Thy Kingdom Come – “Lord, teach us to pray…a prodigal child”

 

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A father wraps a faltering hand around the head of a beloved son and draws him into his chest.  The son savours each moment – either because he never thought he’d get the chance to be here again or because he knows that one day it will all be taken away and never return.

It is a deeply personal story that some of us will know or it is the story of The Prodigal Son.

It is a reminder of the God who waits at the window – desperate for his tearaway child to return home or it is the story of Israel who finds herself in exile.

Either way, a father’s longing heart breaks as the child drifts a bit and soon he seems to forget who he is and what he is for.  The image of the Father has faded until you can barely see it.

The Lord’s Prayer… Our Father in Heaven.

The father is faithful. As the son asks for the inheritance he, effectively, wishes his father dead and breaks the family ties (or the covenant if you’re reading the story of Israel between the lines) but the father remains faithful, patient, determined.  Desperate for the chance to gallop up the path should the child come to his senses and into view.

To all who desire it, he offers the right to be children again (cf John 1)

The Lord’s Prayer… Hallowed be your name

When the homecoming BBQ is over and it is time to hang up the robe, the child is surely faced with a dilemma that the story doesn’t cover. How to respond.

The hand around the back of the head and the underserved embrace changed everything – grace does that. Honouring the Father’s name is what is required now.  The child (this child, every child) may have forgotten who he is and what he is for but the Father never did.  Because real Fathers never do.

The gospels go on to speak of another embrace (God’s arms outstretched like never before or since) which has restored the status and the resemblance and there is no turning back. The Father grants the right to be a child again.

And this is how the new creation breaks into the old.  This is how light fights back the darkness.

The Lord’s Prayer…#ThyKigdomCome

 

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)

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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”

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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 – Praying for the Nation

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When we set aside the time in #ThyKingdomCome for praying for our nation we could not have imagined the situation we would find ourselves in.  On Monday evening we sat with newspapers from the week and searched the headlines for good and bad stories through the eyes of faith.  Some people  would have you believe that faith and politics should not mix

Some people would have you believe that faith and politics should not mix – others might argue that they are one and the same!  The definition of the word ‘politics’ points to the ordering of society and effective governance.  If you take a look at the derivative of the word religion  (or re-ligion – reconnection/think of ligaments in a limb) you might agree that we are on similar ground.

Across Palestine and Jerusalem and much of the known world in the 1st century, you would have heard shouts of Caesar is Lord wherever people gathered.  When a group of people who’d followed the Nazarene around for a little while started to shout “Jesus is Lord” what were they doing if not politics?  They believed, at great risk, that God had just become King and if God was King then there was no room for any other.

So, it is important that we ‘do’ politics – even if the politicians are nervous about ‘doing God’.  Yesterday evening, one headline stood out for us.  “There is a light that never goes out” is the title of a song by The Smiths.  It has been used by some of the newspapers to describe the spirit evident in the people of Manchester this past week.  For us, it was a reminder of the intentions and purposes of God who came amongst us in order that darkness would never prevail.

Let us pray and then work for peace in our world, that the forces of hatred, violence and fear may be pushed back and a new bright day of peace dawn upon the world. History is not predetermined. Love WILL prevail in the end.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word (Martin Luther King).

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” (Martin Luther King)

Thy Kingdom Come – “Prayer without words”

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This morning we met together to continue our prayers on the theme of ‘Thy Kingdom Come’.

In the light of what has happened recently, the focus of our thoughts today were led to those words from our Lord’s Prayer:

“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us…..for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory…”

This theme of forgiveness is especially poignant at the moment for our nation.

As a group this morning, we reflected on the account in 1 Samuel 24 and the story of how David resisted killing King Saul (who had been pursuing David to take his life) even though Saul was in a vulnerable position – alone – and unknowingly (because they were in a dark cave) – in the direct presence of David and his soldiers. Instead, David chose to merely cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak – perhaps to prove to Saul that he did have the opportunity to kill him but however chose not to.

Reflecting on this piece of scripture led us to a sharing of interactive and creative prayer, first using sprigs of rosemary (apparently, potent help in combatting memory loss) and coloured threads of silk to symbolise a person, persons or situation that we find hard to forgive. Then we made small book-mark-sized crosses using a template and brightly coloured wool to create something which we could give to people or use ourselves to focus our minds. I realise that there is a paradox in the act of using rosemary in the sense that we are needing to use it to ask God to help us forgive (forgive and forget…!) past hurts and move forward to the new creation God plans for us but it was helpful in linking remembering God’s grace and mercy we have in Jesus Christ to our own need to forgive past hurts.

Eddie shared with us also that he was reminded of Shaine Claiborne who wrote about the power of ‘Prophetic Prayerful Action’ which the author had experienced whilst living in a Christian community – where they gathered together guns that had been handed in and these were made into practical gardening implements… also reminding us of those words of scripture from Mic 4, v3:

“They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Although the awful reality of the events of Monday evening cannot be diminished or reconciled – yet there is a sense in which the people of Manchester have chosen (like David and his soldiers) not to respond with violence – but to bravely stand in solidarity with their fellow brothers and sisters of every race, faith and culture – “proud Mancs” and not allow this tragic incident to define the future negatively, but to press on towards a higher goal.

On that same Monday at the Christie Hospital – a special commemorative service was held to mark the blessing of a banner made for the Chaplaincy corridor – made by young people and contributed to by different sectors of the local community and finally the finished work blessed by Muslim, Jewish and Christian faith leaders. That work of prayerful creativity now has even more significance and will ever stand for brothers and sisters working together for God’s kingdom to come in that place.

 

 

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”

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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.