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 – “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 – “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.

 

 

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