For those with school-age children the summer holiday season begins towards the end of this month. Living on the 'year-round holiday isle' of the Isle of Wight, however, most of us are aware of a steady stream of visitors to this destination who come, young and old, seeking sun, relaxation, peace and beauty. Being a 'holiday island' is vital to the Isle of Wight's social and economic welfare. Other island destinations around the world may specialise in more obvious 'escapism' through exotic landscapes, conspicuous luxury and perhaps a more general use of 'recreational' drugs and excessive alcohol. On the whole, we do things more gently here...escapism is less the point for visitors here, than is a sense of 'slowing down', finding peace and a restoration of harmony.
Perhaps, as much as sand, sea, sunshine and rural landscapes, what makes the Isle of Wight such a haven of peace and restoration, may be it's centuries of Christian faith and worship. Certainly we get holiday visitors to our churches who rarely if ever go to church when 'at home'. Perhaps the Isle of Wight is still a land that is Holy, and perhaps this enhances holidays.
Of course, peace, slowing down and a restoration of harmony are not things we should ration or only seek when on holiday. There are many horrors and troubles in our world which we might seek to escape through hedonism or denial, but such an escape is only temporary.
What human beings need is a more permanent sense of peace which comes from knowing that there is a God and that God loves them. A sense of peace which comes from a knowledge of, and trust in God's love for all people.
At a certain point in history - just before Jesus was arrested and then Crucified, he met with his disciples, and despite the political and religious danger and friction of the times, and the sadness of saying 'farewell' spoke words of peace to his friends. Jesus said: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid" (John 14:27)
Jesus doesn't give us escapism, nor is Christianity 'the opium of the people'. Instead, Jesus enters into the reality of our daily lives with all our joys and sorrows, and proves God's love for us. Constantly, consistently, faithfully, loving us. Love wins.
I pray that whenever you holiday, and whenever you don't, you will know the reality of God's love for you, and the peace which Jesus brings.
June this year is a particularly significant month for many individuals and nations. There are for example, presidential or general elections taking place in the following countries:
The United Kingdom
We should of course pray that in each of these cases the elections will be peaceful, democratic and Just. Whatever the results of each election, some folk will rejoice, and some will be sorrowful.Lives will be affected by the results so, hopefully all who have a vote in such elections will use it. June will bring change. We should pray for all who stand for public or political office, and not allow our own cynicism or fears to hide the fact such leaders are human beings loved by God, and we should not be too-fearful of change.
June is also the month in which Pentecost falls this year. Pentecost recalls the wonderful giving, 'outpouring' of the Holy Spirit from God, when 'tongues of flame' appeared to rest on Jesus' disciples. The disciples were empowered to share with people from all nations the good news of Jesus resurrection and of his life and teachings and of God's love for all people.
The Holy Spirit is sent for all of us of course, and in the Letter to the Galatians in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, we are reminded of some of the ways that the Holy Spirit transforms human lives and behaviour. Galatians chapter five lists the 'Fruits' of the Spirit as; LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS, and SELF CONTROL.
We should pray that we, and all who lead our nation, will bear these fruits, and face whatever changes may come in June or at any other time, trusting in God and God's transforming love.
I pray that whatever change may come into your own lives this June (or at any other time), you will know the depth and power of God's love for YOU.
Well, for Christians, Easter lasts for a season (till 28th May, this year). It is not simply the day in which we remember Christ's resurrection on a date coinciding with an older festival which also focuses on 'new-life', it is the beginning of New-life which can carry on for all time.
To live as Easter people is to go beyond the indulgence (which this Vicar also enjoys), of Chocolate feasts and roasted lamb, of family gatherings and holidays. To live as Easter People means to recognise both the promise and the responsibility of being offered new-life, eternal life. It means (to borrow a comment from a colleague), creating a society which God will bless and approve.
What kind of society is that?
Left to our own devices we would all come up with very different ideas! However, in Jesus, God has given us not just a model (perfect) King, but a model for citizenship in his Kingdom:
A citizen who values the lost, the lonely and the overlooked. A King who serves his subjects and raises the status of women, children and those whom society scorns. A citizen who welcomes the foreigner as friend, and who cares for the sick and the suffering, who restores relationships and builds peace.
We can all be a part of building a world more like the one which God intends. Through our day to day choices and relationships, through our welcome and care for others and through the choices we make in who we listen to, who we follow, and which leaders we choose for our world.
Let us pray that we make wise choices, that we live and love well, and that our Lord of Easter, the risen Lord Jesus lives in our hearts always.
This April (of the year 2017), Easter Day falls almost exactly in the middle of the month. There are fifteen April days before Easter, and fourteen April days afterwards. Easter Day is, this year, the hinge or lynch-pin of the whole month of April. The 'before and after' effect of the Resurrection seem somehow brought into focus by this 'accident' of the calendar, and April this-year mirrors the distinction between pre-resurrection history and post-resurrection future.
For those of us who believe that God loves us so much that he became one of us, took into the heart of God the worst that human beings can inflict upon themselves or God, and in return showered love, mercy and forgiveness from the cross; then Easter Day is the vindication of that love and the flowering of that love.
Early on Easter morning, Mary carries despair and sorrow with her when she goes to the garden tomb to anoint the corpse of her saviour-friend. So great is her grief that it blinds her to a new-reality and she mistakes Jesus for a gardener. Her despair and sorrow is transformed when Jesus, risen from that tomb, calls her name and calls her to new-life.
Perhaps it is less puzzling that human beings should believe in God, than that God should believe in human beings! Yet there God is undaunted, risen, glorious and loving us just as much as ever despite the horror and cruelty of which we are capable.
Somehow, mysteriously, God has not given up on us - not even now, centuries later even in our mixed up, cynical and war-torn world, God still speaks to us, - gentle as a friend, as earthbound and creative as a gardener, and calls our name, and calls us to new life, and new hope.
Whatever the lead-up to Easter is like for you, whatever worries, burdens or delights come your way, my prayer is that you and those you love will hear the call of God's love to you, and that you will be filled with Easter joy and Easter hope.........Happy Easter!
'For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also'. Matthew 6.v21.
Jesus' advice to his followers clearly points to the value of non-material things - such as human relationships and the relationship between humanity and God. These two categories are designed to be rooted in God's love for all people, but too-often, worldly notions and values have pointed in an altogether different, destructive and unholy area.
It is not simply material goods and wealth which may (in some cases they might not), interfere with 'loving our neighbour as oneself'. Our opinions can do so also. We live in a world where political, religious and social views are ever more polarised and debate between those of difference is increasingly vitriolic and painful.
Yet this is not how Christ wants us to be, and perhaps when we grasp just how much each one of us is loved by God (despite our innate prejudices and opinions), then we will be better able to converse lovingly with those with whom we differ. How do we do this? Well, by locating ourselves not in the argument itself, or upon one side of it or another, but in God; in the source of love who relishes diversity and difference.
In March, we enter into Lent - a time of repenting for the sins we have committed personally and as corporate members of the global village. As part of our repentance can we try to move (counter-culturally) away from the triumphal declaration of personal life choice or political/ religious opinion? Can we try to move away from the 'Me-first' movement which equates nationhood with isolationism? And which turns 'belonging' into 'behating'?
Let our starting point for all debate and interaction be God's great love for all God's Children and let us locate ourselves in that place of love.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding be with you all, evermore.