If I am ever occasionally successful through preaching or private conversation in persuading someone that GOD LOVES THEM (or persuading myself that GOD LOVES ME!), there is perhaps an even greater challenge in convincing human beings that GOD DELIGHTS IN THEM!
We may (just) come to accept that God loves us rather as a dutiful parent loves an errant child - think of the parable of the Prodigal Son. Yet the truth is even more wonderful than that. God, our divine creator, our father and mother in heaven, has an image of us - God's uniquely created individuals, which never falters. An image which never wavers in God's eyes, despite what we as individuals may do through miss-deed, or miss-thought to mar our image in our own eyes. Sometimes when we are content with ourselves we can grasp the wonder of who we are and say, like the psalmist of psalm 139: 'I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made' - Yet too-often we wallow in our mistakes and failings, or get caught up in worldly notions of what is beautiful or what is ugly.
Thankfully, there are some human events which can help to lift us out of such selfish self-condemnation. The recent Olympics and Paralympics have championed diversity and endeavour and celebrated human joy in the achievements of others. Beauty could be seen everywhere.
Amidst the nightmarish scenes of death and destruction in Aleppo and other fields of conflict, or emerging from apocalyptic areas of natural disaster, occasionally the camera dares to show a dust-covered rescue-worker cradling a child, who, despite everything shall live.
Of course it is right that we should be shocked by our own sinfulness or the broken-ness and evil we repeatedly see in our world, yet God's look of love does not waver from us for one moment. God continues to delight in the truth of who we truly are, and the hope placed in our hearts that we can become more fully and truly ourselves. Not less-human, but more human. For every global human situation and every human individual, there is that hope - because of God's unwavering gaze of love, God's delight in who we truly are.
Earlier this year I presided at a wedding in St Helens church where the couple's delight in one another, their unwavering look of love for one-another, was matched by their delight in and care for their family and friends. Their wedding day became not just a proclamation of their love, but a demonstration and proclamation of God's love for us all. St Helens Church became one of those 'thin-places' where heaven breaks-through, and love is all-in-all.
There is in our world, much to grieve-over, much to repent, plenty of need for God's healing love. There are also countless hints and reminders (if we have eyes to see them, hearts to receive them) of God' s love for and delight in us as, through Jesus Christ, God's children.
October is one of the months of Harvest, so may your personal harvest this-year, be the knowledge that God delights in YOU!
As well as being a song by Swedish group from the seventies, ABBA; 'I believe in angels' is a phrase you are as likely to hear from non-Christians as Christians. This begins to seem highly ironic when some of those willing to confess believe in the existence of angels criticise Christians for their belief in, for example, the resurrection!
There is however, nothing wrong in believing in the existence of angels as spirit beings who are messengers and servants of God, there are many references to angels in both the old and new testaments, as well as in texts of other faiths. The sixteenth century theologian and protestant reformer John Calvin, whilst admitting the biblical evidence for angels, counselled Christians against too-strong a focus upon them for fear that this would distract from the more important study of and relationship with Jesus.
Yet, even in the 21st century, churches throughout the world, will celebrate the feast of 'St Michael & All Angels' (This year in our parishes on September 29th at our 10.30 Village Communion at St Peter's). The fact that we do so is a useful admission and reminder that our faith admits that there is more to life (and death!) than the physical, and that the God we worship is 'maker of heaven and earth, of all things seen and unseen'.
St Helens village joyfully abounds with angels in December when creative individuals and groups cause a wonderfully diverse range of angels to 'pop-up' around the village green and neighbouring areas.
I think that it is good for us as humans to recognise creatively in music, the arts, and our theology, that we don't have all the answers, and also that the acknowledgment of something 'other', something spiritual is not limited to Christians or Christian thinking. And now an appeal: I would love to hear of the views of readers of this postconcerning angels so if you have an experience or a thought on this topic, please let me know by writing to me at The Vicarage.
Meanwhile, may God's holy angels guard, guide and protect you, and those you love.
