What Do I Do While I’m Waiting?

•November 24, 2022 • 2 Comments
Candle flame burning
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This is my written sermon for our Circuit’s Ministry to those who cannot join worship in the building, for this coming Sunday – the First Sunday of Advent.

It is based on the set readings: Isaiah 2:1-5, Romans 13:11-14, and Matthew 24:36-44

Person looking at their arm with a watch on it
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Sometimes it feels as if I spend my whole life waiting.  Waiting for appointments, for letters, for someone else to sort something, for things to change…  You will have your own list.  Like many, I am not very good at waiting!  But perhaps one of the most important questions is what we do while we wait.

This week we reach the beginning of Advent.  Advent is a period of preparation, a time of expectant waiting.

Advent calendar 
lit wooden houses on top of wooden numbers doors
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I guess that raises the question of what are we waiting for?  For many it is waiting for Christmas Day.  To celebrate, whether with reference to Jesus or not.  But we wait, not just to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but also for the Second Coming – the time when Jesus will return again.  This is the emphasis of this week’s readings.  We are looking forward, but that should be very much with an eye on how that effects how we live today.  We are waiting, but we wait actively.

Sword with black handle
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Isaiah gives us a vision of a day when “Swords will be turned into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (2:4) – a sentiment I’m sure we all long for.  Is it a vision for the future, or something we should be working to make a reality each day?  Perhaps we can look and see what there is in our everyday lives that are swords and spears that could much more usefully be used for growth not destruction.  What weapons are around us?  Do we pick them up, or try and make them something more healthy?  When and what should we be tending and growing rather than creating hurt?  It is never too early to stop fighting, to lay down arguments, to do all we can to make the world a better place.  Whilst we wait for the ultimate cessation of war, of all kinds, what am I doing to make it a reality where I am today?

Tractor ploughing a field.  The field is half ploughed the rest is green growth
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In Romans we are implored to “Wake up from your sleep, lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.  Let us live honourably as in the day.” (13:11-12)  Living honourably seems to have become a rarity in public life in recent months.  We went from the death and memory of the Queen, who lived life so honourably, to scandals in public life that seemed to be forgiven very quickly and glossed over.  But as always the question should be for me.  I am not asked to sit in judgement on decisions and actions of other people, but to worry about how I live my life.  That is all each of us is accountable to God for, how we live each day.  Does that honour God and God’s way, or detract?  Do I live in the ways of light and spread light, or bring only darkness?  When  God looks at me and my life, whether now or at some time in the future, what will God see?  What will be my legacy?

Hand holding up a leaf with the light shining around and through it
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Because as Matthew reminds us – you never know.  We never know when God will return again, and we never know when our last day will be.  If we knew today was our last day, how would we behave?  Matthew reminds us that the Son of Man will come at an unexpected time, so we should be ready.  (24:44) When I was young, I thought God could wait, that I had a life to be getting on with and God might spoil it.  Fortunately, I discovered that was not the case and I know life would have been very different without God on board. It can be easy to imagine that we have plenty of time to do something, sort out what needs doing, put right a wrong, do all we can to turn a bad thing into a good thing – but do we?  God sees today.

So, as we wait, for Advent to journey, for Christmas to come, for Jesus to return and bring us to himself, for my final day, how will I live?  In destruction or peace?  In darkness or light, dishonourably or with honour?  Living each day as if I have all the time in the world or as if it might be my last?

One of the hymns linked to today is There’s a Light Upon the Mountains by Henry Burton, (one of my favourites!) which speaks of waiting for God.  The first verse goes:

“There’s a light upon the mountains, and the day is at the spring,

When our eyes shall see the beauty and the glory of the King;

Weary was our heart with waiting and the night-watch seemed so long,

But his triumph-day is breaking, and we hail it with a song.”

And the third verse:

“He is breaking down the barriers, he is casting up the way;

He is calling for his angels to build up the gates of day:

But his angels here are human, not the shining hosts above;

For the drum-beats of his army are the heart-beats of our love.”

This Advent, and in the rest of our lives, may we not become weary of waiting, however long it seems, and live as God’s people in God’s ways.  May we live daily as the heart beats of God’s love.  For God is coming into each and every day.

May God bless us in our living, waiting and longing.

Disability Through Chronic Illness

•November 17, 2022 • Leave a Comment

I’m trying to tease out some of my discomfort and frustration in the crossover, or intersectionality if you prefer, between Disability and Chronic illness. I’ve been trying to put it into words for some time, and by definition of my illness struggling.  I’m not sure this still encapsulates what I want to say, but this is my thinking aloud; I hope it makes some sense and helps someone else.

Chronic Illness is disabling, but in some distinct ways very different to some other disabilities.

This does not apply to all chronic illnesses, but if your chronic illness is bad enough to classify as disabled, it probably does. I am talking personally about my illness, because that is all I can do.

Many people with disabilities say that it is society that disables them. I get that entirely. But with a chronic illness it is definitely the illness that disables me.  Most of the time I feel ill.  All the adjustments in the world do not help if I am just not well enough to go out – though they do help when I am well enough to and for places I have to go like hospitals.

My illness causes physical disabilities like mobility and vision problems, so those are real life issues for me, but much more are not being able to get out of the house because of my health not my disabilities, when I am just not well enough.  Things like ramps, comfortable seating, and correct lighting do matter – but only if I can get to somewhere.

The time and energy taken to travel to somewhere also has to be factored in when you are not feeling great anyway.

Chronic illness, as well as the debilitating symptoms in itself, takes up so much time and energy with constant rounds of medical appointments, chasing those appointments and medicine, doing any rehab, it leaves little time or energy for anything else.  They also preclude being at things you might want to be.

My illness rather than my disability means I sleep every afternoon.  So many things happen in the afternoon that I couldn’t even join if they are online.

