Catherine Hutton Poetry, Prophecy, Bible Thinking -featuring- Vulnerability, Eccentricity, Grace

Beyond Eden

The eighth day and we were Beyond Eden

The eighth day and we were Beyond Eden

I have been working in this piece for over two years with a sense of dissatisfaction. Recent events have spurred me on to finish it … if it is finished?
Like my previous post, the early drafts wanted resolution and completeness, but that can’t be …
The final line (current final line) speaks of ‘just the hope’ … I wrote it , thinking that hope is ‘barely there’ and as it settled, I realised that the ‘just’ is also about only.

A while ago, when I was finding it hard to see light in my own head, with depressive heaviness, the barely there and only Hope was that He would bring resolution.

God speaking is the Life-giving Word.

So, read this as a lament for the brokenness of Palestine & Israel.

And, if it helps, as a lament over your own Lost Eden.

With love

 

Beyond Eden

And there was disagreement and there were more killings:
The eighth day and we were Beyond Eden.
And it was not good.

The very land embodied brokenness:
Dry, lonely mountains and vast plains of emptiness
Locally invaded or taken by far off Emperors,
They came to claim the Land beyond Eden.

She was fragmented and disagreement reigned.
The holy city: shining and vibrant
Saw her walls destroyed again and again.
Disagreement. Reinvention. Re-destruction.

Millennia of fighting, of brokenness, of dispossession
shatter the land of Israel, of Palestine.

And God saw that it could be good
So sent his Son to dwell in

Obscure Nazareth,
To work in the homely towns of Galilee.

The Prince of Peace with a message of Love:
Of completeness.
Love that breaks down barriers 
And wreaks an earth-shattering peace;
Crumbles concrete, opinion, division
And the imperfect definition of brokenness and destruction.

And there were summits, and there were treaties:
The eighth day and we were still beyond Eden.

And there was leaving
And there was returning
And there was weeping
And there was despairing

And there was just the hope
That it being not good is not the final Word 

                                                                                   Catherine Hutton 3rd July 2014

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Church Outside

I am currently immensely proud of one of the Small Groups at our church.

It is our centenary year, and the groups have been challenged to find ways to make the life of the church more visible in the community. So, they have organised to have ribbons available in the shops which people can freely take and tie to the railings outside the ice cream shop.

Ribbons are a sign of people praying in the church and community

Ribbons are a sign of people praying in the church and community

 

School children. Bereaved people. Visitors. Ex-Pats. Mums and little ones together. People who haven’t been to church for a while. Other Christians. Lots and lots and lots of people have been and tied ribbons to the railings … it seems to me to be a sacramental act … outward and visible signs of invisible grace in their lives. There is a buzz about

People from the breadth of our community are tying ribbons

People from the breadth of our community are tying ribbons

the ribbons and people know we are a people of prayer, active in the community which we love.

When the Holy Spirit fell on and filled the Jesus followers at Pentecost, it was in a house in the city. God’s blessing was no longer confined to the rarified mountaintops of Sinai or Transfiguration. No longer away from the people but among and enticingly present in ordinary nameless people who were there.

As far as I know, there is no definitive list of the men and women upon whom the Holy Spirit fell at that time, “they were there” they were “together” and it was from this point of gathering in fellowship that they spilled out of the place where they had gathered and into the community. Noisy with the messages of God in a myriad of tongues, all around them, unstopped ears heard the message of Resurrection Hope and power and gave their lives to follow Jesus.

I love the accessibility of this passage. I love the hope that it brings as the church is birthed and Jesus’ promise to be forever with us begins to make sense. The church is born powerfully and divinely from on High. It brings passion and authority to the people for the message they will share and the lives they will lead. And it goes on.

I love the power of this story. Peter, newly restored and freshly empowered, delivers a sermon with a challenge drawing on his scriptures and the prophetic words of his tradition. He declares that this is God’s plan and from here, things have changed. In Acts 3, we find him sharing faith and miracles with the lame man at the Beautiful Gate at Jerusalem’s temple.

The power of God is not only for speaking. It is for living and for demonstrating. If we take the Word of God seriously and stand confidently on its promises, we are the ‘far off generations’ whom the Lord is calling to action.

Maybe, the church has become the rarified place of God’s activity. Confining his grace and glory to those in the know? This seems a few steps back from those who experienced the power of Pentecost, the power of God being poured out on “all people”… We find ourselves driven into our churches to experience his power and forget to venture outside and be church in the community, as we travel to work or to prayer, to school or to the shops … we are equipped with power from on high to share with those who are crying out for help.

Jesus always pointed people toward the Father when he performed miracles. And so should we, loving because “he first loved us” …

Faith spills out of the church and goes with the people into the world.

At the village fete, many many people took the free ribbons at our stall

At the village fete, many many people took the free ribbons at our stall

 

To seek out suffering and hurt and do something about it.

To fight injustice.

To bring healing and restoration.

To share faith.

Mostly, to show that our faith is born of God’s love for people … all people.

 

 

The Judges … well, some Biblical ones and some personal

Ouch!
I woke up full of doubt this Sunday morning. It was one of those exquisite times when every critical word ever spoken to me, heard about me, condemning me was played out on a lovely loop of scratched VHS tape in my brain.
A loop running around between head and heart condemned and convicted me many times before breakfast. During breakfast. And after.

It took some serious sacramental make-up application to pray myself into any kind of calm to go and preach the sermon for the people that day.

Stupid judgement!

I know that when the devil wants to have a real good go at me, he hits relationships first and hard. The relationship between me and my right to be ordained (I AM ordained and have been for well over a decade) took first blow. I have been studying the Judges of Israel. Powerful and scary stuff about remembering and forgetting God’s power to save. It is wonderful  – so wonderfully challenging that I have been wondering why I left it so long to get immersed.

Then we got to Deborah. She doesn’t do being a judge like a man does. She brings a different style and pace to her leadership … but the man whose book I have been using as one of my commentaries let me know that her leadership is not to be taken as an example of a woman in Church leadership, but to recognise that it is because there were no men in Israel fit for the task at the time… Oh my…

Now, it isn’t that I fell for his critique, there are too many ways that this doesn’t stack up …
There are clearly good men around, even right there in Deborah’s story (Barak for one), and God had chosen Deborah. She was the undisputed leader and the people treated her as such (4:5)
A woman had been given the Spirit of God for leadership and redemption as is invested in Israel’s Judges. I don’t really see why she needed to have her role diminished by the commentator, but even with my common sense screwed back on …

Out come the old demons of not-good-enough …who-do-you-think-you-are? … and they begin to gnaw on my sense of self… You are a gossipy woman, untrustworthy, disloyal … Ouch!
And I know that this won’t do.

I know that the stop and rewind buttons must be pressed in order for the tape to be erased … yeah yeah, I’m Old School, any younger and the delete would be instantaneous … but the imprint of these wounds needs to be wiped and re-recorded. Manually.

Which is where the sacramental make-up application comes in. It is my pause in the busy of getting ready. Hurry that eyeliner and it will veer madly into a gothic arc … be too quick with the eyeshadow and it will stand in vivid stripes … don’t blend the edges of the foundation well enough and it will look like a rubber mask… Lips should be covered, not smeared on face and teeth and as for fast mascara!
Just don’t try it!!

In the time it takes to apply my make-up, I pray God’s blessing into my heart.
To declare Him as the only righteous judge over my life and person.
I look myself in the eye. Properly. And find that I love the person there.
The creases and lines, the colour and light. The frown and the smile. I look at them and as I examine each part of my face and colour myself in so that I can be seen, I have a new judgement begin to be pronounced over me.
The working of grace, shown by the colour on my face and the bright dress I wear is vibrant …

I am daughter of the Most High God.

P1040672I am Catherine. God’s minister. Known by Jesus. Filled with the Spirit. Sent to serve, witness and make disciples. I am Teacher. I am preacher. I am called, tested and ordained. And it takes this time of prayerful make up application to see myself again. Each stroke of the brush or the careful pencil lines, the sparkles and the colours show I’ve been at prayer and show that I have received God’s restoration…

 

 

 

 

 

So I leave the house in reasonable shape, confident that I have something worth saying … And I preach on Judges Chapter 2, reminding myself that God expects me to trust him. Absolutely. And, I don’t know why it surprises me, but it always does, it was a good sermon … anointed even …

I left the church, confident that I did what was required of me that day. Had a coffee to celebrate.
And a lovely cuddle with Aidan in the afternoon.

