Go back to normal view
The Beggar. Not the best of subjects to start a new month with but then, there never is a good time to be a beggar or any one of the many marginalised people who make their home around our Church in Doncaster. Though a layer of cardboard on the damp grass hardly qualifies as a home. I've actually got to know the names of at least two rough sleepers that sleep in our Church Hall doorway. Ashley and Ryan.There's a bit of a porch overhang that offers a degree of protection against the weather. It's now September and already there's a clear autumnal chill in the air. I read somewhere the other day a suggestion that the writer of Marks Gospel (or the person he was scribing for - Peter) actually knew the beggar by name. Bartimaeus. That was his name. That's not a made up name. There really was a Bartimaeus (meaning son of Timaeus or perhaps even Timothy). When Jesus came through Jericho on His last visit to Jerusalem, Bartimaeus was the guy who made a lot of noise and drew attention to himself so that Jesus would notice him (Mark 10v46-52). Quite a few onlookers told him to be quiet - to button it, to shut his gob, to know his place, to stop being a nuisence. But he kept it up and eventually Jesus, who misses nothing, called him over. And you know the rest. He received his sight back and followed Jesus. Did I not say he was blind? Not only was he marginalised and a beggar but he was blind and unable to earn a living. There was no such thing as the RNIB in those days - helping to find sheltered employment for blind people. When I first met Ashley it did not go well. I upset him by taking a photo of two rough sleepers under blankets in our Church Hall porch. Them! There then followed an incredible tirade of "effing and jeffing" from Ashley. He was obviously the chief spokesman for the two - if you could call it that. He would not be consoled by my offer of help. Happily we are now on good terms with each other. I am "sir" and my wife is "miss". But like the Gospel Writer I can say that I know two beggars by name. Ashley is an avowed non-believer but because Jesus misses nothing I think we should watch this space and hopefully we will see Ashley's life turned around when Jesus calls him like he called Bartimaeus. 4 Sept 2017 StanH.
"....they hand in hand with wand'ring steps and slow, through Eden took their solitary way". These words come from the final lines of John Milton's Paradise Lost.
I'm not a student of English Literature by any means but even I can see that these are some of the saddest words ever penned. Adam and Eve had just been ejected from the Garden of Eden and from the presence of their Creator - God. I've no idea what the tutors and professors teach their undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge on this subject but what these stark words tell me is:
Hand in hand. They were alone. They only had themselves to comfort each other.
Wand'ring steps. Where they were going now was uncertain. Which way to turn ? What would the future hold?
And slow. They were not in any hurry to leave. Suddenly they were fearful. Hanging back. Putting off those final moments.
Through Eden took their solitary way. It speaks to me of a profound sense of aloneness. No longer in fellowship with the Father. Completely on their own.
I think that in those closing moments as God watched Adam and Eve turn their backs on Eden and walk through - lets just say out through the gates of heaven, He would have been profoundly sad. And I believe from that moment on, with regret in His heart for what He had had to do, for He is righteous, He conceived a plan to bring them back. And that is what we have come to call The Gospel.
But that was then.This is now !The Good News brought by our Lord Jesus Christ in the four Gospels is that our exile has ended. It has eded for all those who will receive Him. Who will receive God's Son. Who will receive the message sent by the Father.We can be re-united (and reconciled) with our Creator - God. We can know forgiveness, complete forgiveness and the love of God.
