In thinking on vulnerability and isolation I have asked my friend Bethan to write a guest post on her own experiences…
Jules has kindly asked me to contribute to her blog, and to be honest I could write an essay here, such is the extent that her recent experiences resonate with me.
A little background history on me – I have Fibromyalgia and M.E. Living with these conditions over eleven years, I have lost a career, found a new career, lost friendships, made new friendships, and found God (or He has found me!) I have used a wheelchair on and off for years, and for just under a year I have been completely dependent on it. The current prognosis isn’t great in mobility terms, but I have had two huge healings in the past, the belief that I am living with the promise of further healing, and the firm knowledge that the Lord’s prognosis is the only one that really matters.
In May this year, I was struck down by a nasty episode that had me in hospital for a few hours, on my back on the sofa for several weeks, and prevented me from getting to my ‘normal’ activities, including church on Sundays. We are created to be in relationship with others, and friendship has enormous value both during times of joy and times of trial. At every point in my Christian life, the Lord has blessed me with wonderful friendships, whether short term or long term. It presents a challenge, though, that friendships change when you become ill, and still more when you become housebound. Some of the people that you are closest to are just not there – for various reasons, and not always bad ones. I have some friends where our contact has always involved me visiting them, at their homes. It seems inevitable that those friendships have lost some of the intimacy that they once had. Other friendships diminish because we tend to become close to those people that we see regularly in social situations – and if those are minimal, I suspect we just go ‘off the radar’ for many people whom we would have considered friends.
For me, in May, there was the added complication that I wasn’t well enough for visitors for a while. Some people were still there when I was, others weren’t. And yet new friendships develop, particularly with those who try to devote time to visiting the sick. A couple of people have surprised me by their devotion to our friendship when the onus is on them to make the effort to visit. History tells me that there’s a chance those friendships may diminish as and when the Lord heals again – as there are ‘fair weather friends,’ there are also ‘foul weather friends’. Life shifts. I always invest in friendships, and so find it really hard to deal with when people who were once my friends pull away. I also fear, when friendships end, that it is down to something I have said or done wrong, and this can lead to a lot of self-criticism. However the Lord is growing me in these areas – showing me that, where people leave, space is opened up for new relationships; helping me to repent of the times when I have been a less-than-ideal friend; and, in his mercy, rebuilding friendships where they are God-ordained. Isolation can be a big thing.
After several weeks of only seeing one or two people a day, my naturally extrovert personality had become very withdrawn, to the extent that when we came to my first big ‘social outing’ – a church family member’s birthday in a local pub – I sat in the car in tears because the thought of going in and being in the same room as ‘that many people’ was terrifying. It took all the persuasion of the loving husband, who could thankfully see how important it was that I did it, to get me in there. As Jules has said in a previous post, it’s a huge change to go from being out and seeing people every day (as I was before the hospital episode, albeit wheelchair bound) to being alone in the house most of the time, in pain and a little bit scared. I have frequently described myself as ‘an extrovert with M.E’ – people with M.E often struggle in social situations because of the over-stimulus. I struggle with that sometimes. But illness aside, I am a true extrovert and get my energy from being around people, so a few days alone in the house (often sofa- or bed-bound, so without even the distraction of household tasks) can leave me exhausted and tearful. I would find myself longing for a friend to just stop by unexpectedly – my hopes soared when I heard a car slowing outside, and fell time and again as they didn’t pull into my drive.
Don’t get me wrong, there were some wonderful friends who came, and one amazing woman in particular who was, and still is, there for me on the phone frequently, and at all sorts of antisocial times, but there were also many of those long lonely hours. I think it just doesn’t take very long lying by yourself before fear and worry creep in, and it is somehow difficult to be content with ‘just’ you and the Lord in such a situation. Oh, the number of times this year that I’ve had that thought, and shaken my head at the ludicrousness of it, when I should know that He is all that my soul needs! And, oh, the longing for that moment when we meet Him face to face and fully realise that!
What has happened over this year, as a consequence of all this, is that I’ve begun to depend less on having humans around me and to depend more on the Lord, who will never leave me nor forsake me. He blesses us with different friendships for different phases of life, all of which are very valuable, but our most valuable relationship is that with our Heavenly Father, and he wants us to be clear on this point. And so I’m looking back on the year as we approach the end of it and, in many ways, thinking what an awesome year it’s been. My prayer over the course of the year has been to find Paul’s level of ‘contentment in all circumstances’ (Philippians 4:12) whether wonderfully well or scarily ill, whether surrounded by friends or lonely – for my soul to rest content in the arms of my Father. I’m not there yet, but the most precious friendships this year have been the ones that bring me right back to that prayer – that point me to God’s word and remind me that I’m never alone.
I decided for this year’s Christmas Day preach to do something a bit different. I’d seen people do cards for birthdays with chocolate bars used to make sentences and I thought I’d have a go at doing the entire nativity story and a bit of an evangelistic preach with it. Actually I then found online a few people had done this before, so my script below draws from some of those (who are happy for it to be shared) as well as my own bits so feel free to reuse, I didn’t write it all!
