speedy service

Bradley Wiggins – photo taken by Simon Ford, used with permission

Today many people across the UK who were not previously ‘into’ cycling are celebrating Bradley Wiggins’ achievement in winning the Tour de France cycle race. To me, the idea of completing one stage is amazing, but to complete the whole Tour and win it is an astonishing achievement. He rightly deserves all the plaudits that he is getting.

But he was part of a team. In cycle racing the rest of the team is as important as the winner. There are members of the Sky team (Bradley Wiggins’ team) whose sole purpose in the whole Tour was looking after Bradley Wiggins. They had to set a good pace; they had to chase down riders who tried to break away from the peleton (the main group of riders); they would drop back to the team car to get drinks and then cycle hard to get back to the front to deliver them; they would surround him so that he did not inadvertently collide with a rider from another team. Some of them cycled their hearts out and received no official recognition, no special jerseys, no cheering crowds. They did get a ‘well done’ from the team manager, a ‘thank you’ from Bradley Wiggins, but for the most part they are anonymous. Even the man who came second, Chris Froome, who is a team-mate of Bradley Wiggins and seems to have done an astonishing job to help him, sacrificing his own dream of winning, has received little attention. When the team wants a sprinter such as Mark Cavendish to win a stage they all work hard to ensure that the race pace is just how it should be and try to make sure he is in the best place to launch his sprint to the line: the rest cruise over the line anonymously, having done their job.

Yesterday morning in church we were looking at team work, in advance of some sporting event happening in London this year, commencing this Friday. We have been using ‘More Than Gold’ as the banner headline under which this series sits. I mentioned the Tour de France teams as an example, but did not have the time to go into detail. I think that if cycle racing had existed in Paul’s day he would have picked it up as a metaphor for church. Most of what we do to help one another goes un-noticed, un-recognised. Much of what we do is to bless or encourage someone else. Sometimes people remember to say ‘thank you’ or realise what has been done and encourage us, and those are cherished moments. In those moments we can hear God’s whisper of blessing to us too. And when the race is over we will hear our team manager say, “Well done.”

But we are not church for our own glory. We are not looking for popular acclaim. We are not expecting the admiration of others. Indeed, if we get that Jesus says that’s all the reward we’ll get. It’s hollow and it is transient. We serve to bless; we bless to encourage; we encourage to strengthen; we strengthen to enable others to serve…

Heaven help us (literally) if we ever lose sight of the tasks to which God has called us and seek fame and glory. Our calling is to serve the ultimate servant by serving others. As we do, we will be good free samples of him and others around us will see him in us.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Two old men were sat outside their house, sipping a glass of wine, as the Tour de France peleton hurtled past at 50 kilometres and hour.

One turned to the other and said, “If they’d left earlier they wouldn’t have to hurry now.”

Count Your Blessings

Baptist Christians don’t seem to do Lent in the same way that other Christians do. Sure, some of us give up chocolate but that seems to be more for dietary reasons than to bring us closer to God. This year I have been following the Christian Aid ‘Count Your Blessings’ Lent reflections which I have found have helped me to reflect on my own circumstances as well as to respond to challenges from God.

Each day there is a brief statement about an issue of justice, poverty, care for the planet and more, together with a suggested response. The response may be a prayer, it may be to reflect on my own consumption or wealth and make a small donation to Christian Aid, or it may be a challenge to take practical action.

Today I was challenged to recycle old phones and ink cartridges. A quick search revealed more than 10 empty cartridges and 3 phones that were lying around waiting to be recycled. I have registered with www.recyclingappeal.com/christianaid and they are sending me envelopes to send the stuff back in. Christian Aid get £4 for every phone and £1 for every cartridge. Everybody wins – the old stuff does not get lobbed into a landfill site and gets recycled and reused so the planet’s resources are preserved fractionally, I get rid of some of the stuff that was cluttering up my shelf which I have been meaning to recycle for ages, and Christian Aid get some dosh to help their work around the world. If you have these things lying around, why not register too?

As I am in a recycling mood, I am going to recycle an old joke in honour of my colleague Lynsey who preached so brilliantly last Sunday morning on the subject of the joke.

A minister was complaining to her husband that nobody listened to her sermons. They all fell asleep, read the weekly notice sheet, started doing crosswords or knitting, or simply gazed out of the window. But at the end of the service the congregation all shook her hand and politely said what a nice sermon it had been.

“I could preach about anything and they wouldn’t notice,” she said with a hollow laugh.

“Why don’t you try it?” suggested her husband. “Preach on something mundane and see if they still say what a nice sermon it was.”

“I’ll do it!” said the minister giving in to a surge of enthusiasm. “I’ll preach on riding a bike and see if anyone says anything about it.”

Sunday morning came around and after the children and young people left the service with the minister’s husband (who was one of their leaders), the minister contemplated what she was about to do as the congregation murdered the hymn before the sermon. Suddenly she had a flash of inspiration. She would not preach about riding a bike, she would preach about sex. That ought to get their attention!

So she did. She was witty, she was honest, she was helpful, she was biblical, she was brilliant. Everyone was captivated by it.

At the end of the service everyone wanted to talk to the minister and thank her. One parent went out to collect her children and the Minister’s husband gently asked her what the sermon was like.

“Oh it was brilliant!” enthused the parent. “She was so honest and helpful.”

The Minister’s husband was taken aback. “I’m rather surprised to hear you say that,” he stammered. “She’s only tried it twice – the first time she fell over and the second time her hat blew off!”

Bicycles hurt

Today I rode my new bike into town and back for the first time. I can’t believe how many different muscles now hurt. Surely there should be some sort of law preventing such self-inflicted torture. It’s all very well Queen singing ‘I want to ride my bicycle’ but they missed off the verse about all the bits that hurt afterwards.

Okay, it’s evidence of how unfit I am, and I know that if I persevere it will get easier (life lessons there if you want them), but right now I am discovering muscles that hurt in places that I did not know I had. It’s not the bike’s fault. I partly blame the roads and cycle tracks for being so uneven. Bumps that cars take in their stride (figuratively speaking) feel very different when the shock is transmitted up through your handlebars and seat. (More life lessons there if you want them – does God cushion us from the impact of some of the bumps of life?). But I mostly blame myself for not taking the time or effort sooner to get up out of my comfortable seat and get some exercise.

I thought I would leave you with a pothole joke. I feel able to share it as I am an ex-lawyer. What’s the difference between a lawyer and a pothole? You swerve to miss a pothole.