Thy Kingdom Come – “Praying With Bread”

33 Jesus told them still another parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bushel of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.”  (Matthew 13:33)

bread

 

Ever since I was a child I have loved making bread.  There has been something very special about combining very simple ingredients, making a sticky gooey mess, and using your hands to knead it an work it into a smooth elastic dough.  Leave it in a warm place for ½ hour and it doubles in size.  And then you shape it and pop it in the oven.  And then there is the wonderful aroma that apparently sells houses.  I was talking to a fellow breadmaking enthusiast today and she said, “every time I make bread, a miracle happens!”

There is one active ingredient:  yeast.  Just 1 teaspoon, when combined fully into the flour, has the power to transform the dough into something wonderful.

Recently I have started to use the bread making process to pray.  I am not an expert prayer, nor am I an expert bread-maker.  But last night a group of us went on a journey together to make bread, and pray at the same time.  We thought of a person or situation that we wanted to pray for.  And we combined flour, salt, water and yeast together.  There was a point when it was chaos as each of us had a sticky gooey mess.  But gradually as we all wrestled with and punched the dough, it became a prayer.  A hardworking tough prayer, but a prayer nonetheless.

We put our bread in bowls and waited for them to rise, and to everyone’s delight, they rose!  We shaped them into symbols which represented our prayers and our faith.  And then baked them.

Yesterday I made a loaf and it was only when nearly all the water was added, I remembered I hadn’t put the yeast in!  I put it in with the rest of the water and hoped for the best.  The results were a bit of a disaster.  It struck me that yeast, is very powerful, even though the amount you use is tiny.  But if it’s not fully integrated throughout the dough, the loaf ends up bulgy and lumpy.

Let’s imagine for a minute that we are the yeast.  Do we decide to stay in the tin/sachet?  Or do we mix ourselves with flour (amid the world’s injustice) and allow that transformation to happen?  Bishop Laurie Green says,

“They say faith is personal – not to be let out of the bottle. But with Jesus, though small in number, working alongside the troubled & heavy-laden, we see his transforming Kingdom come ‘on earth as in Heaven!’”

Here is a picture of the bread made by our “star baker” last night.  Just one of many examples of how a sticky mess was transformed into something beautiful yesterday evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lets ask God how we might be transformed by his divine yeast today, as we place ourselves and our world into the hands of the Divine Breadmaker.  And let’s also think about how we can, with His help, be the yeast in our society today.

 

 

 

 

Thy Kingdom Come – “Childhood”

childhood

The disciples came to Jesus and asked: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  He called a child over, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”  (Matthew 18:1-5).

 I wonder what Jesus meant when he challenged his disciples to “become like little children”?  I remember chatting about this with a group of friends once.  What is it about children that Jesus values and asks us to imitate?

We came up with a long list:  Children look at the world with awe and wonder.  They are innocent and uninhibited.  They have so much potential.  They have a real sense of justice, and what is right and wrong.  They express their emotions easily.  They live in the moment and have a real sense of fun. The list goes on.

I expect many of us have childhood memories that could relate to some, if not all of those aspects of childhood.

And then stuff happens. Along the way our confidence or self-esteem can get knocked, we can be disappointed, or hurt, or face rejection or bereavement, and we can become a bit jaded maybe.  Cynical even.

Jesus’ words challenge us in two ways:  Firstly they encourage us to look at those childlike qualities and to imitate them.  Secondly he affirms that children have deep worth, and inspires us to welcome them, to care for them, to nurture them.

Today a group of us met to pray for our schools.  It is a privilege for us in Blackley to have regular involvement with 5 schools, whether that is for assemblies, supporting governing bodies, or inviting the schools to church at Christmas, Easter and Harvest.

We acknowledged that our schools can sometimes be difficult places, and the hard- working and dedicated staff, as well as the children, face many pressures, with limited resources.

And so we prayed for our schools.  That they would be places of peace, nurture and safety.  That staff and students alike would flourish and grow.  We prayed for resilience: that as they grow up, the young people would maintain that deep sense of worth placed upon them by Jesus.  And we prayed that our schools would raise up citizens who would fight for justice and peace.