Chocolate is in bold (and I’ve explained where necessary!). As you can see from the pics I didn’t end up using all of them as it got quite pricey! My advice is to get a pack of celebrations and heroes to cover a few of them, which is cheaper. I didn’t print out the entire text just the sentences with chocolate in as it took a lot of space and time – this took about 4 hours to prepare! I stuck the chocolate to the card (mounting board) with velcro so that I could put them on as I went and get people to guess or shout out what they thought it was.
I’ve updated this for 2016, so the script can be downloaded below, but I’ve also done a shorter version that works at a school assembly or service (about 4 mins) I got a volunteer to help with holding up the choc instead of using the boards. I’ve also done a Powerpoint to go with the main script so if you re in a larger church and people can’t see what you re holding up then this can go on the screen.
Ok hands up who has a chocolate Advent calendar? Ok and of you, do any of you have one that actually tells you about Jesus? Well I thought today, we could go one better, and we are going to use chocolate to tell the Christmas story… do you think we can?
Because christmas is not really about snow (snow bites or similar) and Santa… (choc Santa). So let’s start at the beginning (and you might have to listen very carefully, and I apologise now for any dodgy puns or very tenuous chocolate links!)
A long time ago, God made the world, in fact the whole galaxy, and it was amazing. He made this beautiful world and put people on it too. He wanted the earth to be filled with people who he loved (love hearts), people just like you and me, because they were so special to him. They were so special he gave them everything.
But… sadly the people were just like us and they didn’t always want to do things god way and they didn’t listen to him and they did a breakaway from God. It all started with a chomp of an apple (use a real one!). And after that it got really really rocky.
There was sadness and suffering and loneliness and even death. Because we’d chosen our way instead of God’s way. But after a bit of a time out in the desert, God wanted all this to change, so he made a plan to stop people driftingfrom him.
It all began when a young woman called Mary heard a wispa from an angel, who told her that she would give birth to God’s son. But how could this be? She was not yet married to Joseph. The angel (angel delight) told her not to be afraid, and to call the baby Jesus. It’s a name that means he’ll save people, he’ll make them friends with God again (that’s for us too you know, we can be friends with God!).
Though Joseph was a bit confused, he was a good egg (crème egg) you couldn’t hope to meet a kinder man (kinder egg or bar), so he decided to look after Mary, and God’s baby.
So the story goes that Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem, Mary was heavily pregnant, and Joseph wondered if she’d flake out on the journey so she travelled on a donkey, because they couldn’t get an aero –plane, double decker or even a taxi (I couldn’t find Taxi’s so you could just say car!)
When they arrived, Joseph tried to find lodgings, but they didn’t have a dime – and everyone turned them away. Eventually they found a stable where a kinder innkeeper said they could stay. We don’t know what animals were there, i doubt there was a lion, frog (freddo frog) or a (kit) kat, but there might have been some oxo-n… (cubes)
And there Jesus was born (jelly baby)
Then lots of visitors came to see him.
First some shepherds: they’d been up on the hillside, looking up at the milky way when they heard singing in the sky. Angels sang “glory to God in the highest” and heralded “good news”. The angels told them to go and see God’s son.
You see jesus was the first Christmas gift ever and he was a gift that all of us can receive even now. What an amazing gift that is?
So, straight as an aero the shepherds headed for bethlehem to find Jesus.
Meanwhile a bit further away, there were some wise men – many people called them smarties – who were busily scanning the galaxy and observing the planets, when they saw a new light in the sky. Could it be mars? No, it was a special star (milky way stars or starburst) – signalling the birth of a king. They knew they had to go and see this king. So they packed up their bounty – presents for the new king, a picnic – possibly – did up their buttons and climbed on their “caramels“. And went to find Jesus.
First they went to Herod’s palace – not afraid to hobnob (biscuit bars better than the actual thing!) with royalty – to see if Herod knew about this royal birth. Herod didn’t really believe the wise men and thought the(m all teasers), but just to make sure – he reckoned he’d butter scotch this rumour before it began to spread throughout Jerusalem. So he decided to fudge the issue by saying that he wanted to go and worship the baby as well – and told the wise men to report to him on their way back. The wise men set off and eventually found the young jesus and they offered him their gifts gold (choc coins), frankincense, and myrrh. Then god warned them in a dream that herod was up to his twix and really wanted to kill the child. So they took flight and headed home another way.
So there’s a few highlights (hot choc sachet) from a well know story, some old fashioned humbugs don’t believe it, but, and here’s the crunch(ie) according to the bible, Jesus is divine, the son of God and was born so that all sorts of people might come know God’s love for them..
Like the shepherds and the wise men, many people are looking for meaning and purpose – some kind of boost in life – a refresher in difficult times. He truly is no minature hero, he is God’s gift to all of you, but you only get to taste how good that gift is when you try it for yourself. So why not make your selection (pack) and choose Jesus in your life… he is a true cause for celebration(s)!
