Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Ash Wednesday - Lent begins

I'm always come to the beginning of Lent with a certain sort of relief - time for the annual clean-up. The church is now ready in Lent array - and children from a local school will be the first to see its new bareness when they visit in a few minutes' time. For myself I feel in need of the annual overhaul for body, mind and soul.

Our March issue of the Parish Magazine has just gone off to be printed. Click here to read the online edition.

This is the Vicar's letter from the front end of the maagazine, but there's a lot more worth reading inside...

Cracked Cisterns?

No, it’s not another fabric problem with crumbling loos and bathroom fittings… The reference is actually to words from the Prophet Jeremiah:

My people have committed two sins:
they have rejected me,
a source of living water,
and they have hewn out for themselves cisterns,
cracked cisterns which hold no water.
(Jeremiah 2.13)

It’s a two-fold reproach. First, that God’s people have lost sight of God himself: he’d led them from slavery in Egypt into a promised land, but they’ve forgotten that he is the source of their guidance - they just don’t pay attention to him any more. And secondly, having made themselves self-reliant, they’ve found their own resources to be an empty hope. It must be from Jeremiah that we get the phrase, “It just doesn’t hold water.” That’s what the Israelites find when they surrender the worship of God and a proper sense of their calling for false idols, materialism and neglect of the poor. And that’s what we find in our society today.

The recent “Atheist Bus Slogan” campaign has paid for buses to be emblazoned with the rather half-hearted half-thought: “There’s probably no God - so stop worrying and enjoy your life.” But will people stop worrying? Why shouldn’t you believe in God, and enjoy your life. And is enjoyment (hedonism) all there is to life? It’s not just the Recession that’s making people doubt this. In her chart-topping song, The Fear, Lily Allen sings:

I want to be rich and I want lots of money
I don’t care about clever I don’t care about funny
I want loads of clothes and I want a **** load of diamonds
I heard people die while they are trying to find them

It’s sad - and the chorus admits as much:

I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore
I don’t know how we’re meant to feel anymore
When do you think it will all become clear
‘Cause I’m being taken over by the Fear

So, is reality to be found just in what you can see, touch, get and grab? Let’s welcome Lent as the opportunity to attune ourselves once more to the true source of reality - God as we find him in Jesus Christ.

Martin Jackson

Monday, 23 February 2009

Sunday next before Lent - Transfiguration and daily life

I've managed to take a few days off during the school half-term holiday. Because we stayed at home in the Vicarage, there was always the issue: "Do I answer the phone?" Thankfully "Caller Display" and an answering machine meant there wasn't too much "work" to deal with.

But there's still the question of how to use the time profitably - and make it feel that it has been "time off." So we did make the effort to get out of the house. There was still ice on the ponds at Wallington Hall, and most of the gardens at Belsay were closed as the snows melted with all the attendant issues of flooding and water-logging. But we really felt the weather was on our side when we drove across the Pennines to the Lake District. With continuing Achilles Tendon problems, the most I felt I could tackle was an ascent of Catbells. As ever, it was worth it. Just a few hundred feet up and the perspective changes dramatically.

I finished off the week in the garden, not doing anything creative but clearing away the clutter of last year's growth. The wonderful thing about getting rid of the dead grass, moss and sad-looking greenery was to uncover the tiny plants pushing their way through so soon after the ice and snow have receded. The snowdrops are out already, and the first shoots of crocuses and daffodils too. I suspect that if I hadn't cleared the general mess away, many of those plants would have grown up, flowered and died without me noticing.

So there's a parable for this time of year. Get up and away to put yourself in the place of transfiguring glory. Get to grips with the messiness of life and clear away what you can, so that you can find those shoots of new life.

Having said that, you might be glad to know that I didn't preach at our main Eucharist yesterday. But our Reader, Rosie Junemann did, and you can find what she had to say about Transfiguration by following this link.

And let's all cheer up - it'll soon be Lent!

Monday, 16 February 2009

2nd Sunday before Lent

At last the snow is melting - practically gone as I type rather late into the night, though this morning there was still a fair bit of ice on the church drive.

Topically for the bicentenary of his birth, Charles Darwin received a positive mention in Paul Heatherington's sermon. It ranged through Genesis 1, John 1, how to survive a fall in the mountains with the aid of a cigarette lighter and the history of the hymn, "How great thou art" - and Paul finished off with a rendering of the final verse of the hymn from the pulpit. You can't hear him sing it - but you can read what he had to say.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

3rd Sunday before Lent

Actually there's still a day to go, but I'm getting ahead of myself and posting tomorrow's homily - which I'm due to preach - now.

I should be out doing something more constructive but it's still very cold, and there's been more snow this morning. So instead it looks like an afternoon with the start of the Six Nations. England and Italy should be kicking off in approximately one minute - so I'm off!

Meanwhile, after the snow, the sunshine and blue sky are back. For those who wonder, there's no problem in navigating Church Bank, though the car park may still be snowed over. And the picture is the view from a parishioner's house - taken yesterday. Click on the picture to appreciate the beauty of the setting.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Using Ordinary Time

What I meant to say in the post which I've just blogged is that I really look forward to the period between Candlemas and Lent as an opportunity to get established in a regular rhythm - the first real opportunity to do so during the year. I've written about the opportunities of Ordinary Time - or Green Time as it's known in France - in this month's Parish Magazine. Actually that link wasn't working a moment ago, but it has been, so please try again!

But meanwhile everything is rather white - the snow has set in. With a bit of unanticipated free time at hand I've just discovered the "Bus Slogan Generator." Anyone can have a go - I've found you can simply save the image you create to your own desktop - and do what you want with your picture. Perhaps people could bring their creations to St. Cuthbert's and we'll organise a mini exhibition.

It's snowing...

Actually it seems to be snowing everywhere except Exeter - where the Met Office has its headquarters.

A couple of us have been into St. Cuthbert's earlier today for Morning Prayer - and to change hangings and altar frontal from those used throughout the Epiphany season. We kept Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation yesterday, mixing the liturgical provision for the Feast with the Baptism of Amelia May Jude - a joyous and well-attended occasion. There were some snow flurries in Consett - where the reception was held - a a biting cold wind, but we can be glad we didn't get today's weather yesterday.

Our Mothers' Union has cancelled its AGM - which had been scheduled for this afternoon. I'd be tempted to sit tight for the rest of the day. But rather ironically I have an appointment with a physiotherapist at our Health Centre to treat my injured Achilles Tendon - and it looks like I'll have to walk (uphill, one mile)...