10 September 2017 StanH.
Been a funny old week. I have concluded that this last week has been a funny old week if not a funny old month altogether. Any other month and I'd have written a lot more Parish Blogs by now but I've been somewhat pulled out with "reactive" work. Let me explain. I've been respondinging practically to a number of minor crises that have been coming at us as a Church. I'm a Church Warden. One of two. Starting in August we have suffered a number of vandalism attacks. Firstly, when someone (person or persons unknown as they say) set light to the rubbish in our refuse dumpsters. Not unsual I suppose in Doncaster, it's not unheard of I guess, but the knock-on effects have been several thousand pounds worth of damage to our Church and adjacent Church Hall. That led to a programme of hectic activity with our Diocese, our Architect, our Builder and our Insurers. Unplanned work that I could have well done without.The fire was started in a narrow corridor between the two buildings. I seem to recall thats how the Great Fire Of London started. Pudding Lane 1666. Small events escalate into big events and we can't always see them coming or where they will take us. That's how the First World War started, At Sarajevo. A small event in an obscure corner of Europe. As a Christian Congregation we have been quite tolerant and accommodating to our neighbours - the homeless, the rough sleepers, the drug users and negligent about the drug dealers that try to eke out an existance in our grounds; not that there are many "poor" drug dealers. A homeless meal is provided in our Church Hall on Tuesdays (see next blog) and we are not averse to providing free cups of tea and plenty of biscuits - even the odd duvet or sleeping bag. But we are having to re-think - as good stewards of Church Property and the safety of our congregation - how we respond to those marginalised folks that touch our lives. Then on 7th September someone broke into our Vestry, destroying the window and stealing a desktop computer. So, off we go again. Realising that the Vestry windows were old, fragile and vulnerable we decided to board up all the five Vestry windows until such time as we could replace them with something more substantial. I had my suspicions who had done it but without proof.... We have edged away from being generous and trusting of these folks to becoming suspicious of them. It only took one thing to start a world war. That was the next project that we had not planned to do just yet as, apart from the cash, it requires a fairly long-winded (winded/window - see what I did there) process to obtain what you might describe as ecclesiastical "planning permission". And then this week we came in Wednesday morning (13th Aug) to discover that someone had broken a double-glazed window in our Church Hall at some point later on the evening of the Tuesday Homeless Meal (again that person or persons unknown but read the next blog). As I sit at my dining room table penning this blog our local glazing company is even now replacing the window and thankfully our insurers have paid up. But none of that was what I'd planned to do. It's been yet another one of those weeks. On Thursday this week I attended my first Safeguarding Course (C1) in my role as a Church Warden. That sounds more like the sort of thing I should be spending my time doing. Not mending windows. This is my first year as a Church Warden. It's easy to understand the need to safeguard children, the elderly, the vulnerable, the mentally ill, etc. What was a surprise was that some of the most vulnerable people in the Church are it's leaders - the Vicar and all those that minister in some capacity (paid or unpaid). The Church could not operate without it's volunteers and dead one's are good for nothing. Yet anyone could attack you or make a false accusation against you. They made false accusations against our Lord so why not you and me. Volunteers, it seems frequently put themselves at risk: so we should not longer go and lock up the church at night by ourselves - we may be attacked. We should not minister to people alone - always take a chaperone (really a witness for the defence). Well, afterall, Jesus did teach His disciples to go out in two's so I suppose it makes godly sense. It's at this point I suppose that someone will get that phrase in - what's the world coming to? 16 September 2017 StanH
The Bus Stop. I always think of that David Attenborough documentary about the Emporer Penguins. Of thousands of Chinese Clay Soldiers standing in formation, caked with frozen snow. Clustering together. Waiting. Waiting. Each keeping warm one precious egg on top of their feet. Awaiting the return of their partner with regurgitated fish to feed the unborn chick. As a follow up to the previous blog. As one of those unforeseen consequences I spoke of last time, I had to fix a notice on the Church Hall door yesterday which basically said that there would be no Homeless Meals for the next two weeks. That we were going to punish the many for the sins of the few. Later that same day, actually on our way out of Church after the visit of Bishop Pete someone noticed a car parked in our gateway and we went down to look at the aftermath of a minor car accident. Nothing to worry about as it turned out. But when I looked up I saw across the road a large number of young men waiting at the bus stop opposite. It was a strange sight. Like Emporer Penguins. Waiting. Waiting. I thought nothing of it until it was pointed out to me that these men were not waiting for a bus. They were waiting for the team to arrive that provide the Homeless Meals at our Church Hall. Sadly some of the Emporer Penguins wait in vane, their life-long mates never get back and the egg never hatches. Earlier that afernoon I had caught the back-end of a short sermon by Bishop Pete at St Georges Minster. He spoke on compassion. Father make us each more compassionate and forgive us when we do not forsee the consequences of our actions. 20 September 2017. StanH.