Ok so I’m having a very bah-humbug moment, and it’s all about Christmas presents.
To be honest, it always happens around this time of year, shortly before Christmas, when I haven’t bought all the presents, I’ve given away my best ideas for the kids presents (for family to buy) and then get stressed. And the thing I focus on in that stress is:
‘WHY AM I DOING THIS?’
Now I will be honest that it only comes out when it all comes to a head like this, but… I do ask myself this question every year and then I bombard my husband with it all too.
‘WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?’
We don’t have that many presents to buy and we can afford to, it’s not the money I object to (well maybe a little bit) but the heart of it all. Christmas is about Jesus. A message of love. A message of hope. A message of joy. For me the most important thing about Christmas is spending time with the people I love and sharing some of that love with each other.
Years ago my Dad always got socks and pants at Christmas, every year without fail (a present which is banned in this house due to it’s mundanity) and I just think ‘what is that about?’ Go buy your own pants and socks! That’s not a Christmas present!
My husband laughs at me and say ‘but we are blessing people’ in giving gifts. Which yes, we are, and that sentiment I love, but giving someone an Amazon voucher or a pot plant or even cash does not in my book constitute blessing someone, it means conforming to a standard. A worldly standard that is based on expectations. A blessing would be really doing something thoughtful, actually spending time thinking about what would be a really nice gift for that person, or doing something for them rather than buying tat, even if it is expensive tat.
Of course I don’t actually do the thoughtful thing, largely because I don’t have the time. But I should.
I used to do things like baking, or making for people and it meant so much more because I was really sowing (or sewing!) love into those gifts, really thinking about the person they were going to. In fact what would be a real blessing now would be to give people my time. That’s the thing I have least of, and the thing that it’s so hard to give up and would mean the most, certainly from the perspective of giving.
This week I found myself buying gifts because I had to, not thoughtfully, or even just thinking whether they would like them, but because I have no time left and right now Amazon Prime is my best friend. Then we had a conversation about giving cash as a gift and this years rant began…
And look I am being a total hypocrite, I know. When people ask what I would like for Christmas I always say vouchers because I haven’t actually thought about what I would like and to be honest we don’t need anything anyway. But then isn’t that missing the whole point of giving a Christmas gift? I mean just even asking ‘what would I like’? That shouldn’t be how a Christmas present works! It should be given with love and thought and care and yes of course over the years I have had some really stonkers (they get regifted of course) but actually I think I’d rather that. I think truly we have all got caught up in the consumerism (yes I said it, you knew it was coming didn’t you) of it all and forgotten what it’s all about.
Years ago I wrote a song about God’s ‘gift from heaven’ having been inspired by a Christmas sermon. These are some words from it:
You are the Saviour, You are the son
Sent to earth to save us, by God above.
Imagine his hurt and pain when every door was closed,
The Father sent his only son,
The gift for us he chose…
You are our gift from heaven,
Sent to save us all.
A gift from Heaven,
Jesus Lord of all…
It goes on, but that is the sentiment that gets me riled. God’s gift, the ultimate gift, was His Son. A gift that was full of love, given at great expense, but given also to us in our need. That’s what I want my Christmas gifts to reflect, not the 5 mins I’ve actually spent online choosing something almost at random.
I’ve now had this Christmas present rant every year for the past 10 or so years. I make comments to my husband that we should buy everyone an Oxfam cow or twin a toilet for them, or do something different, and each year he gives me the ‘we are blessing people’ speech and I back down. So someone please, remind me of this post in about November next year. Perhaps I’ll actually listen to my own thinking and we’ll finally do something different…
I would really love to know peoples thoughts on this. Why do you give Christmas presents? What is the heart behind it? Would you rather get a gift you know you want or is a risky surprise better? do comment here or Facebook and Twitter…
Now if you know me personally I want you to know that these are not self-pity posts (actually even if you don’t know me personally I want you to know that!). I still say that my time off with my back was a total blessing and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
Neither are they finger-pointing posts, ‘why didn’t you do something?’ posts. I have thought long and hard about publishing them and the reason I am now is because I want to highlight things I learned in this time, that people who need help, or support or even just a quick hug, can be so easily be hidden from those who can help. And that for those who can help, sometimes we think we know what a person needs, but really we need to dig deeper and actually find out.
So, all that said, I don’t want people to feel bad in what I am writing. But I think it’s more important to say what might help people so if you do feel bad, well sorry but also, tough!
In my first few weeks of being incapacitated, I felt very alone. In fact probably for more than a few weeks. I love being with people so to find myself at home with pretty much no one to talk to for days on end was tough. I felt starved of human company!
And although I joke slightly, I actually did feel very alone. Going through one of the toughest times of my life, which many people knew about, and yet in the early days no phone calls, cards or visitors (well that’s not true, one friend was a very faithful support from the very first few days and was totally amazing). But on the whole, nothing. (It did improve as time went on, I should say!)