And as we prayed for our schools, for the staff and the children alike, we also wondered how, we, the church in Blackley, might seek to be part of the answer to our prayers:  how we might help support our schools further.  If you have any suggestions, please let us know!

 

 

 

Thy Kingdom Come – “The Sower”


Earlier today, a dozen or so of us were charged with an important task.  We were sent home with a plant pot and a gladioli bulb – prayerfully sown. We had used the Parable of the Sower as a focus for our prayer.  The bulb first representing a person, a family, a community or more.   We then held them before God and prayed for good soil and for the seed of the Word of God to land well.


Like so many of the parables it leads us on in our understanding of how God is working out his purposes – bringing in his kingdom.  Have you ever wondered what the people listening made of it?  They would be sure that when Jesus started to talk about sowing seeds that he would be picking up the old promises of of God planting his people in their own land again.  Jesus was about to tell them how they would be victorious any day soon…wasn’t he?


Imagine the reaction then as Jesus starts to talk about a sower with a bad aim! This wasn’t people being sown though – it was the Word.  Jesus seemed to say that, somehow or other, the seed (or Word) landing in different environments might be some kind of selection process or judgement.  


Some would hear the Word and it would be immediately snatched away or lost.  Others hear about Jesus and there is a little glimmer but it is going nowhere really.  There are those who hear the Word and grow in faith but just before the heavenly party poppers are out, an event or an illness or a loss has the new disciple in a stranglehold.  You know the parable.


With a plant pot and a sharpie pen in hand we prayed – some will have prayed for some good soil, some would have prayed for an accurate aim and others will have prayed that we do some groundwork.


Apparently they farmed a bit differently in Palestine back then.  The Sower might not have had a bad aim at all.  They sowed first and ploughed after.  Some seeds that landed badly may well have been lost but it wasn’t necessarily the end of the story.  With God there is never really an end to a story.  Don’t despair when the Word seems to land badly in a situation – pray for some kind of ‘ploughing in’ down the line somewhere.


Thy Kingdom Come – “Waiting on God”

TKC WTP

Winnie the Pooh was more ‘chilled’ than most of us – getting there someday isn’t usually fast enough.   Lots of us carry around devices which, among other things, help us to navigate a route A to B.  They are always set, by default, to do so in the shortest possible time.  How many of us don’t ‘fast forward’ through the adverts to get to the end of the drama on ITV?

Yet before God moves, there always seems to be a period of waiting.  It can’t be that God has a lackadaisical approach towards us.  Any idea that He responds to our fervent prayers with a shrug of the shoulders and “Domani’ just won’t do.  It is not consistent with what we know of Him.  So there must be something else on offer in the waiting.

Today is Ascension Day and the start of our part in the Thy Kingdom Come prayer project which churches across the nation will join in – in fact churches across the world.  When Luke starts his second volume (Acts of the Apostles) he revisits and recounts the ascension of Jesus as if something in the encounter was pivotal to our understanding of what had gone before and what was to follow.

The friends of Jesus are impatient to know if this the moment when God will make everything right.  When we meet later tonight to worship, we will be carrying with us some of the grief and anxiety of Mancunians everywhere who might be asking a similar question.  How long before all of this stuff ends?  Jesus asks them (and perhaps us) to wait on God.

‘Waiting on God’ is like no other kind of waiting.  Some waiting seems to be passive – that kind of waiting is the wishful thinking we experience when the bus, just in sight at Rochdale Road, will carry the number 18 when it eventually draws close.

‘Waiting on God’ is waiting with expectation.  God has been faithful in the past, continues to be faithful and will be faithful in the future.  We are alert to the many and varied ways he is making his presence known and felt in the world.  On Monday evening we witnessed God’s image bearers in countless acts of love and service around a scene of terror.

So, we learn too that ‘waiting on God’ is sensing that we have a purpose and a task.  When the apostles were told to wait they were waiting for the gift of God’s Spirit at Pentecost.   When we reach the end of our period of prayer we will celebrate the gift of God’s presence in our world, our lives, our church and our community.

