This coming weekend should have seen the Final of the Lawn Tennis Association Championship at Wimbledon. But alas, like so many other aspects of our lives this year, it will not be taking place. Strawberries will remain uneaten, champagne will remain in bottles, tennis balls in their thousands will remain in their boxes and an eerie silence will hover over Centre Court.
This year, for some, Rafael Nadal was assured of yet another title to add to his 19 Grand Slam Singles titles, 35 ATP Tour Masters 1000 titles, 21 ATP Tour 500 titles and the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal in Singles. So, instead of the Wimbledon Championship title 2020, which was surely his for the taking, I would like to take the letters of his surname to help us to reflect on various aspects of our calling as Christians. The other reason being that NADAL is so much easier to base this exercise on than DJOKOVIC!
N.......I suggest that the first letter should stand for NEW LIFE.
So often in the scriptures, people's encounter with the presence of the living God brings about a profound sense of renewal. In Jesus' exchange with the elderly Nicodemus, He speaks of being "born again of water and the Spirit". Other lives are transformed too through their encounter with Christ- Zacchaeus coming down from the sycamore tree, having been singled out by Jesus who noticed him there, longing for a glimpse of His Saviour. Hitherto judged and ostracised by his fellows, here he is accepted and enjoyed by Jesus, who invites Himself to supper at Zacchaus' home. Blind men, condemned women, the paralysed, lepers, disciples locked in fear in the upper room, dispirited disciples walking on the Emmaus Rd- all had this experience of New Life through their encounter with the Christ. It is one of the major features of the life of faith.
In the prophecy of Isaiah we hear that remarkable phrase: "God is doing a New Thing!" (Chapter 43 v. 19) We often think of God as unchanging, and of course, core aspects of His being are indeed eternal. But a Living God, a Creator God, a God who is seen to transform, heal, redeem, is also, by definition, a God who changes things and can proclaim, "Behold I make all things New!" (Revelation Chapter 21 v. 5) In our sense of who God is, in our approach toward Him, let us be expectant of encountering such a One who changes things, a God who can "make all things new," a God who can set aside the things of the past and who can allow new possibilities to exist, even for us. Some of us over a certain age can surely take comfort in the story of Nicodemus in John Chapter 3 and celebrate the fact that at whatever stage we may be at in life, it is never too late to experience the novelty of a new beginning. So, let the letter N in Nadal's surname stand for this- New Life.
Can I suggest that the second letter stand for AVAILABILITY.
So many of us are so distracted so much of the time. The Covid 19 lockdown has given most of us, though perhaps not all, the opportunity to sit still, to take stock, to pause, to reflect, to consider what really matters, who we really are, who we need in order for life to feel safe, enjoyable, meaningful and fulfilling.
I have been hugely moved by much of what many of you have written to me in the responses you sent a couple of weeks ago to my invitation to tell me what things you have been especially grateful for since March 23rd this year. Many of you refer to the gift of having more time- to breathe, to think, to notice the roses, to smell the roses, time to spend with your family, to read, to paint, to walk, to delight in the Spring, to watch eggs hatch and fledgelings fly, to chat with friends, to get to know your partner better and so much more besides.
At least 40% of the feedback I received mentioned your different relationship with time and many of you also expressed the wish that when we do emerge into a comparatively unlocked-down world, we may take with us the benefits of this new relationship with time, of it being more of a friend than a master, so that it remains not a burden but a gift, not a torment, but an opportunity. I know that it is not just I who have been able to make myself more available to God during this more reflective period in our shared lives, more available to Him with my time, more available to Him in my thoughts, more available to Him in my questions, emotions, fear, anger, vulnerability. This cessation of consumerism, this muting of materialism, this slowing down and being made to consider the core things of life, has surely made us all more open to the things of the Spirit. You have written to me compellingly concerning this and, as a more intense and interactive way of living inevitably awaits, let us try to continue to make time to make ourselves available to God in prayer, in self reflection, in gratitude, in honesty, in openness, in truth.
D next, let it stand for DEEPENING.
Because, again to reflect what you have written to me, so many of us have felt deepened by the experience of recent months. Deepened in our humanity, deepened in our concern for others, deepened in our relationship with God, deepened in our desire to make more of a constructive difference to others, deepened in our commitment to allow our lives to reflect the fact that we are all of God's making and thus all people, regardless of any perceived division or discrimination, should be nurtured and valued in a celebration of an equality of difference as people united in a sense of having been created, loved and redeemed by God. May I suggest that you reflect on what has helped you feel deepened over recent months- in your response to and sense of growing responsibility for, others in the human family. Reflect too on your appreciation of who God is, what the mission and purpose of His Church is really all about, as it seeks to continue Christ's work to transform lives for good.
Again, from the feedback from your emails of gratitude, I know that there has been a deepening across the parish and far beyond. We have had the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the creation that surrounds us, prompting us to be more open to the Creator beyond its hues. We have had a reawakened sense of the extraordinary value of friendships, we may have gained a deeper appreciation of what belonging to a church community can be all about and all these realisations can change us if we let them. Let us allow all that has been deepened within us to remain within us as a resource for us to draw upon deeply in the days that lay ahead.
Where are we.....?
Another A, let this one stand for ARMOUR. As is Ephesians Chapter 6 verses 10-18 if you would care to look it up, "putting on the whole armour of God."
As we consider our Christian calling, we cannot ignore the fact that Jesus was not welcomed with open arms by everyone in His day. His message of love, truth, forgiveness, generosity and compassion was uncomfortable for many to hear. At our Baptism we are charged to fight against evil, to stand up against injustice, to confront untruth, to defend the innocent, to give our lives in service to others. None of us is absolved from the realities of our world. Christianity is not, has never been, a cosy club or a belief system to escape from life's realities. It ultimately not only offers solace but crucially strength.