Imagine that for a moment. Going, literally in an instant, from a full life, out at college one day, work another, family, home, seeing people, talking, helping, sharing, doing. Every day. To then nothing. To lying on my back for weeks on end…
In that there were several things.
Firstly pain is debilitating. At times completely. There was a stage when even getting up to go to the loo was agony. And I’m not exaggerating. I waited until I could wait no longer because I just didn’t want to move. I got my husband to make me a little station on the floor or in bed where I could reach all the things I needed while he was out and the kids at school. So this was bad, yes. But what was probably worse was that I couldn’t do anything for my family. No school runs, no cooking, no tidying up. And yes of course that was a good lesson for them (although they all seem to have forgotten it now, conveniently). This affected all of us, not just me. Working out what on earth we were going to do to manage daily life was a mission in itself. Frankly how people cope with this kind of stuff without Jesus I do not know.
Then there’s support… Now here’s the thing, and please don’t think I’m judging or condemning, we are all busy I know that so well. But do you know what, the little support I did get, didn’t come from the church. In fact one of my neighbours told me she had put together a meal rota for me. Didn’t ask, she just did it. This was an amazing blessing that I feel sure both my husband and I would have said no to had we been asked. But the very fact that it was done and there was so wonderful I just sat and cried. A lot. And the people who filled this rota? My neighbours here in the village. Most of whom are not Christians or church goers. In fact I even asked people to sign up to it, which was a massive big deal for me, I can’t tell you how much. I find asking for help so hard even in my desperate need, and yet no one did.
In fact the neighbours and locals here cooked for us for about a month (if not longer). That is a pretty big commitment and yet we had meals every night, some people cooking several in that time, some bringing lovely treats too and going the extra mile. I am so grateful for all they did.
So then I found myself in that time questioning myself – was there a reason people didn’t visit, call, offer to help? Was it me? Am I not a good enough friend? Did people not care?
Of course some of those may be valid questions for me to ask of myself, and I shall continue to do so, but to be honest it’s not really what you want to be thinking about when you are at such a low point.
The reason I am writing this is because I think this is a challenge to all of us as Christians and for our churches. If I felt like this and I was so visible and well known at church, what about those who are not? Those on the fringes, those who don’t come because they can’t, those who don’t have such a strong connection? Our faith is built on love and compassion so are we really showing it?
And as individuals, are we all too busy to actually reach out in love to those around us? Are we too focussed on what is going on in our own lives to think about others?
I know that in all this, if nothing else it has been a lesson to me. A lesson that if I call myself a Christian, take on the name of God, the God of love that is, then I jolly well need to show it!
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Jesus died for us in love. There is nothing we can do to beat that, so then anything goes surely?! We cannot over-love people! And love looks like lots of things…
For me in my period of being ‘unwell’ there were some key things that stood out to me. Here’s a few:
One was when a friend, unsure what to cook for me (as I have food intolerances) found a jar of gluten free chocolate spread and brought that over! Another friend came and visited, and texted in between with encouraging words that really kept me going. There’s my lovely neighbour who organised the meal rota which was such a blessing. My husband bringing me back gluten free chocolate cupcakes unprompted. These are all such small things but meant so much and are real acts of love. In fact they made me feel loved at a time when I was struggling to feel anything good about myself.
The challenge to me now, and that I want to pass on to you too is: are you loving people in need? Are you showing the love of Christ? Are you seeing people who need support? Are you doing anything about it? Or are you too busy?
I have started to make more time in my diary for just this, no matter how busy I am. I read a quote this week – that is particularly appropriate for clergy – which said ‘when you die no one will remember your sermons but they will remember the time you spent with them’. But for all of us, clergy or not, the thing people see of us and the thing they will undoubtedly remember is how we respond to them, how we spent time with them or how we loved them. I’d much rather people remembered that about me that what I preached on!
Another looking back post, there’s going to be a few I think. Another one that was written months back and yet needed time to settle and reflect on. These next two are really about how I found myself feeling vulnerable and isolated when unwell. My whole perspective changed.
So this one is about getting out, well in this case, getting to church. Something I do every week, have done for years. It’s a place where I feel at home, loved, have friends. I have never had a problem going into a church, I spent a lot of time in churches as a child (due to my parents being bell ringers) and so I’ve always felt at home in a church building. But this, well this was different. Suddenly for the first time in my life, church was the hardest place to get to.
So a week after my back going, feeling very emotional, either from pain or pain killers, or both, I attempted to get to church. And boy was it hard. I mean physically it was hard but way more than that was the mental struggle. I am a pretty outgoing person, wear my heart on my sleeve and talk about almost anything but one thing I find really difficult is showing weakness, in whatever form. I don’t need you to psychoanalyse this, I have done enough of that myself, but I do know it about myself. And you know what I’m ok with it, bold and open as I may be we all need some things that are private. So going to church, feeling a shell of my usual self and in a lot of pain was, flippin’ tough.