This active and expectant waiting on God, which marks out a disciple of Jesus, changes us every bit as much as it unleashes divine intervention into those situations we pray for.  Perhaps this is the one answer to prayer that you can easily predict.  Luke, when recording Jesus’ teaching on prayer, gave us that passage about knocking and doors being opened and those who seek will find and it all just seems far too easy.  Too easy to be disappointed.  At the end of that passage in Luke 11 Jesus gives us a promise of an answer to prayer that we can bank on when he says about our petitions, “how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him”

Ascension Day is the day that we celebrate the Kingship of Jesus.  His rule and reign on earth and the part he has called us play as we ‘wait on God’.

Maybe, Luke revisits the Ascension at the beginning of his second volume because he has realised that the story he is about to tell is actually the story of how the reign Jesus begins to take a hold in the life and ministry of the apostles as they, empowered by His presence, make the new creation a reality.

Winnie the Pooh is right, there may be no hurry….we shall get there someday.  But for those who really incline their heart to waiting on God that someday is now as we watch and wait expectantly we see evidence of the rule and reign of Jesus in us and those around us.

 

 

Puzzling Reflections In A Mirror

In 2012 I took my mum and dad to Lake Como.  I didn’t know it then but it would be the last time I would get to take my dad out of the country.  We’d been fortunate enough to share many amazing holidays over the years but now he could only walk a few yards and his health was failing.  One day we travelled over the other side of the lake and drove through the mountains into Switzerland for lunch.  I recall teasing my dad about the ‘special’ clinics they had over there and if he didn’t behave himself there’d be one less passenger in the car on the way back to Italy.  That sounds cruel now but he laughed – he laughed at all my daft jokes and I always was ready to return the favour.

Five years on, when my dad was finally released from hospital and taken into specialist nursing care, we filled his walls with photographs and one frame was filled with pictures from Lake Como.  By this time his vascular dementia had taken a menacing hold on his life and on mine too.  Sometimes he he would ring me distressed not able to remember much at all and sometimes I would catch glimpses of my dad that I would cherish.  Towards the end, when I was praying that his end would be a peaceful one and not too far away, I would catch a glimpse of the photos from Como and try to remember anything except that ‘stupid’ remark.

This week is Dementia Awareness week.  That story about my dad is uncomfortable for me to tell but most of you will have been affected by dementia in some way already.  Some of you in the Blackley churches have allowed me to share your experience too.  Uncomfortable or not, it is important we talk about it.

If reports are true, it will be the 21st centuries biggest killer.  It is the illness or condition the majority of us fear the most and it is not difficult to understand why.  I have watched what happens to families as dementia takes a hold of someone and now I have experienced it in my own family.  People who were once friends and lovers soon become carers and patients.  As memories fade and confusion take a hold identities change and it becomes incredibly hard to remember what things used to be like – we watch as the person we love seems to disappear before our very eyes.

Recently, I read an article by Professor Peter Keven (Staffordshire University) who had done some research and written from a Christian perspective on the subject.  He had some interesting things to say about dementia and how we might be able to look at things a bit differently through the eyes of faith.  I am really grateful to him fir that short piece.

He reflected on our modern desire for independence.  The philosophy of, “I think, therefore I am” pre-dates post modernism by centuries but it links the ability to reason with identity in a way that could prove be unhelpful.  It does, however, seem like an appropriate slogan for our times.  Productivity and purpose are God-given instincts (see instructions to Adam in Genesis 2) but away from God and out of check they leave us in a difficult place when production is impossible and when purpose is apparently lost. The amount we contribute to the world personally and professionally is obviously important but nothing will ever improve how we are viewed as a beloved children of God – something I need to remind myself of when I look at my busy calendar.  I have a strange fascination with newspaper obituaries – is that an age thing?  I have not seen ‘beloved child of God’ listed as as a title in an obituary and yet surely it is the highest status – I want to say ‘one could achieve’ but it is only ours by grace.

The desire to hold on to life and health and independence is understandable but when a person’s whole value is tied up in these things we might just have started to create idols out of our very selves and in doing so distorted our true and lasting identity – one bearing God’s image.

I remember the day the doctors told me they needed to put a ‘deprivation of liberty’ order in place for my dad so that they could put an alarm on his seat.  He could no longer make sensible decisions about his ability to walk and was a danger to himself.  I suppose he’d got to the point where he could no longer reason, he’d produced very little for years and was completely dependent.  Yet, right to the very last moments of his life, he managed to bless me with reminders of his dry sense of humour, a silly grin, a line from a song or a familiar phrase.  The professor of the article who inspired me to write for you on this subject called these things ‘habits of the heart’.

