I have always loved cycling.  When I was a child I cycled everywhere…”up hill and down dale” as my Grandma used to say.  Over the years I owned many different bikes.  One was a Chopper.  I thought it looked so cool.  It only had 3 gears, but it had a large back wheel, a smaller front wheel and amazing handlebars like a Harley.  That’s probably why I liked it so much.  You could also do amazing wheelies on it.

I went on a long cycle on my chopper one day over some moorland.  After a while I emerged with a smile on my face onto a stretch of moorland road that led home.  I was smiling because I knew it was all downhill from there to get home, and I knew how steep the hill was.

So off I set, and I got faster and faster and faster.  The problem about Choppers – at least the problem with mine – was that when it got up to a high speed it was unstable.  I gripped on for dear life and at one point I was literally thrown off the bike and slid along the road face down for about 15 feet.

I was grazed so badly in so many places.  I was also in shock.  But somehow I picked myself up and limped home.  I was in a lot of pain.  And the thing about such wounds is that they scab over, and they become very very itchy.  Over time my wound wasn’t healing properly and the itchiness was driving me nuts.  My mum was a nurse and she carefully took the scab off and gently bathed the wound to make sure it was clean, and clear and could heal properly.

Our hearts can be like that too.  We may experience a deep heart-wound.  It’s a hard and painful thing to experience and we may know through that a real fear and a real poverty of spirit.  And when that wound begins to heal, it too can scab over and at times the wound might not heal properly.  There is only one thing I know that can wash such a wound clean and that is love.  The Bible tells us that perfect love casts out all fear.

If you have a wounded heart, may you know the Shepherd and Guardian of your soul washing your heart with his love as well as your feet so that your deep wound may heal properly and you might be free to love again because you know the love you have from him.

God may bring people alongside you to remind you of that.  If he does, let them.  Let yourself be loved, let yourself be loved to life in the full knowledge of how precious you are.  Amen



Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

1           There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

2           a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3           a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,

4           a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5           a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

6           a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7           a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8           a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

9           What does the worker gain from his toil?

10         I have seen the burden God has laid on men.

11    He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

I don’t think it is possible to live in this country without being aware of the seasons.  The whole of creation cries out and we would find it hard not to hear.  We are on the cusp of springtime and if you look carefully you can see snowdrops beginning to make an appearance and the days are once again starting to be longer.

But we don’t just have the four seasons through the year.  We also can experience seasons in our life; seasons such as infancy, early childhood, adolescence, adulthood, middle age, and old age.  There are seasons of love too.  There really is “a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” as that reading so aptly puts it.

Thinking about seasons can be comforting in grief.  We can look back, remember and celebrate the seasons of the life of the loved one we have lost.  We can remember the first things…the spring times of their life experiences – the first time of meeting, the first date, the first holiday, the first child, the first grandchild – each if you like the beginning of a new season.

The time of passing away of our loved one will seem like a time to weep and a time to mourn…and it is at these times we must be reminded how that reading ends – that God has “set eternity in the hearts of men.”  We are so deeply aware of the wrongness of death precisely for this reason.  We were not created for death but for eternal life in and through Jesus Christ.  Trust God and lean not on your own understanding.  May he bring you through your seasons of brokenness to a season of faith and hope in which you are surrounded by his love.  Amen

Spring Cleaning – Ash Wednesday

I am sure you are all familiar with the expression “Spring Cleaning”?  What you may not know is that the idea comes from an ancient Jewish tradition of searching and inspecting the house for ‘chametz’ – leaven – and cleaning or purging the house of all traces.  You roll up the carpets and clean all the things that you wouldn’t usually clean.  It isn’t a time to sweep stuff under the carpet and try and forget about it.  It is a time to get our house in order properly and that is something we all recognise the need for.

But we don’t just get our physical house in order.  We can also get our spiritual house in order.  And there is no better time to engage in a bit of spring cleaning and getting our spiritual house in order than the season of Lent. Ash Wednesday marks the first day, or the start of that season of Lent.  Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline.  Here we are invited to do that through our Lent lunches with the Churches Together initiative.  It is a time of sombre reflection but also a time to deepen our awareness and experience of God’s grace.

You get some idea of that from our reading from Psalm 51 which for me probably captures the essence of Lent and Ash Wednesday:

  • Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin.
  • Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
  • Make me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
  • The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise

I love how the Psalmist is imploring God to do what he himself is unable to…to wash, purge and make clean because he recognises his own poverty of spirit.  We all need to know a poverty of spirit.  If you have never engaged in any Lent reflections, try spending some time reading that Psalm slowly and allowing it to speak into your life and inform your prayers as you keep one eye on our destination…Easter.

And we do this so we might be reconciled, to God and to one another.  No wonder Paul says in our second reading “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” because now is the day of salvation.  Through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit we are saved, being saved and will be saved.  We must strive to live our lives as Easter people, in the light and knowledge of Christ’s death, resurrection and exaltation.  We can only do that in God’s grace and with integrity.

In this we need to be honest with ourselves…when you come forward for the imposition of ashes, it may seem like a small or insignificant thing.  A marking of the cross on our foreheads.  But tonight I invite you to reflect on the significance of taking up that cross, to know that God’s revelation of himself in the incarnation of Jesus is enough…Jesus’ sacrifice is enough…nothing further is required.  As that cross is made on your forehead know that you are forgiven and that you are being entreated to be real with God and with yourself.  You are being entreated to be reconciled to God and to know his love, and his grace and mercy.

As we journey through Lent together, let’s try and get our houses in order and ask God to wash us, purge us and make us clean.   Amen

Religion and faith

There is a huge difference between religion and faith.  Religion can perhaps be described as the empty observance of ritual and practice.  Staid traditions that crept into practice for which we have forgotten the underlying reasons, or times when we go through the motions all fall into this category.  Religion is often defined by doing, and the outward things.  So we can subscribe to a religion but at the end of the day it is something that leaves us unchanged.

Faith though I think is all about being and the inward things.  If you have faith, the inward things – that relationship with God in that place of being – can’t help but affect your doing.  But for the doing to bear fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, it has to come from that place of being.

No wonder R.E.M. sang “Losing my Religion”, perhaps one of the saddest songs I have ever heard; and even the video that accompanies the song presents religious images one after another that capture that sadness.

So let’s lose our religion but find our faith.