Tuesday, March 31, 2020

In their own words: Day 35

2 Corinthians 9.6-8

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.

Paul has previously shared with the Corinthians the needs of the Christians in Jerusalem, where there has been famine and hardship. The Corinthians have promised to help, but it seems that no actual money has been forthcoming – yet! Paul encourages them to set this right.
Fear is a great enemy of generosity. What if there isn’t enough left for us? But Paul reminds his readers that everything they have comes from God. Their generosity should be rooted in an awareness of God’s generosity to them. “God loves a cheerful giver”, he says, not one who gives because they must, but who gives because they know how much God has given to them.  

How do you feel about giving? What has shaped your attitudes? Have there been times in your life when it has felt hard to give?

Monday, March 30, 2020

...and in other news...

...and in other news...

A weekly newsletter from St Peter and St Paul, Seal, to help us keep in touch with one another at this time. 
The raising of Lazarus by Van Gogh
The Raising of Lazarus (after Rembrandt)
Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890), Saint-Rรฉmy-de-Provence, May 1890

oil on paper, 50 cm x 65.5 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

The Gospel reading for March 29 was the story of the Raising of Lazarus. you can find it in John chapter 11. It's a dramatic story full of anguished waiting. I explored it a bit in the talk during our Sunday  morning. You can find the text of the talk on the church's sermon blog, and the whole recorded service here. (You don't have to listen on Spotify, by the way. Just scroll down the Anchor.fm page and you'll find the direct links.)

Van Gogh's painting of the Raising of Lazarus catches the moment when Lazarus is called back from death into the world of the living. He has been buried in a cave cut out of the rock, like the one Jesus will be laid in, and we, the viewers, are inside it, looking out. The two women witnessing this are Martha and Mary, his sisters - one outside with her arms raised and the other, with her back to us, inside in the shadows.  Lazarus is sitting slowly up and seeing the world he thought he had bade farewell to, with a look on his face of numb bafflement.  Van Gogh painted this while he was in the Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Remy in France, in the last year of his life, inspired by an etching of the same scene from a painting by Rembrandt and it is suggested that the figure of Lazarus is a self-portrait, since Lazarus has the same red beard as Van Gogh did. Apparently the colours of the pigments have faded a bit over time. The blues in the foreground contrasted more originally with the bright colours of the background, but it still captures very well the astonishment of the moment, and the complexity of this strange story which points forward to the death and resurrection of Jesus, which happened just a few weeks later, according to the Gospels.
What do you think of this picture?
What do you think the figures in it would say to us, if we could talk to them?

This lovely prayer comes from "Each Day, Each Night" by Philip J. Newell, and it is one which I use every morning at the beginning of my morning prayer. It encourages me to look for Christ "and his sunlit company" throughout the day, in all that happens in it, even in situations which don't seem all that likely to contain any blessing. The photo is one I took last year of the sunrise over the Sea of Galilee.
By request from Hilary Curtis, our podcast worship this week started with a verse of "O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder". Here's the whole thing to sing along with! I wrote about this hymn a few years ago in our 2017 Lent reflections

What's everyone doing to keep busy and cheerful? 

Listening in on the chat between Friday Group members, it sounds like there has been a huge amount of gardening going on. Here at the vicarage, Philip has been hacking back brambles and stinging nettles .I'm starting to worry that there won't be any garden left by the time he's finished!

Seal Cubs and Beavers, and children from the school too, have been making rainbows to decorate their windows.(My contribution to all this was a youtube video of me telling the story of Noah )

Friday "groupers" have also been digging out the Christmas lights... (Why should they just be for Christmas?) ... and putting them in their windows, along with a candle, lit as a prayer each evening. See Sue Buddin's picture below. (Make sure you don't burn the house down if you do this - there is quite enough to deal with without that!)

Home Groups have been "Zooming" and "Skyping" and What'sapping, and there's a lot of phoning going on -  it's been great to see how the people of Seal have been finding ways of keeping in contact. We had a PCC Standing Committee meeting by Zoom conference call the other day, to catch up on some of the practicalities of running the church, which worked quite well - though you really do have to listen, and not talk over each other, which is a good discipline for any time!

My appeal a few weeks back for book recommendations for "the duration" produced some interesting suggestions. Some people are going for the classics - Jane Austen and Agatha Christie are Gesiena's choices. Others prefer non fiction. Heather Alwen recommended a lovely book of letters, compiled by Simon Sebag Montefiore "Written in History: Letters that Changed the World" . If, like me, you're finding it hard to concentrate for long at the moment, then something you can dip into is ideal.