I wanted to arrive early to avoid seeing people and get a seat at the back so I could hide (we usually sit right at the front), but everyone in my family was late. I was so cross with them because I had specifically said how important it was for me to be able to hide. In fact I was pretty much crying in the car on the way to church and desperately trying to get a grip! I don’t think I’ve ever felt so vulnerable.
So we arrive late, I had to try and sneak in (hardly inconspicuously as I was hobbling along on crutches) then first of all my husband left me to go and get some tea and my kids ran off to find friends. All of a sudden I was isolated.
And wow, did I feel it.
I felt conspicuous and unprotected.
And all this in a place where there are people I love and am very close to. A place where most people know me. A place where I meet with God every week. And yet there I sat, feeling very alone and vulnerable.
The first song began and was all about singing and dancing – the worst possible thing to hear at that moment when I could hardly walk. Not that that is any fault of the church of course, it was just for me, more than I could handle, a simple song and one that I absolutely love normally.
Finally someone came and spoke to me. At that point no one had even said hello. Which on the one hand was a blessing – you know when you feel bad and just about holding it together when someone says ‘are you ok?’ and it all falls apart…
but on the other hand I just needed someone I know to come and just hold my hand.
So then someone did, but to be honest, what they said made it worse, they just didn’t get it. Didn’t get where I was at. And why would they of course? I didn’t need to be second guessed or cajoled, I just needed someone to give me a hug (very gently!) or to sit with me.
Eventually I went to hide at the very back. A few others came over and literally just stood next to me. That was all I needed right then. It made me cry but because I felt they were just standing with me…
Then I was literally pointed out to everyone from the front. So that they could pray, admittedly. Now I’m an extrovert but I didn’t thank him for that at that point, not at all, I wanted to hide, not be seen. Seen by the entire church, in my weakness and pain.
I basically sobbed through that service. In fact it was the last one I went to for a while as after that I was advised to rest at home on my back, then after the op I couldn’t get out for weeks anyway. I don’t know what I expected it to be, I think I just needed to be there. I was drugged up and can’t remember any of what was preached. In all just a handful of people spoke to me. Two in particular really knew what to say, they weren’t people I know amazingly well, but enough, and they understood exactly what I was going through. In fact they made all the difference that morning.
The thing that really got to me was just how hard it was to get there. I have always known that for some it is hard but this really brought it home to me. If someone like me, who knows the church and the people and has felt at home there, can find it hard, how much harder for those who have never been, those who are struggling like I was, for those who feel unworthy, or unloved, or out of their comfort zone?
How often do we either expect people to just come? Or how often do we not even see the difficulties they have to get over in order to come to church? How for so many it’s just way too much to even consider.
And if they do come, how do we support them? make them feel welcome? encourage them? Stand alongside them?
I don’t have any real answers, just that I feel very much more aware of this now. I am so thankful for this opportunity to see how tough it can be, for so many reasons. And I pray that God will help me to keep my eyes open to this and for people who might be struggling…
I wrote this post back in the summer before I had surgery on my back. So if you are reading it now in December, don’t worry, I’m not about to have surgery again, I just needed to leave this for a while to, well I don’t know really, just to settle I suppose. Over the next few posts I’ll be looking back at the summer, when I was recovering, I wrote a lot of stuff then that needed to just sit there for me to reflect on. So now some months later, it’s time for them to come out.
This one I wrote when up to my eyes on painkillers and as you will see feeling a bit, well more than a bit, emotional…
Writing to my kids is not an unusual event. I’m often away for study weekends so I always try and leave them a note, and I pray for words of knowledge for them too which I stash away in places for them to find (usually with sweets attached!). But this…
Well, this is something different. This is the ‘if something happens to me…’ letter.
I’ve thought of doing this before, and now, well now I am having surgery tomorrow and although it’s not a big op, there’s always the risk of something going wrong. So, TBH, I’m writing this post as an avoidance tactic. I decided to this weeks ago when I knew surgery was going to happen and yet now it’s the last few hours and I still just can’t face it. I cry just even thinking about it.
I mean what can you say? If something awful did happen to me, then a letter like this could have a big impact on their lives, and I don’t want to saddle them with a message from the grave, or a list of things to make sure they do right in their lives. But at the same time, I don’t want to leave them with nothing.
As it is they won’t be carefully thought out, there isn’t the time for that now and maybe that’s a good thing I don’t know, maybe it will be more spontaneous, more full of love, rather than a carefully worded essay.
A few hours later…
It’s a mess if I’m honest, crossings out, lines going uphill (as I’m having to write lying down), and I ran out of space. But it is heartfelt, encouraging (I hope) and a few pearls of wisdom in there. ha! who am I kidding? – just a few thoughts I would have told her, have told her actually, but nothing heavy.
I hope she never has to read it, but at least there is something.
Later still, another one down…
Now of course I’m thinking of all the things I should have said. What about this, or that, what if he thinks that’s not important to me…. thing is, actually these were written in one go with the things that came into my head, so I guess I have to trust God in that. I asked him to guide me so I have to let go of it now.