When Paul wrote to the emerging Church in Ephesus, he knew the persecution, the challenges they lived with as they forged a new way forward as men and women who placed their faith in Jesus Christ. He did not patronise them with platitudes, he sought rather to prepare them for the work which was to be done. He says to them, "Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand the evil day and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore having girded your loins with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, having shod your feet with the gospel of peace, taking the shield of faith, wearing the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."
Paul knew that the burden of discipleship is a costly one, but one which God resources and empowers us for in the strength of His Spirit. He will be with us always, to defend and protect us, but also to use us for His creative and recreative purposes and sometimes that calling demands great things of us. Let us be alert for opportunities to defend the principals which underpin our faith and stand up, speak up, against anything which robs human life of the dignity, freedom and purpose afforded it by the One who gives us life.
Which leads us to the last letter in dear Rafa's surname: N...A...D..A...L.
Which surely has to stand for LOVE.
Love, ultimately, is the work to which you and I are called, as Christians and as human beings. Love, not as an indulgent "feeling" thing. Love, rather, as a serving and "doing" thing. Love, not as a self fulfilling enterprise which has our own comfort and wellbeing as its motivation. Rather, love as a self offering and commitment to the wellbeing of others. Love, not simply in response to those who love us in return, but love, even for those unable to love in return, those possibly who have never felt loved before.
Love is the calling which all of us are required to recommit ourselves to during and after this present pandemic. To find ways, new ways, different ways, of spending, expressing our lives to allow love to inspire, guide, inform, influence, all our choices, decisions, activities, relationships. Easy for me to write, so much harder for me or any of us to do. And in our own strength none of us would probably be able to love in this radical and revolutionary way. Humbly, we must ask God to help us, to give us a sense of a New beginning, making ourselves more Available to Him, to allow the Deepening to continue in our relationships with others and with Him. To put on the Armour of the Spirit, so as to be effective Ambassadors for Jesus Christ, and to live our lives more Lovingly.
New life. Availability. Deepening. Armour. Love.
Let such ideas work their way into your souls, as the Spirit seeks to continue to transform you into being more fully the people He has created you to be. For Christ seeks to use you to help in the healing, the recovery, the rebuilding, the renewing of our country as we emerge from our present circumstance, so as to create a new way of living in loving harmony with Him and in nurturing, valuing, respectful and compassionate relationships of love with one another.
May God excite you into living in this new way. May you know His protection and compassion, His forgiveness and acceptance, His strength and inspiration and may He use you to love others into greater wholeness, happiness and wellbeing.
Blessings galore from your priest and friend,
The Collect for this Sunday:
Almighty and everliving God,
By whose Spirit the whole Body of the Church
Is Governed and Sanctified:
Hear our prayer which we offer
For all your faithful people;
That in their vocation and ministry
They may serve you in holiness and in truth,
To the glory of your name.
This we ask through Jesus Christ Our Lord,
Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and for ever. AMEN.
Reading: John Chapter 11 v.1-44
This past week saw us conducting the last service in St Mary's until it is re-opened after the re-ordering. Fittingly, it was for the Funeral of Jack Lowe.
It was strange to have a congregation in there for the first time since mid March, but entirely appropriate to make an exception to the Covid imposed restrictions and accommodate his wishes, that he should be Commended to God in the place where he has been worshipping for over 90 years.
Most of you will not have been able to attend the service but if you click on the following link, you will be able to see it.
Richest blessings to you and may Jack soar into Heaven.
The link below will be available for at least a month to view the service. It also allows you all to download it if you wish.
Earlier this week I was honoured to become Chaplain to Cllr Geoff Acton, now the new Mayor of the Borough of Richmond Upon Thames. I know that some of you tease me that the only reason I accept such invitations, is so as to attend Borough Dinners, and of course, the unofficial answer is....of course! But seriously, I rejoice in the association St Mary's Church and the Council of Richmond Upon Thames has enjoyed for many years and am honoured to be part of that ongoing relationship. As leaders in the community, whether from faith communities or political parties, we, with all people of good will, must work together for the good of all who live in this area, irrespective of political or indeed religious affiliation. The role essentially involves supporting the Mayor in all that one is asked to do, as long as it is non-party political. One of the most recognisable responsibilities is leading prayers before meetings of the Council. This past week was a novel one for me, in that I attended the meeting of Council courtesy of the Internet. I include below the prayer with which I opened the meeting, which you may find of interest and may even wish to use! With blessings and best wishes. Jeff
Prayer before Council July 7th 2020.
We grieve for those from our Borough who have died of COVID 19.
We give thanks for those in our Borough who have supported others selflessly:
Those working in the National Health Service;
Those working in our schools;
Those providing food and medical supplies;
Those securing transport for key workers;
Those in local charities and all in the community
Who have rallied round to befriend and reassure
Those who have needed them in recent months.
We recommit ourselves to playing our part
In the rebuilding of our Borough:
In the regeneration of our businesses and jobs,
In our recommitment to support our schools,
In the refreshment of our political zeal and vision,
In the renewal of our attempts to
Care for the vulnerable,
Provide a sense of safety and wellbeing for the vulnerable,
Offer places of cultural stimulation and inspiration
And take those, possibly difficult, decisions
Which will lead to the best long term interests of those
Who have entrusted us with political office and responsibility.
For our Monarch, for our Parliament.
For our Mayor, for our Council,
For our community, for our colleagues-
That we may value those things which give
Purpose and meaning to our lives and that we may
Do good today in our discussions and decisions.
These things we ask and pray in the name of
The Lord Our God. AMEN.