Maybe there's a film you can recommend that people could find on Netflix or some such. I have discovered https://www.marquee.tv/ which streams ballet, opera and plays - there's a 30 day free trial offer on at the moment.

Crafts are another great way of occupying the mind just enough to help us forget all the other things we may be worrying about, and I confess to buying wool to crochet yet another blanket. I know I don't need one, but there's need and "need"... (evidence of crochet-related activity below)

Let me know if you have any tips to pass on for things that might occupy time and cheer us up - send along photos if you can, and I'll include them here. 

And finally...

I know I promised a Co****v***s free zone, but I couldn't resist including this story from the Guardian, about an astrophysicist who decided to try to invent a device to remind people not to touch their faces. Suffice it to say, it didn't turn out quite as he imagined.
"An Australian astrophysicist has been admitted to hospital after getting four magnets stuck up his nose in an attempt to invent a device that stops people touching their faces during the coronavirus outbreak.
Dr Daniel Reardon, a research fellow at Melbourne university, was building a necklace that sounds an alarm on facial contact, when the mishap occurred on Thursday night.
The 27 year-old astrophysicist, who studies pulsars and gravitational waves, said he was trying to liven up the boredom of self-isolation with the four powerful neodymium magnets.
“I had a part that detects magnetic fields. I thought that if I built a circuit that could detect the magnetic field, and we wore magnets on our wrists, then it could set off an alarm if you brought it too close to your face. A bit of boredom in isolation made me think of that.”
However, the academic realised the electronic part he had did the opposite – and would only complete a circuit when there was no magnetic field present.
“I accidentally invented a necklace that buzzes continuously unless you move your hand close to your face,” he said.
“After scrapping that idea, I was still a bit bored, playing with the magnets. It’s the same logic as clipping pegs to your ears – I clipped them to my earlobes and then clipped them to my nostril and things went downhill pretty quickly when I clipped the magnets to my other nostril.”
Reardon said he placed two magnets inside his nostrils, and two on the outside. When he removed the magnets from the outside of his nose, the two inside stuck together. Unfortunately, the researcher then attempted to use his remaining magnets to remove them.
“At this point, my partner who works at a hospital was laughing at me,” he said. “I was trying to pull them out but there is a ridge at the bottom of my nose you can’t get past.
“After struggling for 20 minutes, I decided to Google the problem and found an article about an 11-year-old boy who had the same problem. The solution in that was more magnets. To put on the outside to offset the pull from the ones inside.
“As I was pulling downwards to try and remove the magnets, they clipped on to each other and I lost my grip. And those two magnets ended up in my left nostril while the other one was in my right. At this point I ran out of magnets.”
Before attending the hospital, Reardon attempted to use pliers to pull them out, but they became magnetised by the magnets inside his nose.
“My partner took me to the hospital that she works in because she wanted all her colleagues to laugh at me. The doctors thought it was quite funny, making comments like ‘This is an injury due to self-isolation and boredom.’”
At the hospital, a team of two doctors applied an anaesthetic spray and manually removed the magnets from Reardon’s nose. "

Just don't do it, people, however bored you are!

(I showed Philip this story, and then wondered if I should have done. He's a keen "inventor" and I worry that he might take it as a challenge rather than a warning...)

Anyway - that's all for now. Stay at home and stay well!
best wishes

In their own words: Day 34

2 Corinthians 4.7-12

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

The second letter to the Corinthians, which may be two letters put together, picks up some of the same themes we find in 1 Corinthians. It seems that Paul visited the Corinthians between the writing of the letters, and that the visit didn’t go well. They prefer a Gospel which looks strong and in control, what would now be called a “prosperity” Gospel. But God doesn’t necessarily work like that, says Paul. Worldly success isn’t necessarily a sign of God’s blessing. Sometimes God works through apparent failure and suffering, as he did in Jesus’s death on the cross. Paul has faced much hardship but he sees God at work in this too, and hopes the Corinthians might see it in their lives.

How do you cope with your own failure and weakness?

Sunday, March 29, 2020

In their own words: Day 33

Philemon 10-17

I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.

The very brief letter to Philemon, just 21 verses long, concerns a slave, Onesimus, (whose name means “useful”) who’s run away from Philemon. He’s found his way to Paul, who is in prison. He can’t stay with Paul though, so Paul appeals to Philemon to take him back, “not as a slave but as a beloved brother.” Paul challenges the slave-owning culture of the ancient world. In God’s kingdom, all should be free.