As my main community is church, I speak in terms of that. For physical church, it is impossible to be regularly, if ever, there.  It doesn’t matter what adaptations or accommodations are made; I am not well enough to join in, to get there, sit comfortably, battle with the surroundings and get home again.   Sadly, it also doesn’t matter what exciting opportunities are created or enabled for disabled, I still can’t join in them.

It can often feel like “out of sight, out of mind”.  When people are not part of the visible worshipping community it is easy to forget them (or that is how it feels) – with no disrespect to anyone.  We do not seem to fit into the same category as the elderly housebound.  Also, when being ill is your “normal” and people are used to you not being around, it is not always easy for the community to notice an additional crisis, more ill than normal or something different, and cannot be expected to realise that you could do with some support.

Online opportunities are not just a helpful option, but usually the only way I will be able to join in – as long as I can read what’s on the screen, am not too tired, or it doesn’t clash with a medical appointment!

It’s Not Where You Start

•September 2, 2022 • 2 Comments

This is my written sermon for this Sunday for our Circuit’s Written Worship ministry.

Jeremiah 18:1-11, Philemon 1-21, Luke 14:25-33

Life does not always turn out like you expect it to. We may have grand schemes or plans that never come to fruition, because of circumstance – or lack of them.  If our original life plan had worked out we would be living in a cottage in France, retired and carefree from the age of fifty.  That was the dream we were sold in the 1980s.  Life has changed direction several times since then, through calling, the economy and chronic illness.  That does not mean that life is any less worthwhile because it has become something different.

Just because we are living a different life to what we imagined does not make it meaningless – indeed perhaps it is more meaningful.  There are also those for whom they are glad their life is not what it was, that it has changed shape.  People who are glad of the opportunity of a fresh start or a new direction.

Pottery, in Jeremiah’s time, was an everyday thing, so many utensils were made from it. Making it was an art.  If you have ever watched the Great Pottery Throwdown you will know that even to the experienced, it is not always as easy as one might think to make what you think you are going to.  As Jeremiah spends time in the potter’s workshop he sees that reality working out in front of him.  Sometimes what was made wasn’t right and needed to be squashed and reformed. 

Jeremiah sees for himself that “the vessel was spoiled, and he reworked it into another vessel”.  A ruined pot is not abandoned or thrown away, it is made into something new and purposeful by creative hands.  God shares with Jeremiah that similar can happen in and with human lives.  What has gone wrong can be reshaped.  Allowing the potter to make the right thing with the clay is a beautiful thing.  A life that is changed from spoiled and reworked is not a disaster but becoming the thing it is meant to be. 

The book of Philemon concerns only one thing – Onesimus.  He was a runaway slave, and probably also a thief.  His running had taken him to Rome, where he met Paul and became a Christian.  Paul is now sending him back to Philemon and asking him to receive him back as the man he is now and not the one who wronged him in the past.  Paul is willing to stand for him.

Once Onesimus was useless, now he is useful.  He is no longer just a slave but is now a beloved brother in faith.  He is not the man he once was, but the man God and his faith have made him.

In the passage from Luke’s gospel, Jesus speaks to his disciples of the cost of discipleship.  About leaving one way of life and embracing another.  Becoming true followers of Jesus.

Jesus is now on his way to Jerusalem.  This is no longer about a ministry wandering around Galilee, but a journey to the final destination.  It is time for the disciples to decide what matters to them.  What they can leave behind and what they can’t.  Not how they are defined now (as child, spouse, parent, sibling, or any other way) but as how they are going to be defined in God’s Kingdom.  It is not about being a follower, but a true disciple.

This is another one of those tough passages, where Jesus seems to say something totally counter to what we imagine he would.  Why is he asking them to hate their nearest and dearest?  What an awful thing to do.  But Jesus is using exaggeration to make a point.  He is not literally saying we should hate these people, but that we must decide where our love for him sits in the context of all our other obligations, relationships and even love. (Remember on the cross, at the end of John’s gospel, Jesus makes sure his mother is well cared for.  He is not against love and care for families.)

He reminds them that no one wants to start something they are not going to finish.  You want to know what something costs before you start.  Many years ago, while staying in France, we went to Switzerland for the day.  We knew Geneva was very expensive, so when we got there, we went to a cash machine to get some Swiss Francs.  We got out what we thought was sufficient for the day.  We had to go back to later in the day, even our generous estimate was nothing like enough for what we needed.  It was a much more expensive day than we had anticipated.  But it was worth the cost!  Had we known before we went would we still have gone?  Definitely – but it would have been good to be aware.

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For Jesus, doing what God needed of him involved carrying his cross – and not just carrying it, but being nailed to it.  He had to surrender all that he had and all that he was, but he became what he needed to be – our Saviour.  The cost for us may not be so dramatic, but a cost, a change there will be.  Are we ready and willing for God to make us into the people we need to be?  For God to remake us?  Would we be very grateful for that because we are not keen on what we are?  God can change and recreate what needs to be.

Jesus reminds those thinking about following him to Jerusalem that it is not about what you leave behind, but what you pick up.  Christian life is not about what you were, but what you become – in God’s hands.  It is not where you start, but where you end.  Not what we see and make, but what we allow God to make in and through us.

Each of these passages speaks of what we are.  Not what we were, but what God makes us.  Today I am asking God to make me, remake me, the person God needs me to be.  To smooth off rough edges, to remodel what in me needs it, to rework me into the vessel I need to be, to start again if that is what is needed.  At the start of a new Methodist year, these are good questions to ask ourselves and the church through God.  What could I be?  What should we be?  What is God longing to make me and this church in to?

Make me, mould me Lord, not into my expectations or plans, but into what you call and create me to be.  Amen.

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