Compassion - God's Goodness. We live in a world and at a time in the history of mankind when there is a great need for compassion. My wife and I (or "me and my wife" as we prefer to say where I live) enjoy watching the documentary series based in the West Midlands/Stoke, entitled Ambulance. Clever title. Its about the daily challenges that face the ambulance services which are often stretched to the limit. I'm not sure how we would cope in a time of War, being already so stretched to the limit; you just have to listen to the ambulance sirens in Doncaster to realise that crises are ever present in daily life. The ambulance teams and those in the Control Centre are often emotionally challenged by what they face and what they find when they get to their destination.This week there was a homeless person, a rough sleeper, on the programme and that brought home to me how close we at St James are to these same sort of challenges - even within our own congregation. Ask Linda and Martin. Whether its the ambulance service or our church congregation, we are required to have compassion and show mercy in whatever form it may be required. Compassion sounds like a relatively modern word but Moses wrote about compassion at some point after the Exodus began in 1446BC, when he recorded these words of God: "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on those on whom I will have compassion...." Now, assuming the Bible translators accurately understood the original Hebrew text then we must conclude that compassion began with God. Compassion is a Godly quality that God's Holy Spirit has put into His people. We are made in His image which I take to include His nature. When you think about it - it's a priviledge to show God's mercy and compassion. To be like Him and minister this precious commodity - compassion to whom God would have compassion. To feel for the needy like God feels for the needy. That's what Jesus did. In John 5 Jesus told the Jewish leaders that He could only do what He saw the Father do. In Matthew 9v36: "...He saw the crowds [and] He had compassion on them , because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd". I saw a young woman in our Church Entrance Lobby (I will always remember the date, 18th September). She was consuming lighter fuel - two canisters at a time, one in each hand. I've never seen anyone that distressed before and it was the least I could do (wholly inadequate really) to lead her gently, unrushed and with caring words, out of the shelter of the porch to the comparative shelter of the Church Hall entrance porch. For it was raining and we could not accommodate her. It comes from Psalm 51v1 but I in closing I am reminded of that much loved hymn by T.O. Chisholm - Great Is Thy Faithfulness. The hymn reflects on the many ways that God is constant and faithful and I will close with these words: "...thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not; as thou hast been forever wilt be". 24 September 2017 StanH
How does it work? Are you the kind of person who wonders how things work ? I hope so because it's clear to me that the majority of people in Church evidently never think about such things. I hope you don't think I'm being picky ! Just curious. As a child did you ever take the back off a watch, or an alarm clock or maybe a solid-state transistor radio ? How disappointing to find no moving parts in those cheap and nasty "trannies". I remember taking some bicycle gears apart this one time and then really struggling to get them back. In the end I had to stick some bits together with cooking lard so that they would hold in place just long enough until I could get the spring-loaded ratchet assembly slotted back inside it's casing. My brother took the engine out of his mini this one time to, as we say, "do it up". But he never got it back together. In the end it went for scrap. Bits and pieces all over the place. Where did that bit come from? Do you know what I'm saying here? Thankfully, Church is not as complicated. Well thats the theory. Let me do you a "for instance". I hope you don't mind me talking about going to the toilet but here's the thing: When you need to go to the toilet at Church and you're sat there (too much information already) do you ever wonder where the toilet roll came from, who paid for it, who put it there, who changed the roll when it got down to the cardboard tube, who are the toilet fairys beavering away in the back-ground of all churches up and down the country. Same thing with the paper towels. Who organises all that? Who mops the floor? Who cleans the toilet bowl and runs a damp cloth over the wash basin? And that bunch of flowers in the Ladies Toilet - outrageous ! The Apostle Paul touches on this subject in 1 Corinthians 12 in that great subject "Unity and Diversity In The Church". In a way maybe he did us no favours because he could give the impression that each person fits in only one pigeon-hole. Some pigeon-holes being strictly for the "spiritual" (the Mary's), others for the "practical" (the Martha's) and never the twain shall meet. And yet Paul himself was a bit of a contradiction in this respect. His theology and his teaching skills are amazing but he could also turn his hand to making tents when he had to. If you ever wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and wonder who makes the Church tick, there's no need to take the back off. Maybe you could be the one who makes it tick or better still be part of a little team that makes everything work. 29 September 2017 StanH.
Most Excellent Theophilus. Now don't get me wrong. I love Luke's Gospel and I'm sure he did a great job in putting it all together. But he could only work with the "facts" that were presented to him and the people he met - not even every member of the Twelve. He could only speak to so many people and by the time he got on the scene the diaspora (the scattering and persecution of the church in Jerusalem) was already well underway. He almost certainly didn't get there before Paul, when Paul was still Saul the persecutor of the church. At the beginning of Luke's Gospel he opens with this introduction: "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servant of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught". So there you have it - Luke's approach to writing his gospel. Systemmatic, methodical, careful. He was the consummate professional you could say. People say that the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) lean heavily on Mark's account as the primary account. I also understand that Mark's content leans heavily on the Apostle Peter's records of events. My favourite gospel is John's Gospel and anyone who reads that can't fail to note the many features of it's unique content. Where do I start? Well Nicodaemus occurs three times in John's Gospel and is unique to his version of events. One of the characters unique to his gospel is Nicodaemus. He fascinates me. So it glares out at me that Luke almost certainly never met John. I'm also doubtful that Paul never met John and I'm convinced that neither met Mary the mother of Jesus.....TO BE CONTINUED. 30 September 2017 StanH