What do you think Philemon might have done in response to Paul's appeal? 
Slavery can come in many forms. What does slavery look like today? Check out https://www.theclewerinitiative.org/ to find out.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

In their own words: Day 32

Phil 4.11-13

I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Contentment is a precious thing. It is far more than a comfy pair of slippers, a mug of cocoa and a roaring fire to relax in front of. It is the state of wanting what we have, or at least accepting it, rather than having to have what we want all the time. We know contentment when we feel it, but it is hard to summon at will. Paul, from his prison cell, says that it is something that can be learned, however. What is the “secret”  to this? He has found it by discovering that he “can do all things through God who strengthens me.” Whatever happens, Paul has found that he cannot fall out of the hands of God. His love is indestructible.

When did you last feel truly content? How content are you with your life at the moment? Are there things you need to change to find the contentment God wills for you, or do you need to come to terms with the things you have which you can’t change? 

Friday, March 27, 2020

In their own words: Day 31

Phil 4.4-9

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

This passage is full of joy, which is surprising when we remember that it was written from prison. Yet even here – perhaps especially here – Paul is aware of God’s presence. It is this which keeps him from worrying and helps him to know the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.”

Are you worried about anything today? How can you remind yourself that God is with you?

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Some resources for children and families

Here's a video I made for our church and school families, with the story of Noah and the big flood. If your children are drawing rainbows to put in their windows, you might like to watch the story to put the rainbow in context.

There's a great idea below which I picked up in a Facebook post from Katie Eborall, to make a jar into which children (and adults!) can put notes with things they would like to have done, but can't because they can't go out, to help them look forward to the things that they will be able to do once this is over, rather than just being sad that they can't do them now. Perhaps it could go with a jar for suggestions for things they can do now as well, so that the family has ideas that they can draw on in the present. 

Katie says:
"We’ve started a new thing in our house today and sharing it in case anyone else wants to try. Every time we wish we could do something, go somewhere, treat ourselves, see someone we love, visit a new place, invite people to visit us, we’re going to write it down on a post it note and put it in a jar. When all this is over this will be our bucket list and we’ll work our way through the jar and be more grateful than ever for the little and lovely things in our lives. Until then we’ll enjoy watching the jar fill up with magical things to look forward to ๐Ÿฆ„๐Ÿฆ–๐Ÿ–๐Ÿ‘ต๐Ÿผ ๐Ÿงš‍♂️๐Ÿงœ‍♀️๐Ÿงž‍♂️๐Ÿƒ๐ŸŒˆ๐Ÿคฟ⛸๐ŸŽญ๐Ÿคน‍♂️๐Ÿฉฐ๐ŸŽจ๐ŸŽธ✈️๐ŸŽข๐ŸŸ "

And finally, here's a lovely video to help children understand why they have to stay at home.

In their own words: Day 30

Phil 2.6-11

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi was written while he was in prison, facing an uncertain future. Despite this, it is full of faith and hope. It includes this hymn- like mediation on the humility of Jesus which may have been used in worship. Paul uses it here to encourage the Philippian Christians to develop the same humble and open attitude to one another as Jesus had, to have the “same mind that was in Christ Jesus.”

Have you ever felt powerless, as Paul did when he wrote this, and Jesus did when he “took the form of a slave”? How did you feel and react?

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

In their own words: Day 29

1 Corinthians 15.51-52

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

Many Jewish people believed that there would eventually be a general resurrection of the dead. Christians – of both Jewish and Gentile origin - believed that it would happen when Jesus returned. The Corinthian Christians had been debating this hot topic. There was feverish debate about how and when this would happen, however. Some early Christians believed it would be in their own lifetimes.

Paul explores ideas about resurrection in this chapter, but concludes with his real point; that it is a mystery whose details we cannot fathom, but which will involve change and re-creation. Whenever and however it happens, we prepare best by getting on with the job of loving others and living as we are called to, says Paul, “because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.” 1 Cor 15.58

What do you believe about life after death? What has shaped that belief? How does it affect the way you live your life, if at all? 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Our doors are closed, but our hearts are open

Like all churches, we now have to lock the doors of our buildings, so they can no longer be used for private prayer. Fortunately, God is not locked in the building, and never was. He is with us wherever we are, so we can pray at home, and love and serve others around us too, by keeping in contact by phone and online with those who might be feeling lonely, and protecting our wonderful NHS and those among us who are most vulnerable by staying at home and sticking to the new rules.
#StayAtHome #washyourhands #loveoneanother #protecttheNHS