When Jesus visited the home of Martha and Mary (as told in Luke's Gospel Chapter 10), Martha complains that Mary her sister has left her to do all the work of home-maker and hostess, whilst Mary sits at Jesus' feet listening to Jesus as he taught.
Jesus defends Mary, saying that she 'has chosen the better-part' - or done the right thing by choosing learning and listening to him over the routine drudgery.
In this, Jesus is not condoning laziness or idleness, but he is highlighting the value of setting time-aside for one's spiritual development (especially poignant in this example because in Jesus' day women were not normally counted as worthy of learning or spiritual development as men were.)
Holidays, or Holydays are opportunities for all of us fortunate enough to be able to take them, to gain spiritual refreshment and renewal; to set some time apart to 'listen' to God. It is wonderful that we are able through the dedicated care of volunteers at St Peter's and St Helen's Churches as well as at St Catherine's Chapel to keep these special spaces open day by day so that people can drop-in to pray, to be still, or to listen in the silence for God's word to them, and to discover God's love for them.
In this holiday season - as we try to gain rest and peace if possible ourselves, let's thank God for the Marthas and pray for their refreshment and renewal - whilst also thanking God for those Marys who remind us of the wisdom of sitting-down with Jesus.
May God grant you peace and rest this summer wherever you go or whatever you do.
This piece is being written in the week before our country's referendum on our future in Europe, and will be published and distributed after we know the result. Safe in this form of time-travel, I can declare here what I ought not to do before the event - that it is my fervent hope and prayer that we will have voted to remain 'in' Europe. It may be that the recent political debate has raised other important existential and spiritual questions around to whom and to what we should belong.
As human beings we all belong primarily to God, and then, to one-another. A true understanding of this fact makes a nonsense of borders and boundaries, and a true understanding of this ought to bring the realisation that every human-life is precious. Grasping how much God loves each and every one of us is the enlightenment that leads to peace. When the Pharisees and Herodians tried to cause division and political turmoil around Jesus in the first century, by using a question over to whom his followers should pay taxes, Jesus' response was to place the value on the human rather than the fiscal. He took a coin and asked his challengers whose image appeared upon it. "Ceasar's" they replied. Then, said Jesus, "Give to Ceasar the things that are Ceasar's, and give to God the things that are God's" (See Mark 12:1 3-17, or Matthew 22: 20-22).
Whatever has happened with the referendum, let us give ourselves and one another to God. Let us value our own lives and the lives of others more highly than material goods or political notions, and let us bring peace wherever we can.
We are all God's Children, we belong to God - and no referendum can ever change that!
This year - and this June in particular, our nation and the Commonwealth celebrate Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's ninetieth birthday. For two thirds of her life, this remarkable Christian woman has been our Queen - making her the longest reigning Monarch in British history thus-far!
Even more remarkable than Her Majesty's length of reign, has been the manner of her service - which calls to my mind the words of Graham Kendrick's wonderful worship-song; 'From Heaven You Came' in which the extraordinary self-giving of Jesus - who is the Servant-King - is described. It seems likely that Her Majesty's own Christian faith and understanding of King Jesus' rule as 'Servant' has been a key element of her own selfless devotion to her duty and responsibilities as our Monarch, which she has exercised with such grace and wisdom. I hope that her faith has brought, and will continue to bring strength, comfort and joy to Her Majesty in both her public and private roles.
There can be few roles as daunting or potentially complicated as to be the Monarch of this Nation. However, all of us have responsibilities of one sort or another which we can execute with greater grace and wisdom when we are in relationship with Jesus whose life was poured out for us on the cross. Now, Jesus lives and reigns; He is the King of Heaven who shows us new ways of living, new ways of loving, new ways of caring for all people as His subjects. Jesus says to us: 'A new commandment I give you: that you love one-another, as I have loved you' (John 13: 33-34).
As well as participating in the village celebrations in St Helen's and Seaview on the weekend of 11th/12th June, - why not join us at 10.00am at St Helen's Church for a special service (Sung Communion) which will celebrate Her Majesty's Birthday and give thanks for her life and Reign.