I am loved. Called and ordained by God.

Catherine, a prophet, wife of Gavin, was leading the Church at that time in Great Ayton …

Holy Week & Easter Part Two

How far will I follow him?

How far will I follow him?

I was 17 and we were on a mission trip to the deeply exotic Sedbergh when I first encountered Good Friday. Previous years, I had endured the dullness of the preacher and the droniness of the hymns, pondering why a green hill should have a city wall, let alone the point of the cross and  the death of Jesus. That year, I experienced a believer’s Good Friday. Or a grown up’s one? Maybe.

I knew that Jesus actually loved me.
The years before I had known about Jesus’ love for me and that he died for me and I had believed it then. This year, it was real.
A deep-sinking knowledge that led to a hugely passionate response of tears, maybe even a spot of sobbing and no dignity.
It was a long week. And God was calling me into a deeper relationship and commitment with him that was to lead to full-time ministry… I was right to howl.

So, from the days of green trousers, purple T shirt, waistcoat and vivid red lippy, I began to sink into Good Friday and to develop a loving response to Jesus.

It still hurts.

And now I am the minister, I don’t lead the congregation in communal wailing. But I feel the deep love and respect, the loss and the depth of moment that Jesus’ death brings.
I choose the sombre hymns.
Read the story of his cruel death.

I take my children along too, enduring the solemnity of Good Friday so that they may contrast it with the rampant and unfettered joy of Easter Sunday.

I wrote this for last year’s Good Friday service, trying out a different vantage point for the narrator. He was someone who didn’t belong to the crowd and definitely not someone for whom there is a free-flowing sympathy …
Last year was hard for me. I guess that ache always shows in what we create …

The Centurion

With helmet in my hand,
I stood on Calvary
Before the dawn that day.
Weighed down by heaviness of heart
As fear took hold and
Sucked the spirit right out of me.

Anxiety rose up within me
A stifling fog around my soul
And Calvary’s hill became an
Insurmountable mountain
Of unseen dangers and hidden traps.

I did not understand the gift of perfect Love
Nor yet the grace that Calvary would bring.
I did not yet understand the perfect timing
Of this serving, saving King.

I stood on Calvary that day
Before the daybreak came.

I did not understand the gift of perfect Love Nor yet the grace that Calvary would bring. I did not yet understand the perfect timing Of this serving, saving King.

I felt the foreboding in the breeze
And saw the open ground
Where the cross would stand.
The crows horribly waiting
As they flapped around
In dreadful anticipation.

I made all ready.
I stood my guard.
I watched the hill become a mountain
under his burden of the cross.

I listened and I watched and
As the dread chill left my heart,
A new dark fell with awesome power and
Filled the whole earth.

The One for whom we had waited,
Guarding the hill against his followers,
And whom we had tortured and tormented
Held his peace with God
As he showed his Father’s kingdom to the criminal…
Then, with a mighty exhalation,
He threw out his spirit to his Father’s judgement.
And in that final gasp
Even I pronounced him ‘righteous’.

I knew that night would be full of tears
And that dawn would not come with
A rising sun.
And that tomorrow would be empty. Motionless.
In a held-breath of exhaled anticipation.

Catherine Hutton    March 28th 2013

The form and structure of poetry has always appealed to me. I love to torment my youth group with poetry, trying to convince a bunch of science geeks that potty geekery is cool … In a bit of an experiment, I followed a strict format for my next poem. Forgiveness is a massive deal… as is holding onto rage against either self or those who have hurt us. Keeping the form tight here meant tat I had to get to the point quickly or the moment would pass … The sonnet structure is held to sometimes at the expense of the content … However, I do like the feel of this one on the tongue!

Losing the Plot

Bitter rage, white hot and hopeless seething-
In eternal moment of passion’s fight-
Binds my heart in chains of judgement making
Blind my eyes in fierce glare of senseless sight.
It wraps me round in cursèd quest for peace
Doomed spirit seeking which it may not find
Still augurs for that blessed sweet release
Of unpinned anchors and heaven’s hope combined.
Pinned to earth by passions, my straining-soul
With her clipped wings knows heaven’s heights no more
Full-laden heart takes earthly passions’ toll
Of this ungrace and unforgiveness’ score.
Forgiveness flows, releasing unction given
Embracing all my soul, revealing heaven.

 

And finally.
This year’s meditation.
It would probably be best read in one of the cool, spoken-word-type-rhythms … I am not so cool.
I will be keeping it slow.
Letting the first person become me as I almost stalk Jesus through his last days.

Am I John? Am I one of the Marys? Am I me, dressed in jeans and a shirt as I make my journey around Jerusalem?

I Would Be There

Waving branches so high
We sing for the King,
I have no doubt as I shout –
As I honour Him!
And I would run up the road
I would be there in the crowd
Following Jesus to Jerusalem.

He is angry now
In the House of Prayer.
Then I’m watching her bless him
With her oil-soaked hair.
And I would be there on the road
I would be in the crowd
Following Jesus around Jerusalem.

He is crying for His loss
At Lazarus’ death
Who’s then recalled from death’s tomb
With restored Life & Breath.
And I would be there on the road
I would be amazed in the crowd,
Watching Jesus in Jerusalem.

The Passover Lamb
His Body and Blood
Bread, Wine and Betrayal
He is not understood.
And I would be there on the road
I would follow their path
As they go down to the valley in Jerusalem.

He leaves them to watch
As he goes onward to pray
prayers of blood, anguish and tears
He commits to the Way.
And I would be there in the trees
Watching and sleeping
As the betrayer arrives in Jerusalem.

A kiss given, a sword brandished
Then denied by his own;
A dark night of trial.
He’s abandoned. Alone.
And I would be there in the shadows
I would be safely hidden
Escaping all notice in Jerusalem.

And now, they cry “Crucify!”
Simon carries His cross
The shame brought on Jesus,
Thorns, nails, sin, borne for us.
And I would be there in the crowd
Hear His words from the cross
As Jesus is killed in Jerusalem

The King of the Jews!
“IT IS FINISHED” he cries
Tastes vinegar wine
Breathes his last. Dies.
And I would be there with his mother
My hands holding hers
As darkness falls over Jerusalem.

A spear stabs his side
He’s laid in Joseph’s new tomb
Rolled the stone, set the guard
For a night of deep gloom.
And I would be there, shut away
For fear and for shame
Late Friday Night in Jerusalem

And darkness stood thick
And the Temple curtain was torn
And the dead left their graves
And the day did not come.

And I would be there
As my heart broke for Him
In Jerusalem.

© Catherine Hutton Wednesday, 16 April 2014

With love for a thoughtful Good Friday and a Joyful Easter Day

And I would be there on the road 
I would follow their path
 As they go down to the valley in Jerusalem.

And I would be there on the road

I would follow their path

As they go down to the valley in Jerusalem.

When personal space is needed … walking on water

Trusting Jesus: Mark Chapter 6

“I NEED SOME SPACE!!!!”

Oh, how that 21st century cry is heard in many of our lives!

To get away and sit and think on our own away from the clamorous needs of unspecified ‘people’ or ‘stuff’, even ‘everything’.

It is an overwhelming world in which we live.

There are so many pressures and demands made on us that we can barely feels though we can stand under them when they arrive all at once.
And so many times, we look at the demands and duties of our daily schedule and realise that there is enough there to be coping with. And it is often at that moment when the unthinkable will happen. A high profile set of obligations to the public and a personal crisis, shock, emotional blow, strikes. And strikes in a way that you can’t possibly put it on the shelf to deal with later … it is happening to you.
Now.

And you need some space to deal with it. To deal with yourself … because it’s crippling your spirit.