Resources for children and families

March (2) 2020
Apologies for a second March Child in the Midst!
Although the last edition had a huge amount in it, there are resources which I forgot about and that are worth noting.
If you're finding you have extra time for prayer now that we are locked down more tightly, please pray for:
  • All those looking after the children of key workers.
  • Children for whom home is not a safe space.
  • Health workers who are facing additional stress and hard decisions.
  • Households who are learning new ways of being together.
And do let me know if you come across stories of families discovering how to live faith/worship at home, or if you come across a resource or idea worth sharing.
Stay safe and well,
Prayer Spaces in Schools have suggested stations that help with prayer during the Coronavirus crisis. You'll need to register, but the resources are free.
Why not set up a prayer station in your home, or in the school (if you are open and looking after the children of key workers)? You could take a photograph and share it on social media to encourage others to pray.
IsingPop combine music, faith and fun. They've made many of their songs available on their YouTube channel, great for bopping around at home or school (if you are open for key worker children).
The Diocese of Gloucester's Growing Together pages have resources for households to use together. Some of the material is available freely to those in the Diocese, and available for sale to those outside. Howsever they are also making some material freely available to all during the crisis. THey are hoping to add new pages regularly.
Many primary aged children will be familiar with Out of the Ark Music , who have made some of their resources freely available during this crisis.
Their sister site, Same Boat Music, also has songs free to download (with a more faith-focused slant).
The Reflectionary site has always been an excellent source of resources to follow the lectionary with all ages. In this time of crisis, it now provides Together, Apart for households of all ages and all sizes to use be church together whilst apart.
Faith5 is a simple examen for the end of the day, using the pattern:
Share - your highs and lows of the day
Read - a Bible story or passage
Talk - about how that might relate to your highs and lows
Pray - for one another's highs and lows
Bless - one another
They've made a Pandemic Hope resource available with 8 week's worth of daily readings and faith practices, as well as a chart of Hymnal Handwashing Hits and a Prayer Bingo chart!
It could be used with grandparents/godparents/anyone over Zoom, WhatsApp or Facetime.
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In their own words: Day 28

1 Corinthians 15.8- 10

Last of all, as to someone untimely born, [Jesus] appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.

One of the “qualifications” to be called an apostle in the early church – literally one who was “sent out” – was that you had seen the risen Christ. Many others had had this experience before Paul, including those like Peter, who had known him well. But Paul came late to the party, and had never met Jesus “in the flesh”. Indeed, as he said, he had persecuted the Church until his experience of Jesus on the Damascus road. That encounter had been so powerful, though, that it changed his life completely.  But Paul is under no illusions about himself. He is amazed to be where he is, doing what he is, preaching the love of God, and it is all the more precious because he knows how much hatred and damage he once did.

·         We can probably all recall times when we feel we have not behaved as we should. How have they shaped you? Can you see the grace of God at work in those times, as Paul does?

Monday, March 23, 2020

In their own words: Day 27

1 Corinthians 13.1-9

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

This famous passage is at the heart of Paul’s message to the feuding, fractious church in Corinth. It doesn’t matter how clever they think they are or what amazing supernatural phenomena are being displayed in worship. If they don’t love each other – in the small, nitty gritty things of life - none of that amounts to a hill of beans! He knows what it is to be loved and accepted, as he was by the Christians in Damascus.  It transformed him, as it can transform them.

·         Can you think of anyone whose love has transformed you? Who could you show love to today?

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Our podcasts of morning and evening worship are here! Join in the worship of Seal Church.

There will be no Sunday services in church for the time being, BUT there will be links to the podcasts of morning and evening worship each week - check the church website, www.sealpeterandpaul.com on Sunday morning for the links. Just because we can't worship face to face, doesn't mean that we can't worship! I will also post the links on Facebook and Twitter. It's been a steep learning curve this week, discovering how to put these podcasts together, and there are probably still some clicks and whirrs and glitches, but hopefully by the time the coronavirus has passed over I'll be a dab hand at it. Do let me know what you think!

Morning Worship Podcast        Morning Worship Service sheet
Evensong Podcast                    Evensong Service sheet
                                                    (service sheets have texts of the prayers so that you can join in if                                                     you'd like to)   

The church is still open every day for private prayer so do pop in if you can.