I wish that I could rewind and erase from history that daft joke about the Swiss clinic but what is so much more important is that the smiling old fella dressed in an M&S white vest in the photo taken on the balcony in Como is the same one I laughed and continued to love and admire in the Withington nursing home.  The smile (and the M&S vest actually) were the habits of his heart which I will treasure for as long as I am blessed with the power to remember.

At the end of Paul’s great love passage 1 Cor 13 comes this verse:
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely (NLT)
Ultimately, it is not our cognitive power that matters.  However puzzling the reflections may one day become for us, what really matters in that we are all known – and one day we will know again – and next time – completely.
Eddie Roberts

A View From The Bridge

A view from the bridge

My apologies to devotees of the playwright Arthur Miller. This is not an attempt at a literary review. For that you can be grateful! Instead it’s an attempt to get us not to overlook the blindingly obvious. As you negotiate each day, you come across lots of ways to get yourself thinking God- wise; that is, allowing Him to speak through the everyday events of life, and offering back something of yourself.

Over a river in a forest close to my home, there’s a bridge. When you stop and watch the river flowing beneath, you can allow yourself a minute or two to be reminded of something God has been saying to you. Often, though not exclusively, it’s about water, there’s a fair bit about water in Scripture. In fact it can be anything- some insight into situations at home, at work or among friends and fellow worshippers. The more we picture these, the more we are exposing them to God’s wisdom and scope of action. The busy world we inhabit is back there beyond the forest entrance. Here is the sacred space where God’s proportions apply, not human ones. It’s a fine opportunity for silent prayer, particularly of the listening kind. If it only makes us think bigger than what is actually before our eyes, then it is helping us to meet God and offer something of our mind and will. Therefore it’s the start and the heart of worship.

It’s a good idea to go on from the bridge along the path through the forest, keeping the ideas alive that came to mind on the bridge. On the way I see lots of ordinary things (or not a lot, depending on the season). Whether they lead me to develop my thoughts, or just offer a way to almost unwittingly receive from God without words, I’m getting different nutrients, as it were, to feed my life.

bridge.jpg

If there are worries, difficulties, blind corners ahead, and so on, that litter our lives, then here is our chance to gain peace. The more we give up, the more we get from God. He tweaks the perspective we have, and some great work is done that we or someone else may experience. Only, we have to believe, and keep trying this, because it shows we are willing. Somehow our usual surroundings start to teach us. They are not just obvious, ordinary and unchanging. And yet the most important development isn’t in how the scenery looks to us, but inside us. So, what might you put in place of the bridge? Where might your comfortable space be? Maybe a view from the bus, a view from the desk, a view from the living room, or a view from the shopping centre? You supply your own. Just keep looking to meet God in the blindingly obvious, and take the experience forward with you. Your ears shall hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30. 21).

 

Philip James

The Children’s Society

the-childrens-societyEarly in October I attended a meeting at Christchurch Rectory. Joanne Nicholson of The Children’s Society came to share with us some information re the crucial work of the Society.
Who they are; The Children’s Society has helped change children’s stories for over a century.
What do they do? They fight poverty and neglect, helping children to have a better chance in life. 
I must admit I knew very little about their work and I was very impressed by what I heard. During the afternoon I remember thinking that our congregations should hear about this as I am sure that there are those who would like to be involved in and support this vital work.
I brought away an information pack and these are available from the Society.
They have speakers who are willing to come to take Sunday services and to tell of their work.An important work happening right here in Manchester.
Some of you will probably be fully informed re this amazing work but I would encourage others,to go to their website.childrenssociety.org.uk
The Society has need of help in so many areas it would be great if our churches were able to be involved.
I am leaving you with this prayer which can be found in one of the information leaflets.
Loving God, open my heart to your children.
May my ears hear their laughing and my eyes see their hurt.
May my hands be gentle and caring, yet strong and resolute where change is needed.
May I speak so all your children, the happy and laughing and the troubled and lost, may come to know your love and justice no matter where they are.
Amen
Sylvia.
For more information, please contact the Support Care team by Email on supportercare@childrenssociety.org.uk or call 0300 303 7000