In a while, we will look at the verses about Jesus walking on water and explore the significance of that event out on the lake … but for it to have a context, we turn back to what came before … the Feeding of the 5000.
The clamour and push to be close to Jesus, to forget about dinner and to follow him as he set of out of town, resulting in the massive miracle and the demand of Jesus to his disciples

“YOU give them something to eat”

But why were they out in the middle of nowhere with no facility to provide for the people?
Because of the terrible news that Jesus’ cousin and prophet John the Baptist had just been beheaded by Herod as a grisly gift for Salome in exchange for a dodgy dance routine…

He needed space.

When we feel that we need space before we can be useful to anyone or anything...

When we feel that we need space before we can be useful to anyone or anything…

To grieve and pray.
To be away from the clamour and the public demands on him.

But they followed.
There was no escape from his duties and he must meet them.
Which he does.
It perhaps makes it clearer in Matthew’s gospel than in Mark’s;

 13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed those who were ill. Matthew 14 NIV

Nothing is ever straightforward.
Bad stuff happens randomly and we need space to deal with it …

But what when the space doesn’t happen?
Are we any good to the people around us?
Are we still competent to handle the everyday pressures? 

I have many times found that in times when bad stuff is happening to me, there is often no time for introspection and withdrawal.
Even carefully planned time to recover emotionally or spiritually can be obliterated by a need that is more public or more pressing.
It is at this point that the question comes … what do I let go of?
What do I face?
Whom do I ensure is around me?

Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowds something to eat.
They have been busy learning and practising that which they have learnt from Jesus. They are learning to lean on God to provide for the situation.

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed with oil many people who were ill and healed them. Mark 6 NIV

Who needs to be doing all the stuff?
Yes, we might need to be there, but we look and see that Jesus is not a solitary figure in this chapter.
He has a group of trained and competent people around him.
They have been to Jesus for the teaching and he has given that.
Now, he needs to hand over to the team.
Both as team members and as team leaders there is much to learn here …

I hate people taking shots at my team.
I  feel keenly that as the leader, I should take the criticism, the harsh words of condemnation which inevitably come from working with people.
If criticism is due, I would rather give it in a personal situation than the popular tendency (especially within our church) to publicly take people to task from the floor in meetings. This year, my team mdd it clear that this time, they would talk and draw any fire away from me … and although that made me uncomfortable, it was the right thing to do.
To trust them to do the job and to handle the comments – which became much less personal.

A team that knows what it is doing is competent to function … to carry on with the work.

Jesus tells his disciples ‘You give them something to eat.’ (Verse 37)
There is an expectation that they can do this. They can stop relying on the resources that a town has to offer and their own earning power and to look
to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3 NIV

He gives guidance, but not to do everything himself.

A team is trained and competent ... shares the stresses and successes

A team is trained and competent … shares the stresses and successes

And it is a massive miracle that follows.

Even at a low ebb, with need for space and need to find peace and for some food for himself, God honours the tired and exhausted prayers of his people. He honours the people’s need to be around Jesus with competent teaching, despite his personal trials and grief. He honours all of their need for food. He never gives up, even though the pressing needs on Jesus would have taken him away. 

There is no shame in Jesus’ humanity. His need both for society and for solitude.
To be the one that people look to, and the one from whom people draw their strength.
The disciples, the 12 are apostles whom Donald English reminds us “Draw their authority from him” and that “Their root is attachment to Jesus himself from whom the disciples’ life comes.” (P.132 The Message of Mark, BST, IVP, 1992)

Jesus responds to the people in his spirit.
He is moved to help them.
They are not super-holy or fresh from confession, yet they – all of them, are worth feeding.
Their need inspires genuine, Jesus centred service and the disciples are rallied to this cause.
I am constantly amazed at what Jesus does through even our weakest obedience to him. The smallest faith of tiny fish and bread is multiplied into bread for the journey … a sufficiency that leaves some in our pockets to tide us over.

If I can’t face a meeting, or a person has a grievance against me.
If things are bad personally due to sickness or personal trouble.
If I have to take my small child to hospital and then help a family prepare a funeral,
When I deal with a complaint against my integrity in the midst of a pressing day.
If I have spent all day in meetings and then I need to give cuddles and play with my children …
There is strength and love to do these things and also the trust that God knows what I need and rest, and time alone with him will come.

The people were in need of food and the bread and fish miracle reminds us of God’s provision of manna and quail in the wilderness to the children of Israel.
God provides food for the journey, sees us through on the wings of his love until we reach the point where we have personal resources of strength  available to us once more.

We can trust him.

Yes. we can. And when the job is done, there is the possibility and necessity of space. Even with the conflict of his own human needs and those of the crowds around him, Jesus responds in a Godly way to the people who need him.

The team is sent out onto the lake whilst Jesus does what he need to and disappears  for solitude, rest and prayer, 45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. Mark 6 NIV

There are times to trust the faith we have.

To trust the experience of God of our own knowing and experience as well as the trustworthy account of his love and provision in the Bible.

We can do the tough stuff most of the time, pulling the oars against the wind.
Hard work is not the enemy!
The team can get on with that together. He keeps an eye on them, but does not rush to their aid.
They know what they are doing.
And they know they can trust God, after all haven’t they just been distributing bread and fish to 5000 people?

Keeping our faith when life is a strain can be tough.
But God hasn’t changed his mind at you, nor has he deliberately caused the seas to get rough or the winds to blow hard against you.
We live in a broken world. and that brokenness impacts our lives in many ways. Some of it may be to do with residual sin squashed and unrepented of, rearing up and taking up our time. some of it may be deliberate temptation by Satan to fall away from God through tough times being especially bad … (My experience of this is that if it is relationships that are taking a big hit, it’s likely Satan is at work…)

Some of it is that life is simply hard work.
And you can choose to be angry at God for this, or trust his Word.
His love.
Your knowledge and understanding of how he has been at work in your life.

Then, as he goes by to meet you on the other side, to call him back.

To remind yourself of whom Jesus is and what difference he makes to you and to finish the journey with him next to you. Calming your fears and the waters around you.

He has faith in his team. 

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Un-Frazzling … The voice of calm

I have spoken to many lovely church leaders this week who are frazzled. And I look at myself and see frazzling happening right there too! It’s not a good state to be in.
The girl I was talking to today echoed one of my main bugbears … “If I take time off, the stuff that has to be done just sits there until I come back and do it”.
So we do three weeks’ work in one if we want to take a two week break. 
And still we are finding ourselves being yelled at for not doing the thing that mattered to the yelling person.
And haven’t listened to the shouting person and the people with bigger voices have shredded our final reserve of courage to see things through.

Our all is not good enough, sufficient or satisfactory.

It never was. Remember Elijah …

He’s my favourite prophet (this week!) I imagine him all wild and woolly with gigantic squared off beard. My young people agree that he probably looked like a large Gimli (LOTR).

He was a giant of a prophet… Godly, uncompromising, witty and sarcastic (The prophet’s of Ba’al certainly feel the sharp end of his wit during the battle of the gods on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18).

I like his faith, his courage, his trust in God. I like to imagine I’m him on the mountain, peering out from my cloak as the hurricane, fire and earthquake wreak their havoc on the mountain, terrified but perplexed that the power that destroys is not the place where God is and then being overwhelmed by the intimacy of God’s whisper soothing and stirring him.

I love to imagine him, all in brown, staff in hand, wind in beard (the beard is very important!) doing his prophet thing. He was not worldly, but he was moody! 
And today, that’s why he’s my favourite…

Did you see what he just did? Have another look on Mount Carmel! (1 Kings 18) the prophets of Ba’al were humiliated by him, he taunted them to ask their God to light the fire, but they couldn’t get him persuaded. Then, drought notwithstanding, he repaired the altar to God and having dug a trench around, he filled it with water and prayed for fire. Fire came. Then rain. Elijah dealt decisively with the prophets and all were amazed at the power of God almighty. 
The God of Elijah.

He was a powerful man of God. God used him.