They are done, 3 letters to my kids, in the event of something tragic happening to me.
I’ve done it but I don’t know, maybe I should just burn them. None of them are works of art, none any great story. And I wonder if I should have spent more time doing this. I’m asking myself, will they read into what I’ve written, will they compare with each other – why did she say that to me and not to her?
I don’t think you can ever write a letter like this that is perfect. It’s just not possible. there will always be something…
I ask myself again why am I doing this? what’s the point? what will they gain? In fact it’s made me think what am I even saying here that I haven’t or wouldn’t say to them?
Well, nothing really.
So is this for my own benefit that I write them? Am I kidding myself? how will it help them? don’t they already know they are loved? and if not perhaps I ought to show it more or tell them more!
So what do I gain from this? Would what they gain? All it has made me do is think that I should be telling them this stuff to their face, and more often. How often do I tell them how much I love them? How proud I am of them? How I love watching them breathe when they are asleep? Do they know that every night I go into their rooms just before I go to bed just to check on them and say a last prayer. Every night, without fail.
Do they know they are my very reason for living, even when I’m grumpy or tired or cross because they still haven’t put away their shoes or found their coats?
I wonder when they are worried about school, that they don’t know that I don’t care whether they got an A grade, I’m more excited when a teacher tells me how they look out for their friends or are a delight to have in the class. I love when they share together or laugh with each other. I hope that they know how important friendship is and how family is a bond you just can’t make up.
All these little things, of course I have a lifetime to tell them (I hope), but will I, do I? perhaps I should be writing to them anyway, or perhaps my life, my time with them should just be a continual letter….
Chichester Diocese are doing Advent reflections each day available here. This was mine from yesterday – I don’t think they are available to view after the date, but check them out each day, some interesting and very short thoughts…
Lord In your Mercy
In a recent Dr Who episode the Doctor approaches a Dalek crying ‘mercy’. ‘What?’ says the Doctor, ‘you shouldn’t be able to say that!’.
Certainly the opposite behaviour of a normal Dalek! That’s how God’s mercy is: opposite to what the world expects. Showing compassion where least expected, giving freedom from punishments earned and offering kindness undeserved.
A truly merciful God.
(If you want to know about the Dalek, you’ll have to watch the episode!)
Preach // 29/11/15 // Reconciliation // Available to listen here or to watch above.
2 Corinthians 5:11-21
11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come, The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Wow, what a great series this has been so far. So good to really get into the message of the cross. The central part of our faith and just to be reminded again all that Christ has done for us, it’s just amazing isn’t it? I heard someone say recently that in the church often we don’t need teaching we need reminding. And this has been a great reminder so far…
So let’s do a quick sum up so far, Tom talked about us being far from God, how our sins pull us away from him. Fiona, our Archdeacon gave us an impassioned talk of rescue and redemption, how we all need rescuing! Will has talked to us on atonement, and victory, these are just amazing amazing truths of the gospel. And today we are looking at reconciliation. How we can be reconciled to God, to have a real and personal relationship with him. THIS IS SUCH AMAZING TRUTH!!!
Scene setting //
So I always like to start with a bit of scene setting so we know where we are (but will keep it brief!). 2 Corinthians is one of Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth. This is a church he had visited previously and so he is writing to them as a friend, as a leader and really as a Pastor. Sort of a Pastor once removed if you like. That’s what Paul’s letters are generally, they are letters from a Pastor to churches he has set up. So sometimes it’s tricky to work out exactly what he’s saying because we are only seeing one side of it, his response to something going on in their congregation. And it’s no different here. Throughout the letter he refers to a situation in which it seems people are questioning his authority as an apostle. The beginning 11-13 he is defending his personal integrity. So he sort of gives a bit of a defence of his ministry and he refers to the situation as needing reconciliation with him as an ambassador of Christ, if they are at odds with him, they are odds with Jesus.
In v’s 14-17 he explains how Christ’s death undergirds his ministry.
And then in 18-21 And he goes on to talk about the ministry of reconciliation, in which he (and we) have a part to play in enabling people to be reconciled to God.
I actually read in a commentary this passage referred to as ‘one of the most theologically charged’ passages of any of Paul’s letters in terms of salvation and Christ’s role in that. And it really does declare, shout out almost, an absolute truth of Christ as Saviour and sacrifice.
Prepping the talk //
I’ve got to be honest This is probably the hardest preach I have planned. I mean this passage just talks about such an amazing fundamental truth of God, I just do not know what I can say to help you to grasp that. As a preacher I think that my role is to explain scripture to attempts to bring it to life and to enable you to see how it is relevant in your life. I hope that whenever I talk that it is actually God talking and not me. I pray that every time I speak he will reveal himself to those who are listening.
But today I just know that my words cannot even begin to encompass this subject of reconciliation. That we are reconciled to God that we can have a relationship with God, a friendship, we can have a conversation with God, we can come before him with our innermost worries and with the things that we wouldn’t tell anyone else the things that we sometimes can’t even admit to myself. And because of Jesus because he died on the cross purely because of that act we get to have that relationship with God. I mean that is unfathomable. Isn’t it? How can we even begin to understand that?