To join in with the daily prayer of the Church of England go to the  website here,
For a simpler form of daily prayer in times of need, check out my page here, or there is a downloadable version of these prayers and the simple order of service here.

In their own words: Day 26

1 Corinthians 12.4-7

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Paul tries to restore harmony to the Corinthian church (see yesterday) by reminding them that their different gifts complement each other. Some display “showy” gifts like preaching and ecstatic prayer. Others offer more mundane ministries, caring for others or helping to organise the church. The Corinthians are ranking the former gifts as more valuable than the latter, but , Paul says, they should treasure all of them, because all are needed, and given by God.

·         What do you see as your gifts?  Do you look up to others who have gifts or talents you would like to have? Are your gifts being valued and used by the church – if not, what might you need to do to make sure they are?

Saturday, March 21, 2020

In their own words: Day 25

1 Corinthians 1.27

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.

Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth is a mammoth letter – sixteen chapters long – and contains some long and complex arguments which challenge the Corinthians profoundly. Their church, founded by Paul, seems to be in some chaos, with different factions splitting over whether to follow his lead or that of Apollos, a preacher who has come from the city of Alexandria, a major site of learning in the ancient world. Apollos is an “eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures” Acts 18.24, but he has to be set straight by the leaders of the church, Priscilla and Aquila, on some basics of the Christian story. He thinks he is wise because he has studied a lot of philosophy, but Paul has learned life lessons the hard way. He had had to change his mind, and his life, following his vision of Jesus on the Damascus road. With all his learning, he had got it wrong. Paul reminds the Corinthians that God often speaks through failure, shame and littleness, the times we get it wrong rather than the times when we get it right.

·         What lessons has life taught you “the hard way”?

Friday, March 20, 2020

Join in with daily prayer

I said morning prayer this morning in front of our lovely Lent altar frontal, with its welcoming design by Pat Savage. The church is open every day for private prayer, so do pop in and pray whenever and however you want to. You can also pray at home, of course.
The Church of England's services of daily prayer are here , complete with readings etc for the day (and you can download an app for this as well).
If you want something simpler, I have created a sheet of "Prayers for times of need" which includes a simple order of Morning and Evening prayer. Download it here  or find it on the website here. http://www.sealpeterandpaul.com/prayers.html

In their own words: Day 24

Galatians 5.22

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Paul used the image of clothing (see yesterday) to the Galatians, but now he uses an even deeper image, that of fruitfulness. The fruitfulness of a fruit tree is part of its nature. Apple trees bear apples. Pear trees bear pears. We are called to be “Spirit of God” trees, who bear the fruit of the Spirit, enlivened by God’s life within us.

·         What fruit have you borne today? What gets in the way of your “fruitfulness” , making it  hard for you to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle and self-controlled?

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Do you need help?

DO YOU  NEED HELP during the coronavirus epidemic?

Ring the church on
07510 522292 or email sealpandp@gmail.com
and we will do what we can to respond.



The best thing you can do is to make contact (via a card popped through the door) with your immediate neighbours and those in the networks you already have. For safeguarding reasons we can't use volunteers who are unknown to us, because it involves work with with vulnerable adults, but in any case the most effective way to respond to the needs of this crisis are the hyperlocal ones, as we each help those around us, and let them help us!

In their own words: Day 23

Galatians 3.27

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Clothing matters. It keeps out the cold and covers up whatever we feel we need to cover! But clothing isn’t just a practical thing. Clothing can signal important things about us. Some of us wear uniforms. Some of us express our personalities through our clothing. At Seal, we wrap the newly baptised in a white shawl as a sign that they are being “clothed with Christ” – “Christ-ened” - wrapped in the love of God. But the real evidence of our “Christ-ening” isn’t a white shawl (or a cross worn round our necks or a slogan on t-shirt) but the way we live our lives. This is what speaks most loudly of Christ’s influence in us to others. Paul tells the Galatians – Christians from central Turkey – that they should “clothe themselves with Christ”, living in such a way that it is obvious to others that something has changed in their lives.

What do the clothes you wear say about you? Do you wear a uniform, or have a distinctive “style”? How do you “clothe yourself with Christ, so that others can see the impact your faith has on you?  

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

In their own words: Day 22

1 Thessalonians 5.23-25

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. Beloved, pray for us.