Then Ethel Smith* yelled at him about the worship the next day and informed him that she’d ‘Seen off the last 5 pastors and he was next’. (Ok, it was Queen Jezebel and she was threatening to kill him) but you see what I mean … And instead of remembering the power of God to deal with the enemy and being confident. He runs.

and runs

far

and fast

till he collapses exhausted under a random tree in who knows where … “welcome the wilderness where no one can find me…”

Frazzling has happened and Elijah runs and prays for death … Annual leave isn’t an option, so this is his solution!
He wants to pack it all in.

I love that the first thing that he does is to sleep. Rest. and an angel gives him what he actually needs … food!
In our ‘survey’ at youth group, most of us said that things looked worse when we are hungry and lack of food causes irritability …

As does tiredness. Even the road tells us to take a break because
tiredness kills!

Heed the warning signs!

Heed the warning signs!

The angel ministers the love and care Elijah needs in order to continue his journey.
He is not sent back to deal powerfully with Ethel Smith (Queen Jezebel) Instead, his random running is given shape and order as the route he must take is to Horeb, The Mountain of God.

There are a couple of things of note in this sequence of events.

He runs, but as the Psalmist says in 139

“Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

Running away is not random.
There is always some purpose to what we do, even if it takes awhile to work it out.
Physically, mentally and emotionally, Elijah is spent.
He doesn’t have the luxury of enjoying the victory at Carmel. God used him, but that victory was a demonstration of God’s power to the outsiders.
It took a lot from him and having held his nerve and trust in God for God’s Name to be exalted and his honour to be restored, he was finished.
Carmel is not for Elijah.
He is God’s man, but he is in the thick of the action, not enjoying the power.

Wanting to leave when Ethel Smith* threatens him just makes sense. It makes sense to me.
She missed seeing God’s power and she is just about the attack. Leave.
Leave now, screams Elijah’s best sense …
and that is what he does.
Sometimes, we need to leave the scene of trouble and head for nowhere so that we can be rested and refreshed to get a proper sense of perspective.

The second thing is that ministering in God’s power is great, but it needs more.
It leaves the minister open to brutal attack and criticism.
The long journey back to God’s heart requires stamina and direction.

After Carmel, we need Horeb.

It is the intimacy of God’s presence that we crave.
The shows of power are not for the child who needs to know how fancy God can be.
The ‘tell me about it’ and the ‘I’m here because I want to take care of you’ are for God’s children.

The beardiest prophet can even find himself wrapped up in the tender words of the still small voice which answers the questions and fears of his heart.

Last year, Ethel Smith’s* words were killing me.

(*Disclaimer: Ethel Smith is a randomly generated name to represent the particular people who destroy God’s Prophets/Leaders/Children of all description. It does not refer to a particular person called Ethel or the family name Smith…)

She set about to destroy both my ministry and my faith and if she could take down a few good friendships en route, she was laughing.
A vortex of pain opened up and was sucking me in by inches. The wilderness beckoned and if there had been a tree under which I could have prayed for God to take me out of ministry, then I would have clung to it and begged for this.

A voice and light of promise glinted on and off in the hurt

“Go to Uganda, and I will fix you”

Given that I was already in a mass of pain and confusion, I felt that this was probably crazy talk. But still it persisted until finally, and not without obstacles due to lack of explanation and coherency, I spent the housekeeping on a ticket and went.

I slept and slept, then gradually my appetite returned as I was prayed over and loved and there was no sign of Ethel Smith.

Then one night

I was visiting with some friends (new friends) and I stood between two sisters as we prayed and Jane sang. Prophetically and beautifully.

She sang twice before I heard it. The fixing moment. The ahhhhhhh of release.

A still small voice turned back the darkness and all that threatened me – and the still small voice spoke life and love. He loves me. He calls me. He is kind. He blesses me. He treasures me. In him, I am sufficient.

Matt Redman:

Flee to the mountain of God. The place where you can know that he knows you.
In that place, more personally powerful than the hurricane, earthquake or destructive fire, we find ourselves fully known, fully accepted, fully loved.

signature

Listen!

Shhhhhh…. I want to hear this …

“But mummy!”
“Not now, sweetie, I think something’s happened, let me listen!”
“But mummy, I wanted to tell you something….”

Now, here’s the question … What do I do? The big news event, (Michael Schumacher’s current progress and my husband’s patient reminder that ‘he is the racing driver, not the other one you persist in thinking he is… Schleiermacher, was it?’)
Or
My small one telling me about the colouring book he is working through, the rainbow that I ‘just missed because I didn’t listen’…

I don’t seem to be able to be attentive in every direction. Things are missed. And I have to choose which ones they will be. It can become to easy to retreat into a private reverie
“In vacant or in pensive mood”
whilst the demands are made for my time by my small son (husband, bony teenager … Who am I trying to kid?)
I tune out the familiar much loved voices for the sake of my own space… Only for a while… But I confess that I do it.

And this is a bad habit to develop.

The “yes, yes whatever,” is a non present response to very present issues. We forget to truly live in the moment. A fobbing off response creates an illusion of engagement.

I’m going to make this link straight to how I listen to God.
I wake up with a prayer in my mind each morning even as I settled to sleep with a prayer in my mind for those people who have been itching in my heart during the day.
They will need a message or reminder of God’s love in the morning, but for now, I place them into God’s hands again. With purpose.
God is constantly reminding me of who I am and what that should mean in my response to the world around me. If I brush him off with the same self indulgent “yes, yes whatever” that I give unthinkingly to my loved ones, I also miss out on part of the story that he’s writing in me. There develop spaces in my understanding and love for people and for him. And it is down to not listening properly so I could be elsewhere…
There are so many examples of hearing God and responding and seeing him work directly in someone’s life…
Of finding a scripture and at once a face popping into mind for me to message it to. A detour to make a visit. A hospital visit out of hours…

I have lost that voice from time to time. That word or whisper of love and acceptance. I’ve lost the thread of the dialogue and turned my fickle attention elsewhere… Sometimes as a response to personal pain, other times due to tiredness or being overly busy.

In these times, I have forgotten how to be truly me. It has been a suffocating loss in my life, unable to find the light in all the fogginess.
God’s voice became too easily hushed and quieted until I couldn’t hear him above the white noise of my fear and panic that He had forgotten to talk to me, or love me, or be at all bothered about me.

I lost the thread of my conversation with him. Until a prophet sang His Voice over me and fought off the darkness until I could hear that love and acceptance of me again. And I knew once again who I am and how that causes me to respond to the world around me.

So, as a new year’s gift to you, here are those words. I sing them over you as a blessing. You can pick the tune!

With much love as we each learn to hear and be who we are – to the Glory of God!

Numbers 6:24-26 NIV
“‘ “The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace .”’ …

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Wake up and Get Sorted!!

Advent Preparations
come as a bit of a shock to me, maybe because I’m still in denial about the loss of summer – it being

so I took the kids ice-skating...

so I took the kids ice-skating…

December means that it actually IS winter, and Christmas is fast approaching.

I’ve deliberately ignored the warning signs, the Christmas Trees and decorations that have been in the shops and public spaces since August. The store adverts with glitter and lyrical wistful tunes are wasted on me. But now, in the ringing tones on the most hefty of all the prophets (well, in length anyway), it is time to AWAKE! AWAKE!

So I did some shopping and decorated the tree. Took the kids ice skating in Leyburn (bargain!) and ate a pork and stuffing sandwich in front of an open fire in a country pub. Festive or what?? I even bought some mince pies from a Christmas Fayre (Ye Olde Victorian Yuletide  etc)

But Isaiah is still shouting!

Apparently it is insufficient for me to just get on with what everyone else is doing and still blend into the culture and ritual that surrounds me.

Awake, awake, Zion,
clothe yourself with strength!
Put on your garments of splendor,
    Jerusalem, the holy city.
The uncircumcised and defiled
will not enter you again.
2 Shake off your dust;
rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem.
Free yourself from the chains on your neck,
    Daughter Zion, now a captive.

3 For this is what the Lord says:

in front of an open fire in a country pub...

in front of an open fire in a country pub…

“You were sold for nothing,
and without money you will be redeemed.”

4 For this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“At first my people went down to Egypt to live;
lately, Assyria has oppressed them.

5 “And now what do I have here?” declares the Lord.