I mean God made this world, this universe even, that is so vast that we cannot see the ends of it even through the most powerful telescopes. Or from the opposite extreme, looking at a square of your garden with a magnifying glass and just seeing the beauty and the detail and see the ants working away and other tiny creatures too. God created in such beauty and detail. And not only that but creation is like an amazing machine – it all works together, the sun provides light, it goes up-and-down, through it we have times we have seasons. We have the tides and the sea, even things that we might think are disastrous – earthquakes, volcanoes, but they are all part of this amazing created machine and it’s been here from millions and millions of years just going, just working. So God, created that because he wants to know me wants to have a relationship with me, and with you, and every one of you.
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In lovehe predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s gracethat he lavished on us.
That is the God who wants to know us – well anyone who tells me they completely understand that? I think you’re lying! Because how can we possibly understand the awesomeness of that and I say awesome in true sense of the word – how can we understand the awesomeness of the fact that God is so powerful that he can create this amazing thing that goes on and on, over millions of years and will continue to go on, He actually wants to know us and love us.
And that’s what it all boils down to… that the living God loves us and wants to know us, wants to be in relationship with us, He wants to be reconciled to us. That’s what it’s all about. When Jesus stretched out his arms on the cross and died in agony alone, in that act, he reconciled us, humanity to God.
He did that so that every single person on this planet who has ever lived, is living or who will live the chance to become a friend of God – I mean wow right? And it makes me wonder what God is thinking, what he’s feeling, perhaps, when a single one of us turned away from him when any one of us rejects him, when one person refuses to be reconciled / doesn’t want to be reconciled. I truly think his heartbreaks for every single one of us.
And so you can see why I have felt this week completely unworthy of giving this talk today. What can I possibly say? Most of you here already know the Lord I know that but then I ask myself if I know this truth for myself, if I know what Jesus did for me, if I know that I have a relationship that Him, that I am reconciled to the living God why am I not out there telling every single person who breathes and moves?! why am I not spending every waking moment on reaching out to Him, longing to be in his presence, why am I not all consumed unable to do anything that worship him?
Because I sometimes wonder if I cheapen what God has done for me, by my lack of zeal for him.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not condemning myself or anybody else of course. God calls each of us with a different call, with a different plan but it’s just the power of the truth of the heart of the gospel that should surely overwhelm us all. Shouldn’t it?
So I had no idea where to start so I started looking at stories of reconciliation.
Some of you will remember seeing on the news stories of the horrific genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s. A genocide against the Tutsi tribe, incited and instigated by those in power who ruthlessly incited people against each other. Tribe fought against tribe, neighbour against neighbour. Entire families were wiped out. Thousands of people were maimed, raped, injured and murdered.
In fact during a 100-day period from April to July of 1994, an estimated 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, making up as much as 70% of the Tutsi tribe and 20% of Rwanda’s total population.
I’ve been reading a book called ‘As we forgive – stories of reconciliation’ from Rwanda which is just a staggering read. From the vastness of the killing and hate to the stories of forgiveness and reconciliation, it has just blown my mind, although is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination.
After the genocide some 120,000 people were detained and accused of bearing criminal responsibility for their participation in the killings. And how can you begin to deal with that many criminal cases in such a short space of time? Rwanda did 3 things:
They had the
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda,
The national court system
and the Gacaca (gachacha) courts.
The Gacaca trials served to promote reconciliation by providing a means for victims to learn the truth about the death of their family members and relatives. They also gave perpetrators the opportunity to confess their crimes, show remorse and ask for forgiveness in front of their community. Similar to the Truth and reconcilation commission in South Africa following Apartheid.
These stories of people going through this are just so overwhelming too. That people who have suffered such horror can even begin to think about forgiving or being reconciled has to be a miracle in itself. It’s just beyond comprehension, just like the fact that we can be reconciled to our Heavenly Father. These people here, those who have suffered so much are encouraged to be reconciled and forgive so that they can move on, so that their lives can be different, can be transformed from the pain and misery, not to forget, but to be able to live a life fully. In 2014 photographer Pietr Hugo went to Rwanda, 20 years after the atrocity to photograph some of these reconciliations. His photographs are amazing portraits of reconciliation in process. Even some 20 years on.
At the photo shoots, Hugo said, ‘the relationships between the victims and the perpetrators varied widely. Some pairs showed up and sat easily together, chatting about village gossip. Others arrived willing to be photographed but unable to go much further. “There’s clearly different degrees of forgiveness,” Hugo said. “In the photographs, the distance or closeness you see is pretty accurate.’
Reconciliation is not always an easy process.
So what is reconciliation all about anyway?
To be reconciled to someone means to make a change in the relationship between people, to go from being enemies if you like to being able to have a conversation…
As humans need to be reconciled to God. We are supposed to be in relationship with him, not adversaries, not on such bad terms that we ignore him.
