our roles however complex, however large or however humble and simple is all part of God’s tapestry.  We are connected, we impact each other’s lives in what we say, what we do.  How we bless each other, how we challenge and enrich each other, how we support and love each other all has an impact that often we don’t even see; sometimes the impact can come quickly and sometimes it may take a while.  Each of us is a child of God, made in His image in love.

So my Brothers and Sisters my prayer and my encouragement for you this week is to look at the bonds we share, look at the chances life gives us to do the little things and may we act with the same love that God shows to all of His creation, may we be the blessing He created us to be.

Amen.

[by Darren Lynch, Assistant Chaplain]


* “Opening Our Lives – Devotional Reading For Lent” by Trystan Owain Hughes, published by the Bible Reading Fellowship, November 2020.  ISBN 9780857468826 (p.99)

 

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28 FEBRUARY 2021


THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT

For those of you who have mobile phones, or caller ID on some landlines, have you ever had the call tone start and you’ve glanced at the phone to see those terrible words ‘Unknown Number’?  How many of us have then just turned the ringer down and slipped the phone back into our pockets or onto its stand, fully intending to let the voicemail receive it?  I know I’m guilty of that one.

Of course we do let the voicemail receive it, only to find out that it was an important call; one we should have taken.  My own calling was a little similar - for the longest time I had felt strange.  The example I always give is a radio that’s just out of tune; you can hear something but you’re not sure what it is.  I ignored the ‘radio’ at first, put it down to my first child not long being born, tried to just put it out of my head but like the ‘unknown number’ God kept ringing - hoping I’d pick up.  One day I did … in a Tesco’s café of all places!

At the time I was still working as a Youth Worker and was at a training course for the day.  The institution had a Tesco store opposite: I had gone over for my lunch and while I was sitting with my cup of tea and bacon roll I decided to just doodle in a notebook.  Now I’d like to say I wrote a single word and the whole path became clear but alas no: what did happen however was just as mystifying to me even now.

I had just finished a particularly decent doodle of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s lightsaber when I became aware of something … the ‘radio’ had stopped.  The one out of tune I mentioned previously; it had stopped and as I noticed it had stopped I began to hear the transmission.  It wasn’t an audible one (that’s another story) but I heard it with my heart; I knew what I had to do and it was so unbelievable to me I genuinely laughed in the café, I had been called to the Ordained ministry.

In his book Opening Our Lives Trystan Hughes* explores how callings can come to us all in a variety of ways: we must always be open to them but when they do come it’s okay to feel a little reluctance.  The Bible is full of people who did great things even after an initial reluctance.  I always call to mind St Joseph when I think of this point.  His betrothed had just told him that she was carrying the son of God and he needed to help, he needed to be an adoptive father.  What did Joseph do?  He ran, but what makes the difference is that he trusted God and returned to the same call.  Then there was St Augustine; he was 31 years old at the time of his conversion.  God doesn’t grow bored and move onto someone else you see.  God is patient and will wait for you.

Not all who are called are called just once, or indeed even to the Ordained ministry.  Now I’d be tempted to leave that as a ‘Mic drop’ moment to encourage debate and if I were sitting in a room with you, dear reader, I may do just that so we could talk on it. What do I mean by that statement though?  As Trystan told me when he was serving as the Diocesan Director of Ordinands, we can indeed receive more than one calling in life.  I found that intriguing but it makes perfect sense in that we can be called to be friends, siblings, partners, parents, teachers: we can be called to different jobs, and different roles in church.

Making the tea?  That’s a ministry.  Handing out books?  That’s a ministry.  Cleaning the church after service? That’s a ministry.  Dropping the parish magazine in to old Joe who doesn’t go out much these days?  That’s a ministry.  Teaching Grandma to use Zoom so that she can watch services online?  That’s a ministry.  You see, all of these seemingly small acts mean a lot to someone: isn’t that a calling in itself?

Even now, as I sit in my study watching the rain and writing this as a level 5 Ordinand almost a decade after that moment in the café I still wrestle with ‘imposter syndrome’ from time to time, as anyone who answers a calling may do.  One thing I have learned though is this: those who are called to any kind of ministry/service are called for a reason.  Wherever your current call takes you, believe that God called you to it.  Trust in that: trust that you are serving The Kingdom.

So I would encourage you to take some time my Brothers and Sisters; take some time to sit and really reflect on the call you hear today, however seemingly big or small it is.

Amen.

(by Assistant Chaplain Darren)

 

* “Opening Our Lives – Devotional Reading For Lent” by Trystan Owain Hughes, published by the Bible Reading Fellowship, November 2020.  ISBN 9780857468826

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21 FEBRUARY 2021


THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT

Here we are Brothers and Sisters: Lent.  It began last week on Ash Wednesday (17 February) when we were reminded of the words in Genesis 'from dust you come and to dust you will return those words were said to Adam after the Fall.  It’s always a hard thing to face: the idea of our own sin and yet it’s a good thing to acknowledge it as we can only then become aware of Christ, his saving grace in our lives.