“For my people have been taken away for nothing,
and those who rule them mock,
declares the Lord.
“And all day long
my name is constantly blasphemed.
6 Therefore my people will know my name;
therefore in that day they will know
that it is I who foretold it.
Yes, it is I.”

7 How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”

Taken captive, the people of God were held in exile for many years, suffering the ridicule and mocking of the people among when they were sent to live.
There was no respect for God in this place which was alien to the ways he had taught them or the commands they were to obey. The people were becoming defined by the world in which they were living, enslaved and meaningless, they were captive also to the culture in which they lived.
I read this and remembered Percy Jackson in the Den of the Lotus Eaters in the Lightning Thief (Rick Riordan). He and his friends Annabeth and Grover are sucked into the culture of the casino hotel where they are made a fuss of and given treats to eat. It isn’t until Percy is given a wake up call by someone on the outside (OK, so maybe Poseidon isn’t the best illustration for a post about Isaiah’s word to the people of God, but I liked it!) Once the wake up call comes, Percy starts to see things as they really are and rejects the place in order to get on with his quest … Greek myths- of course it’s a quest

Isaiah’s call is for the people of God to see themselves as they really are.

  • Strong in the Word of God
  • Defined as people who wear the garments of splendour, or bridal attire … Of utter and intimate worth to God
  • Of Royal birth (Daughter Zion)

Waking up to who they are as determined by God and not accepting the definition given to them by the culture in which they live is going to be crucial for their salvation or redemption from slavery. Without worth, they have no point to leave… they may as well stay and get on with it.

I can’t help but feel that this message from Isaiah is one that is ringing loud in the ears of the church today. AWAKE! AWAKE!!

Stop blending in and being part of the cultural wallpaper. See yourselves for who you are in God’s terms and stop seeking favour with the ones who are really oppressing you… (They laugh behind their hands, mock your faith, keep your values from being celebrated and keep your voice from being heard)

But this isn’t about ‘poor us’ or even ‘poor me’… it is about waking up and taking responsibility for who we are. If we are valued and delighted in by God, then wake up and discover what that means in the everyday life you live… at work or at home.

Isaiah reminds us to look at the heritage of which we are a part and to start again to behave and believe in it.

Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
they will see it with their own eyes.
9 Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.

11 Depart, depart, go out from there!
Touch no unclean thing!
Come out from it and be pure,
you who carry the articles of the Lord’s house.
12 But you will not leave in haste
or go in flight;
for the Lord will go before you,
the God of Israel will be your rear guard.

There are reminders of the Exodus in Isaiah’s words … the time when God called his people to leave together.

This time, he calls them to make careful preparation and to live in a state of getting ready. The people of God will depart. It is commanded and prophesied, but there will be no middle of the night scurrying away with the guards hard on their heels.
This time, it will be a dignified procession as befits a bride.
Heads held high and shoulders back, chests out and slow, stately steps with all the things that matter to faith intact and going with me too.

The strength is gained from close notice of God’s word and his people are dignified and not scrapping over arguments and looking foolish.

I hate making a show of myself, of joining in an argument in public and looking ridiculous as people with quicker tongue and sterner substance cut me and my position to size. It makes me want to blend into the background.
To be passive and take the flak of the haters. Isaiah tells me that I am worth more than this, as are the people whose faith I influence.

This is not a call to suddenly turn aggressive and to bite down the opposition, there is no war-like leader in this picture from Isaiah, instead it is of a dignified, informed and strong people who are obedient to the command and sure of their identity. This is a good wake up call.

I am a preacher and a mother, a leader and a servant.

I am woefully unready for the call to DEPART! DEPART!!
But I am waking up. I am dealing with the fears of inadequacy and pointlessness and other such lies that I have absorbed into my being over the decades. The truth is that I must focus on God and on who I am in him, as part of his people.
I must let Isaiah’s shout ring louder than the voices of the popular mass that speak of derision and conformity to the spirit of the age.

Maybe I shouldn’t be owning Isaiah with such zeal, after all it is an ancient word for an ancient people? Fair point, but that is not where Isaiah’s message ends. A tiny glimpse of Isaiah 53 is encapsulated in the last few verses of 52.

The Suffering and Glory of the Servant

13 See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.

The ancient prophecy was about the exiled people, but there is an also … There is a message for ‘many nations’ and I’m part of that. Faithful people brought the hopeful message of salvation to the UK and I am part of that inheritance. If I have fallen asleep in my faith and grow complacent, then it is time too for me to wake up and remember who I am, who it is I serve, how to Love and care for the people God has placed around me or within my notice.

I need to wake up and get sorted. Christmas is coming and has a deadline …

And I have the right to be dignified and confident in who I am in Christ.
And this makes me want to get busy!!

Getting Busy...

Getting Busy…

Nativity!!

Being the Innkeper's Wife's Husband....

Being the Innkeeper’s Wife’s Husband….

This is a touchy subject!

Last year, my Aidan was in Reception and he was cast as a non-speaking innkeeper who was ‘minded’ by his year one ‘wife’ who did all the talking and led him around the stage! It was lovely … the 3 innkeepers were all treated this way! The Reception year camels had Year One riders who made sure they behaved, the Reception Year Sheep had older shepherds … it was an organisational triumph … except my boy didn’t really like being on show the whole time and except that the stunningly beautiful blonde girl with aspirations to be an angel was cast as a Very Grumpy Camel.

The nativity is competitive and important. Parents hate for their little ones to be overlooked, and little ones have extremely fixed ideas about how they should be cast. Disappointment in your first nativity is a huge blow to deal with.

This year, Aidan is a camel and is very happy about this. He’s bothered to learn all the lines for the play because he can say the lines he wants to  –  and ‘Be a Camel‘.

Knowing what we want is a skill we lose over the years … maybe the disillusionment of too many of us potential angels being cast as camels has dampened our expectations?
There seems to come a point at which we can’t say what it is that we want, which stops us from giving our all in the things we do …

Our local coffee shop is a point in case. They get me going there regularly because I can ask for what I really want, and in an adult world born out of “You’ll get what you’re given and be thankful”, this makes me feel that what I want is ok to be expressed.
Even if Tina pulls a face and laughs at me, she will get me what I want, and often it tastes even better than I had imagined!

Our expectations become guarded from an early age … I’m currently waging war on the culture of hinting as adopted by the small people who say to me at church “I haven’t had one of those…” (Cue hovering next to the tray of cakes, packet of sweets, pile of colourful treats etc)
I will say “Oh?” and they smile … and they wait a little until I ask what they want, and I also confirm:

“If you ask me, I will give you it!”

So they ask, and they receive (Sounds a bit Biblical?)
And this makes me smile.
Knowing what we want and not settling for something unsatisfactory is a good principle
(In what we spend our resources on, how we use our time, our life, who we will marry and the gifts God has given us).

So when I heard that one of the smallest of my friends who is extremely beautiful and a little bit shy was unhappy with being cast as a star in her nativity, when she REALLY wants to be an angel, I had to help.
And having care of a church, especially at Christmas, means there are options available.

She shall be an Angel at the Nativity!!

The results of "Beetle-game-style" Nativity Dress-Up with photo-shoot!

The results of “Beetle-game-style” Nativity Dress-Up with photo-shoot!

 

  On “Being the Angel”

Why does it seem, when the parts are given,
That only little girls can see
That being the ‘Christmas Angel”
Is the most important thing to be?

God’s Angel brings the messages
So that Mary may obey
And it is Angels who tell shepherds
“Jesus is born today!”

The Angel really matters!
(And is more beautiful by far
Than the really ugly camel
Or the bright and shiny star…)

Thankyou God for Angels
And the messages they bring
And for little girls who realise
Angels are a brilliant thing!!

 To Felicity with love from Catherine xx

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Something For Remembrance 2013

We don’t always see the beauty within us.
It is there, seen and treasured by God.
The fragility of life means that we should actively choose how we will live… And it is our choices that reveal the beauty in our hearts.

  Psalm 103:13-19 (NIV)
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; [14] for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. [15] The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; [16] the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. [17] But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children— [18] with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. [19] The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.