When he created humanity, in the garden of Eden, it was because he wanted to know us, to be with us. In genesis God was there with them in the garden, talking to them, being with them.
Now we are not going to get too deep into the fall right now, but that is what happened, something got in the way of their relationship, they, Adam and Eve wrecked that relationship, so special, and were parted from God. Sent out of the garden. Since then, man has needed to be reconciled to God, the relationship needed to be perfectly healed. Throughout the Old Testament you can read of how God desperately sought to be reconciled to his people, that growing population on earth, he so longed to be with.
And yet they failed again and again, turned from him, sought easier ways to live, worshipped idols, didn’t listen.
Until God said enough is enough.
And we’ve been learning throughout this series how God made the ultimate sacrifice and sent his son to die in order that we might be able to come to know him again.
In Verse 14 -15 – ‘one died for all’. Paul declares it, we are convinced of it he says. And Paul is a pretty good example of this:
Paul had the most amazing experience, you can read about it in Acts Ch. 9. In which he turned from a life of great authority, he had people under his command, he was well thought of and very well educated a rabbi, Pharisee, who had ‘great zeal’ for his Jewish faith – ie: he was VERY passionate about it! He would have been so well respected, had a good life, nice home etc. But something happened that made him turn from that to a complete reversal, where he once hated Christians, he became one! Where he was once the persecutor, he became the persecuted, eventually dying for his faith. Now you don’t just make a decision like that one day do you? Something has to happen to change you, not just change your mind, but to actually change you. So that you are ‘a new creation’ as the passage tells us.
For Paul he says that ‘Christ’s love compels us’. He is compelled, he can’t not do something, it’s all or nothing, all consuming. Not because he has to, but because he truly knows for himself, the love of God.
He has been reconciled to the Father, having been far off, having been a persecutor of Christ and his followers. I mean you’d think if anyone was beyond that redemption it would be him right? A murderer deliberately targeting followers of Jesus. And yet Jesus comes to him, invites him to know God, invites him to be reconciled to God.
So you see, a relationship with God is for everyone. If we choose it.
// because as I said it’s not always easy…
I also saw a story this week of 2 US Army VETS, after the Vietnam war, standing before the memorial to their fallen comrades. Both had been kept prisoner of war and seen terrible things, suffered terrible things. One asks of the other, ‘have you forgiven them for what they did?’ ‘No I shall never forgive them’ says the other ‘then they surely still have you trapped in that prison’ replies the first.
Because bitterness, hurt, anger, all these things keep us wrapped up in a world that was not intended for us. God intended for us that beautiful garden, being with him, idyllic, paradise, and yet we do not have that, well not yet anyway, one day. But we do have the choice to life this life differently.
Ministry of Reconciliation
But the other thing we learn from this passage and from stories form Rwanda and others is that we have a ministry of reconciliation too. We have a job to do.
If we are reconciled to God we then are called to the ministry of reconciliation – to share a message of restored relationships to others. v 20 says We are Christ’s ambassadors…
You know I tend to like to leave you with a challenge when I’m preaching and this is it! I said earlier on how I find this passage so challenging. Listen, God has given us a job to do, so are we actually doing it? Paul said
‘Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.’
And that they are compelled by Christ….
What are we compelled to do? Are we really embracing the truth of the gospel? What does it mean to us? How are we sharing that message of reconciliation. Of restored relationships? that Jesus offers us?
Because sometimes I wonder if we have lost sight of it. Of how amazing it is. Do we get bogged down in life and the brightness of the light becomes dimmed?
or perhaps the time we came to know Christ first of all, becomes a distant memory. Or perhaps something has got in the way, maybe you need your own reconciliation to God before you can take on the sharing of it?
It is interesting that in this last week both the queen and the Pope have referred to this passage.
“St. Paul reminds us that all Christians, as ambassadors for Christ, are entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Spreading God’s word and the onerous but rewarding task of peace-making and conflict resolution are important parts of that ministry. So too is the Church of England’s particular vocation to work in partnership with those of other faiths and none, to serve the common good in this land.”
The Pope, this week in Kenya: Saying he was visiting Kenya and Uganda as a minister of the gospel, the Pope emphasised that he was bringing a ‘message of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace’. He called for mutual understanding across all religions and for believers “to support each other as members of our one human family”.
And in our time of troubles perhaps it is a fitting subject. I once read that every generation thinks theirs is worse than the one before, that theirs is facing bigger terrors and upsets than the one before, but I don’t know about you, right now, I worry about our world. Continuing news reports of atrocities and wars, terrorist attacks and bombings. People incited to hate each other, the media trying to pit us against those in absolute dire need. If ever there was a time to think about reconciliation it is perhaps now. For ourselves, for our communities, for our countries and for the world.
Let’s not be dragged down by life, let’s not give up, let’s not keep the message of such amazing truth to ourselves! Let us be compelled to share what we know!