Both Paul and the Thessalonian Christians expected Jesus to return imminently and usher in the fullness of his kingdom, the renewal of heaven and earth. But this was not a survivalist sect, stocking up on baked beans in advance of the apocalypse, nor a separatist movement, looking to isolate itself from the rest of the world. All that the Thessalonians needed to do to be ready for Jesus’ return, was to live as they should, in the present. Through this, God was reshaping, “sanctifying”, them. The commitment to living as God’s people in the reality of the world is probably what kept the church from collapsing when the return of Jesus didn’t happen as they thought it would. They saw that their lives were better for the work God was doing in them anyway. “The one who calls you is faithful” says Paul. We are safe in his hands, whatever the future brings. Paul finishes with the plea to “pray for us.” He needs the Thessalonians as much as they need him.

How might God need to work in your life? Do you trust him to change you? 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

In their own words: Day 21

In the second part of this series of reflections we meet St Paul in “his own words”. Of the thirteen letters attributed to Paul in the New Testament, only seven are widely thought to be his own work, and I have drawn from these for our reflections. They are 1 Thessalonians (written around 50 AD), Galatians (c. 53), 1 Corinthians (c. 53–54), Philippians (c. 55), Philemon (c. 55), 2 Corinthians (c. 55–56), Romans (c. 57). Of the other letters, three are believed to be too late in date to be by Paul, and different in style – 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus – and three are disputed – Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians.  We’ll be looking at words from the seven authentic letters.
It’s important to remember that we are reading letters, of course, and we only have one side of the correspondence. We must be cautious, therefore, about how we read them. Things which Paul may have intended as advice for specific people in specific situations can be dangerous and misleading if they are taken as establishing doctrine for all time. What we can be sure of, though, is that Paul was often addressing divisions between Christians in the churches he wrote to, divisions between those of Jewish and Gentile ancestry, men and women, rich and poor. He called them to welcome each other’s gifts in this new body.

Who was St Paul?

Paul was from Tarsus, in what is now Turkey. His Hebrew name was Saul – people often used different names in different cultural contexts, as they still do. Tarsus had a large Jewish community, and was known for its reputation for scholarship, so Paul had a good education in Judaism. He was, by his own account, a Pharisee, (Galatians 1) and originally shared the opposition of many Pharisees to Jesus’ message. How could a crucified man, who had died disgraced by the Romans, be the long-awaited Messiah? Surely God would not have let that happen to his chosen one!

We first meet Paul guarding the cloaks of those who are stoning Stephen to death for blasphemy. “And Saul approved of their killing him,” says the author of Acts (8.1).  He then embarked on a mission to root out the Christian movement wherever he found it. It was only when he heard the voice of the risen Jesus himself, while on the road to Damascus, that he changed his mind and his life. (Acts 9) He was shocked to the core when he realised how wrong he had been, and how much damage he had done. He was literally struck blind by the light of this realisation, but a Christian called Ananias was sent to him to heal him and, more importantly to welcome him into the Christian community.

He seems to have taken well over a decade reorienting himself. In Galatians 1.17 he tells us that he spent fourteen years, first in Arabia, then in Syria and Cilicia, simply absorbing and pondering his new life, before seeking the approval of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem for his ministry. After that, however, there was no stopping him. He travelled far and wide around the Mediterranean, sharing his message. He founded many small churches, meeting in peoples’ homes. He was often opposed, challenged, arrested, beaten and threatened with death. Eventually he claimed the privilege he was entitled to as a Roman citizen, a status he probably inherited from his father, to appeal directly to the Emperor in Rome. Acts tells us about his journey there, including a shipwreck on the island of Malta, and the last we hear of him he is under some sort of house arrest in Rome.

Tradition says that he was beheaded around the same time as Peter, in 64 AD, under the rule of Nero. His symbol is the sword which killed him. His letters are his legacy to us, the first attempt to explore the theology of this new faith and apply it to the situations real groups of Christians faced. The verses I have chosen they aren’t a systematic or thorough outline of Paul’s thinking, but I hope they give a glimpse of the man behind the letters.

Day 21 - 1 Thessalonians 2.8

So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is the earliest Christian document in existence. The earliest Gospel, Mark, wasn’t written until almost twenty years later.
In this letter, Paul’s great and very personal love for the people he is writing to shines through very clearly. It is this love which compels him to continue his work, in the face of hardship, sharing “our own selves” – Paul often travelled with companions, and is speaking for them too – “because you have become very dear to us.”

·         Has anyone ever gone above and beyond what you would expect to care for you? How do you think it felt to the Thessalonians to hear Paul’s words?