Bubbles

Fragile and very beautiful, we each meet life with differing dreams.

Fragile and very beautiful, we each meet life with differing dreams.

I blow a bubble, ever-so-gently breathing
To push the rainbow covered window
From its flat-walled wand into a glassy sphere.

I breathe a little harder
To test the size and scope of the bubble’s limitations.
Until, released on the current of breath, it spins and shines,
Buffeted and held by the wind’s unpredictable waves.

Fragile and very beautiful, we each meet life with differing dreams.
Some to rise, some to play, some to spend their life
With a selflessness that overwhelms the secret cynic within.

Some bubbles are blown for the free delight of children
And are willingly sacrificed for them.
Fragile and very beautiful, the bubble pops on thorn
Or lands with deflating disappointment on the ground.

Our time is a tiny moment
Within the everlasting of God’s eternity.
Living for freedom and truth, a rainbow of God’s promise
Is visible in the purity of our hearts.

Some things last forever
But our brief time is fragile
And can be very beautiful.

Catherine Hutton
6th November 2012Bubbles
The photographs are by the wonderful Amy Atkinson. amyatkinsonphotography@gmail.com

Trusting Jesus: He believes you can do it – Mark 6

Trusting Jesus

I NEED SOME SPACE!!!!

Oh, how that 21st century cry is heard in many of our lives!
To get away and sit and think on our own away from the clamorous needs of unspecified ‘people’ or ‘stuff’, even ‘everything’.

It is an overwhelming world in which we live.

There are so many pressures and demands made on us that we can barely feels though we can stand under them when they arrive all at once. 
And so many times, we look at the demands and duties of our daily schedule and realise that there is enough there to be coping with. And it is often at that moment when the unthinkable will happen. A high profile set of obligations to the public and a personal crisis, shock, emotional blow, strikes. And strikes in a way that you can’t possibly put it on the shelf to deal with later … it is happening to you. 
Now.

And you need some space to deal with it. To deal with yourself … because it’s crippling your spirit.

In a whole, we will examine the passage about Jesus walking on water and explore the significance of that event out on the lake … but for it to have a context, we turn back to what came before … the Feeding of the 5000. The clamour and push to be close to Jesus, to forget about dinner and to follow him as he set of out of town, resulting in the massive miracle and the demand of Jesus to his disciples
“YOU give them something to eat”

But why were they out in the middle of nowhere with no facility to provide for the people?
Because of the terrible news that Jesus’ cousin and prophet John the Baptist had just been beheaded by Herod as a grisly gift for Salome in exchange for a dodgy dance routine…

He needed space. To grieve and pray. To be away from the clamour and the public demands on him. But they followed.
There was no escape from his duties and he must meet them. Which he does. It perhaps makes it clearer in Matthew’s gospel than in Mark’s;

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed those who were ill. Matthew 14 NIV
Nothing is ever straightforward. Bad stuff happens and we need space to deal with it … but what when the space doesn’t happen? 
Are we any good to the people around us? 
Are we still competent to handle the everyday pressures? 
I know that in times when bad stuff is happening to me, there is often no time for introspection and withdrawal. 
Carefully planned time to recover emotionally or spiritually can be obliterated by a need that is more public or more pressing. 
It is at this point that the question comes …

What do I let go of? 
What do I face? 
Whom do I ensure is around me?
Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowds something to eat.
They have been busy learning and practising that which they have learnt from Jesus. They are learning to lean on God to provide for the situation.
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed with oil many people who were ill and healed them. Mark 6 NIV
Who needs to be doing all the stuff? 
Yes, we might need to be there, but Jesus is not a solitary figure here. He has a group of trained and competent people around him. They have been to Jesus for the teaching and he has given that. 
Now, he needs to hand over to the team.
Both as team members and as team leaders there is much to learn here …
Jesus tells his disciples ‘You give them something to eat.’ (Verse 37)

There is an expectation that they can do this. They can stop relying on the resources that a town has to offer and their own earning power and to look 
to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us

There is an expectation that they can do this. They can stop relying on the resources that a town has to offer and their own earning power and to look 
to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us

21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3 NIV
Jesus gives guidance, but he will not to everything he asks of us, himself.

And it is a massive miracle that follows.
Even at a low ebb, with need for space and need to find peace and for some food for himself, God honours the tired and exhausted prayers of his people. He honours the people’s need to be around Jesus with competent teaching, despite his personal trials and grief. He honours all of their need for food. He never gives up, even though the pressing needs on Jesus would have taken him away.
There is no shame in Jesus’ humanity. His need both for society and for solitude. 
To be the one that people look to, and the one from whom people draw their strength. 
The disciples, the 12 are apostles whom Donald English reminds us “Draw their authority from him” and that “Their root is attachment to Jesus himself from whom the disciples’ life comes.” (P.132 The Message of Mark, BST, IVP, 1992)
Jesus responds to the people in his spirit. He is moved to help them. They are not super-holy or fresh from confession, yet they – all of them, are worth feeding. Their need inspires genuine, Jesus centred service and the disciples are rallied to this cause. 
I am constantly amazed at what Jesus does through even our weakest obedience to him.

The smallest faith of tiny fish and bread is multiplied into bread for the journey … a sufficiency that leaves some in our pockets to tide us over.

If I can’t face a meeting, or a person has a grievance against me.
If things are bad personally due to sickness or personal trouble.
If I have to take my small child to hospital and then help a family prepare a funeral
When I deal with a complaint against my integrity in the midst of a pressing day.
If I have spent all day in meetings and then I need to give cuddles and play with my children …

There is strength and love to do these things and also the trust that God knows what I need and rest, and time alone with him will come.
The people were in need of food and the bread and fish miracle reminds us of God’s provision of manna and quail in the wilderness to the children of Israel.

Even with the conflict of his own human needs and those of the crowds around him, Jesus responds in a Godly way to the people who need him.He provides food for the journey, sees us through on the wings of his love until we reach the point where we have the resources available to us once more. 
We can trust him.
Yes. we can. And when the job is done, there is the possibility and necessity of space.

 

Mark 7: Becoming Godly

Mark 7

Becoming Godly

Jerusalem has become the place which directly opposes Jesus’ ministry and teaching. The Temple, the centre of faith is in Jerusalem at the time and there is a sense of importance attached to people coming from Jerusalem to “talk to Jesus” about his behaviour and conduct.

Jesus could do nothing right.

The people who had travelled with him, his disciples, had learnt about the heart and spirit of Jesus’ teachings and were beginning to understand basic truths about the Law and the way it was designed to help and keep the people safe rather than bind them to ritual and taboo for the sake of simply being “the Law”.

In verse 8, Jesus says

“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions”

Jesus knows the Law and how it should be applied – as well as how it is being applied well enough to see how it is stifling the life and faith of the people. He is not slow in challenging firmly, immediately and directly the traditions by which the Pharisees are judging and measuring the quality of the faith of Jesus’ own disciples…

Jesus turns the Law to reflect the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in having both invented and then cemented importance on their own traditions to which they have become inextricably bound. He then goes on to challenge the whole “crowd’ who have gathered to watch the showdown.

He calls them to

“Listen and understand….”

It isn’t about the food … whether or not it is eaten by ceremonially washed hands. As Peter will learn later on in Acts 10:9-15, it isn’t about the ritual cleanliness of the food either;

verse 15 is especially notable: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”

The laws have a spiritual purpose, which is to bring us closer to God and to live in communion with him.

Traditions which are added to the Law, a grim holding on to rituals for their own sake is NOT honouring of God. Jesus is keen to remind the crowd about what really defiles: The things of the heart which are pernicious and vicious towards other people. There is a linking of this passage with the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 & 6, which will be worth reading this afternoon, so that the sermon can be given a wider context.

We are blessed.

We are under the notice of God in a positive way when we uphold the Spirit and heart of the Law, and that Law is completed in the life, death and resurrection of the person of Jesus.

WE may do all the right things. We may fulfil all the expectations passed to us by our ancestors. We may sing the most up to date or the most traditional spiritual songs as our worship. But.