So what have you given up?  What have you taken up?  These days it’s perfectly acceptable to do either/or though I’ve yet to meet anyone who did both at the same time.  Time passes so quickly though doesn’t it? Not long ago we were starting out in Advent and now here we are at the beginning of our journey to Easter.

Lent is a chance for us to emulate Christ during his time in the wilderness, yet almost straight away in this first week we have a potential pitfall.  We could, perhaps, be too focused on our destination: Easter Sunday, as opposed to focusing on this time of walking with Our Lord.

For this first week I am writing about Christ’s presence.  Last week I had the pleasure of preaching at my placement churches and the message was around Transfiguration Sunday and that wonderful moment when Jesus met two heavyweights of the Old Testament - Moses and Elijah.  During this time though the disciples saw the divinity of Christ.  Many call this a ‘mountain top experience’, a short, sharp moment of God stepping into our lives.

It’s important to note that some of us will have had those ‘mountain top experiences’ and that is wondrous. It is my belief that anyone who does, has a duty to share their testimony with any who will listen.  Of course, not everyone does have them indeed St Paul only really had one if we consider the road to Damascus such an experience.  What we all have in common however, is a steady, consistent feeling of Christ in our lives.

A friend of mine has written a Lenten book* and in it he discusses how the presence of Christ in our lives is a little like salt in water.  We can’t see it but we know it’s there if we taste it.  Similarly a life with Christ will still have the gamut of emotions that we feel, the good times, the soaring highs that life can sometimes bring and the challenges, those lows where we find ourselves questioning so much, but at all times we will know he is always around us, even in those seemingly mundane times.  Holding a first child?  He’s there.  Saying goodbye to a loved one for the final time?  He’s there.  Sitting watching TV?  He’s there.

But how does this fit to this first week of the challenge of Lent?  My 10-year-old daughter decided she wants to be a vegetarian when she turns 16.  I suggested she try Lent to see what life as a vegetarian would be like for her: after two days she is struggling.  I find myself wanting to see her succeed though, I find myself supporting and encouraging her because I can see that element of self-denial, that discipline that I have often found lacking in myself.

Christ walked alone, no human company went with him.  He walked alone in an unforgiving and hostile wasteland.  Of course life can feel this way sometimes also, especially for those of us who walk with long-term illness, loneliness or poverty.  Not just physically, mentally, emotionally but even spiritually tiring.  How many of us have undertaken a long walk?  Of course some of us are service personnel or former service personnel and will know what a long march feels like.  I wonder if we could use that feeling to at least get a glimpse of Jesus in that wilderness.

Lent is a time for us to contemplate, to study, to draw closer to God and while Jesus walked alone during this time Brothers and Sisters, we do not.  We have a Saviour alongside us who believes in us, who knows we are but dust and sinners  ̶  like Adam  ̶  but he also knows that we try, that we want to accept his gift of salvation.

So to close, as we take these first few steps into this week, as we walk. let’s look at our lives, let’s take a look at the bonds we have, the way we interact with the world around us and let’s see if we can see Christ in them.

Amen.
(by Assistant Chaplain Darren)

* "Opening Our Lives - Devotional Readings For Lent" by Trystan Owain Hughes, published by the Bible Reading Fellowship, November 2020. ISBN: 9780857468826.


One of our other Assistant Chaplains comments:

This came at the right time to remind us all not only of our obligations to God and His Son but to ourselves and loved ones.

I have long thought it is an interesting fact that, as children, we are almost programmed to associate the Lenten period with ‘loss’ or giving up something we like. As Brother Darren says: "I can see that element of self-denial, that discipline that I have often found lacking in myself . I gave up sugar aged about 8 or 9 and never returned to it!

However, in more recent years, I have associated the period with more of a personal journey to give rather than lose.

Rather than giving up sugar or chocolate or, indeed, meat, I choose to give something back to those in need and allow Christ to walk with us all.

This began several years ago when our elderly neighbour’s husband dies suddenly on Christmas Eve. For many years after this (she had no other family) each week or whenever we shopped, I would call her to ask if she needed anything or just to chat about nothing. It took an hour of my time and she never said anything about the calls and visits.

Only when she had passed and her belongings were given to a very distant nephew in London did I discover she had kept a kind of journal and recorded there how very much these calls and visits had meant to her. That 1 hour of my time meant more to her than I knew.

It made me wonder how many, primarily, elderly single people there are who live their lives alone. A terrible indictment on our society and I have tried to remind myself yearly at Lent to give more of my time to them. Time is, of course, a valuable commodity for many and we are all very good at finding excuses why we cannot spare any.

In this way I remind myself that Christ walks with me and shares His love with anyone willing to receive it.

Assistant Chaplain Tony.


Wisely Tony subsequently added: "We all need to be a witness to our own journey". 


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