If we use all this as a measure of the judgement of our Rightness before God, we have missed the point as much as ever the disciples did.  The “tradition” – whichever traditions we uphold – supplanting the Love and Forgiveness of God in Jesus in our lives becomes that which defiles us.

So.

We can turn to St Paul for a further understanding of this in Romans 12:2

This is one of the readings we traditionally use during our Covenant service during which we commit “no longer to live for self but for Christ”

Let’s remind ourselves of it

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is –  his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

The pattern of this world is anything that is not of God. Traditions and rules that are not Godly and which do not honour him.

I think at a most basic level, this passage firmly indicates that Christians should not be despising and judging each other for style and praxis in worship. Faith, hope and love must govern our responses to one another and our opinion of one another’s working our and expression of belief.

I look back to how, as a 17 year old trainee preacher, I would preach in a huge church with wrap around gallery or in a tiny village chapel and my exuberant and uncritical sermons based out of my own interpretations of the Bible, my Matthew Henry Commentary and my “vast life experience and lived out faith”.

Yet grace flowed freely.

They looked past the inadequacies of my efforts and showed me the love I needed to encourage me onwards. They were excited that I was excited about faith and enthusiastic the there was someone younger ‘having a go’ at preaching. The same people supported us with ‘love gifts’ so that we could take part in mission trips and go to larger gatherings where more people gathered.

None of this fitted their personal tradition, but it released me and others to be able to become the people whom God had called us to be rather than stifling the spirit’s move with judgement.

Of course it didn’t stop people from making snide remarks about “Happy Clappy” (Which, in fairness, I have never owned – too much pressure to clap properly) It didn’t stop people from passing judgement about the quality of many of the psalm-based verses which we sang in praise of God (Musically, they weren’t good enough)

and, bluntly

it did not stop me from expressing my judgement about some of the habits and practises of the great and good who expressed theirs. I wish I hadn’t. If I could take it back, I would. I was wrong.

Traditions help us to love God better. They provide a framework of helpfulness in which faith can be achieved, developed, expressed and lived out in active service.

Traditions become useful, such as tat we will always have a prayer or two to pray in dire circumstances, because the ritual of saying the Lord’s Prayer every week and the Grace at the end of the service have traced indelible lines of prayer into our souls….

But

If we didn’t say them every Sunday – would God judge the worship as inadequate or his people as shabby?

This passage suggests not. And Jesus himself quotes from Isaiah, reminding us that he understands the correct application of the heart and intention of the Scriptures.

Isaiah 29:13 “The Lord says

‘These people come near to me with their mouth

and honour me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me.

Their worship is based on merely human rules they have been taught’

We are people who are created for and by God. We are made in his image and likeness and ‘crowned with glory and honour’ as it says in Psalm 8.

We are gifted with godly attitudes such as grace and generosity. Love and hospitality. Wisdom and gentleness of spirit. Hope and passion.

Our business is then to share the goodness of God’s love with those who do not yet know him, and to celebrate that love with an openness of heart that opens us up in worship and faith to become more like him by being transformed in the activity of worship.

We sing, we pray, we listen, we read, we learn, we offer

all of which are good things

But unless we deal with the things of verse 21, unless we deal with the choices we have made in our hearts “where evil thoughts come from – sex immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly”

These things will pollute our attitude to so much else.

And it is when we get a grip on ourselves with regard to the things that are properly spoiling our relationship with God, that we can achieve a lightness of spirit and of hope.

Jesus dealt with all things that were not Godly by inviting the presence of God to fill the brokenness or sickness or Godlessness. And fill it God does. It is a matter of prayer and intention and by the power of God alive and at work within us – all kinds of difference can be made.

Eyes Open!

Matthew 2:1-18 Epiphany!

Seeing things as they really are…

I harbour secret dreams of discovering something in my house that I can take along to the antiques roadshow to discover it is worth tens of thousands of pounds. This is unlikely, because most of what we have comes from either my family which lived pretty much hand to mouth or we bought it from ikea, which is fairly disposable!

There is no hidden truth in the things in my home. They are what they are and need little explanation.

I DO have an old copy of the Methodist Magazine from the 1802, but it is what it is and has no greater value… In fact, it was a treasure I found in my grandad’s bookcase, damp and with mouse teeth marks in the leather binding. It makes me smile for what it is, not for any hidden mystery (and it is certainly NOT for sale – as I informed the library who told me “they couldn’t offer me much for it”.)

Sometimes things are beautiful or precious and exciting simply for their own sake… Like an ancient book or piece of jewellery or art. Or a new star may be a beautiful new star. Or a new baby might simply be a gorgeous new life.

Gorgeous – but not anything more than a baby. Wonderful and fearfully made.

Epiphany means acknowledging the wonderful and beauty of the ordinary.
It means also being wise and understanding enough to recognise the outstanding when it appears and not to fear or stifle its arrival.

The wise men were already seeking the King which they were expecting to find in Judah. They were looking in all the right places, but meeting opposition – sneaky, snidey opposition that looked like support in their quest but was really a power bent on destruction. A spirit of the age that jealously guarded its own power base. Herod seems all smiles and helpfulness, but his reality is far more earthy.

He is aware of the ancient prophecies and his response to Jesus’ nativity is one of death and destruction.

He sees that Jesus is more than a baby born inconveniently to a a couple journeying for census. He sees the threat to his place on the throne and comes out fighting.

Micah 5:2-5 NIV
[2] “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” [3] Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. [4] He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. [5] And he will be our peace when the Assyrians invade our land and march through our fortresses. 

Jesus’ birth and the search by the wise men, his flight to Egypt and return to life, growth and ministry all deliberately echo Israel’s story in the Old Testament. The reminder of God’s covenant promise to bring them out of slavery and to establish his kingdom. Matthew’s gospel, with its opening, not in birth narrative but in genealogy, reminds us of the ancient stories of God’s faithfulness and promises and that Jesus follows, not a new path but a permanent path of God’s promise to save and redeem his people and to establish a rule that is not about earthly kingdoms but about the rule of hearts and heavenly territory.

Herod had been King in a politically troublesome time and over a people who were not naturally inclined to honour him. He was fearful for his throne and position. He seems unsurprised that there is a new King who will challenge his rule.  The wise men come, seeking to worship a new King. To discover the one who is expected and longed for by generations and yet, there is a political system in place which is jealously guarding its right to rule. It will not give up its power easily. Thwarting Herod means death and destruction.

As Matthew wrote his gospel, non Jewish people were coming into the church in great numbers. A people who needed to see their place in Jesus’ story as well as to remind the people who had always been there that Jesus is saviour for all the world and that Israel is God’s starting point, not the extent of his mercy and grace.

Seeking God in an age of discontent and consumer driven stress is a current theme. Churches are growing as people look for a greater meaning in life. Jesus is not simply an ancient story based out of even older stories from the Old Testament.
He is here, among us, the forever Saviour making all things new. Making us new as we walk into this new year. Renewing our hope as we still fear the pull of an old regime or rule over our lives.

But to be made new. We genuinely have to look for him with the intention of really seeing him. Seeing him as the Lord of heaven and earth rather than as a baby. Seeing his word as the world of life rather than a dusty old book of little relevance.

 

Looking for the wondrous

Looking for the wondrous

Trusting his promises that he will transform our lives. And living a life of hope rather than one of fear of losing our place and position.

Herod has his rule and authority challenged by The announcement of Jesus’ star appearing. He is unsurprised.

It is unsurprising too that we discover that there is one who challenges and changes our lives when we discover the truth of who he is. 2000 years after his birth, Jesus is known about and heard of.
He is one about whom people have opinions as to his origins and purpose.

Some things are just what they are.

Some things need for us to have our eyes opened in order to fully see and know the difference they can make to us.

Creator of Heaven & Earth: Harvest Festival

It’s good to be back on the blog after a summer of fun and outside busydom, the changing seasons forced me back indoors to discover a broken blog … so, thank you Mark McKnight for fixing it so that I can be here.

Today, it’s along with a friend; David Wood who gets the photo credit for the Harvest Image.

I had in mind to write about the Creator of Heaven & Earth and the misty mornings that have been so prevalent in Yorkshire during September and requested a picture to accompany it: Mellow and beautiful, I think it beautifully captures the glow of a finished harvest.

 

The rolled-straw relaxes in the gentle morning light. Image by David Wood

The rolled-straw relaxes in the gentle morning light.
Image by David Wood

A silver sky reaches low into the vale.
The dark of night ebbing
As the morning flows to fill
Spaces between tree, around the Topping and the
Still silhouetted hedge stalks.

The grey day is touched from above
By the smile of unrealised sunshine.
And by mid-day, that silvered promise
Will break through the mist
And warm the unfamiliar chill
In fingers and toes.

This sweet and mellow season
Reveals the Creator’s handiwork,
Soft focussed
Through mist filled shafts of sunshine.

Her skirts surround the trees,
A swathe of shifting silver
Above which,
Now yellow, are leaves
Diamond-jewelled in droplets;

And in the finished fields
The rolled-straw relaxes in the gentle morning light.

The Creator’s touch:
Gentle in changing,
Reveals the beauteous times of mysterious holding –
The gasp of prayer,
The heaviness and holiness of ‘being known’,
The misty moments before colour gives shape
To our knowing and
The flow of faith across our vale of unbelief.

© catherine hutton September 24th 2014

Pilgrimage … first thoughts …

I went to Israel with my church in May.

On the Mount of Olives

On the Mount of Olives

I went to Palestine also.

And yes, this feels awkward and cumbersome, so how about I simply call it The Holy Land …which I was merrily doing, avoiding any sniff of partisan suggestions when one of the Lay Preachers informed me that Syria and Jordan claims that title also, as many of the holy sites are the other side of the water.

I have about as much political savvy as my dog.(I don’t have a dog, I borrow my parents’ dog sometimes, dogs are needy.)
Last weekend, I met my MP for the first time (Foreign Secretary Rt Hon William Hague), albeit at the village fete. Did I ask him about “all the errrr *bad stuff* that’s kicking off in Iraq?” (sorry Dunc, just can’t seem to type your actual phrase on the blog)

See how I get straight to the heart of the current issues with my MP

See how I get straight to the heart of the current issues with my MP

No.

No I did not.
I introduced myself as the local Methodist Minister and then my friend Catriona who has been serving in the Anglican Church in Belize as part of her Gap Year and then asked to take a selfie with him. He was very sweet about it and I thought it was a much happier picture than the one of him with Brad and Angelina earlier in the week

So, back to the point. I was having a lovely time with my church people in Jerusalem and Galilee earlier in May and I could feel the political tension in the very ground underneath my feet.

Geographically, the land is golden. The wilderness is mountains of gold rocks and gullies, harsh and unpredictable terrain housing both Bedouin and settlement. The stones from which the old city of Jerusalem are built are honey coloured and soft hued with age, a little blackened with use and pollution. But largely gold.

The landscape is golden

The landscape is golden

It has so much beauty. Vast open vistas from the tops of hills onto the plains of the Jordan river or the dead sea. Scars of ancient wars and occupation are etched into the fabric of the landscape. Today’s scars include The Wall around Israeli territory, foreboding and stark, peace signs and protest art cover large portions.
It speaks division. It creates division.
It protects boundaries of land and people and has entry and exit points which are controlled.

There are scars are too in the UK, but here, I am overly familiar with the names and the sites and can easily gloss over the scars as ‘ancient history’. But Israel and Palestine overlaid with the Gospel of Peace are an interesting conundrum for the naive pilgrim who wants to not have to form an opinion.

I hated the slum level poverty of Bethany. One of Jesus’ places of homely comfort with Mary, Martha and Lazarus which is now desperately poor, rubbish is strewn all over the streets and taxes are not levied. There are very very few Christian families still living here. It is unpleasant and heartbreakingly not “sweet Bethany” as the hymn had promised.
And to make my dislike of the place even worse,
I was almost forced into a kiss with a camel –  by a camel owner desperate to make some money from the tourists. 

I declined – not at all gracefully – I am not fond of animals, although I was ‘almost moved’ that the owner did let it kiss him, full on the mouth as I ran for the safety of the bus.
I have an opinion about the camel incident, because it directly affected me.
It make me react and respond.

I was also laughed at by my supportive fellow pilgrims who had been enjoying the spectacle from a safe distance.

Later that day, we drove through a demilitarised zone to the southern baptismal site on the Jordan which was maybe where Jesus was baptised by John. (Probably from the Jordanian side as visited by Pope Francis a few weeks later)

We listened to songs in many languages and reminded ourselves of our own Baptismal promises

We listened to songs in many languages and reminded ourselves of our own Baptismal promises

Giving way to the harsh sunshine of the desert was a bend in the river which formed a tranquil and peaceful place of prayer and praise. Of rededication and of making life-promises to God.
No itch of politics, just a silty stream and voices from many lands gently singing and saying thank you to Jesus and taking a dip in the water.

We listened to the singing and remade our baptismal vows and very politely had a little paddle in the shallows.

It was just silt, not dirty water, but a paddle seemed about right as we remembered our Baptismal Promises

It was just silt, not dirty water, but a paddle seemed about right as we remembered our Baptismal Promises

Peace. The other side of the demilitarised zone.
It makes no sense. But it was real. As I remember it, it becomes real again and I am thankful. I was affected and I have an opinion

The land through which we travelled on pilgrimage is beautiful and challenging. The terrain is beautiful from the bus window, but it would be so easy for a person to vanish into its uncompromising hills.

I want to tie up my thinking neatly now and leave it as a parcel for you to close the post.

My heart wants to fix division and oppression, to write about the real issues with clarity and with incisive political acumen. I want to leave a place having helped a resolution take place, either in my own mind or in fact …
It just wasn’t going to happen.

My opinion is that Jesus weeps still over the divisions in his homeland, over the politicking and hurting one another, over the lack of love and the aggressive actions taken on behalf of one or another standpoint.

Politically speaking, this isn’t going to be resolved by a good will Saturday afternoon selfie, taken in good humour. This is affecting actual lives of real people … whose opinions are (largely) based on things they have experienced or witnessed.

Pilgrims listen to stories and allow themselves to feel the discomfort of the teller

Pilgrims listen to stories and allow themselves to feel the discomfort of the teller

To be a pilgrim is to travel, uncomfortably sometimes, listening to the stories of fellow travellers and to allow yourself to feel the discomfort of their story
As I was often told as a child when giving my younger brothers a tough time;

“How would you feel if that was done to you?”

It’s Still Easter!

I celebrate Easter Day with unconfined delight!

I celebrate Easter Day with unconfined delight!

The Egg and Spoon Race  ... fiercely contested

The Egg and Spoon Race … fiercely contested

I love the season of Easter. The in my face reality of Jesus’ love for me.
I shed tears on Good Friday and rejoice with an almost giddy delight on Easter Day.

This is when we celebrate as the whole church family.

It is delightful and sweet.


We share our talents in celebration of the Day.

 

 

 

This year, we enjoyed a beautiful duet from our students, and the annual round the church egg and spoon race…

We sang our prayers of adoration, confession and thanksgiving …

They were written by Joel and Myself, and we had a lovely time doing it.

So.

Crack out the Dumb Ways to die Karaoke edition on YouTube and sing along! 

 

Jesus when you died
We were sad and then we cried
For all the bad we’ve ever done
You have died for every single one

He is alive
Yeah Jesus is alive
He is ali-i-ive
Yeah, Jesus is alive.

We’re sorry for our sin
Sorry we let hate begin
We’re sorry we don’t care
So easy to be selfish and never share

He is alive
Yeah Jesus is alive
He is ali-i-ive
Yeah, Jesus is alive.

Loving you is great
In you, we know we are saved
You give to each and every heart
Love to the end and back to the start.

He is alive
Yeah Jesus is alive
He is ali-i-ive
Yeah, Jesus is alive.

Praise you for your grace
For everything in time and space
Loving us all, no matter what
Lord, we thank you for all that we’ve got

He is alive
Yeah Jesus is alive
He is ali-i—i-ive
Jesus is alive.

Aa-a-men
Aa-a-men