time for Remembering

clocksFor those leading services on Remembrance Sunday it can be one of the most fraught days of the year. It is not necessarily because of the content but because most services start before or at 11am on the Sunday and we have to incorporate the 2 minutes’ silence at the right time. This requires a level of timing, anticipation, clock-watching and ‘seat of the pants’ ministering that can raise the blood pressure of even the most relaxed of Revs.

This year I was ministering at one of the churches I serve as a Regional Minister. Their service starts at 10am. The first part of the service was led by church members (really thoughtfully and sensitively) and then I stood up to preach. Normally it’s only those listening to me who have an eye on the clock, but this time I was keeping an eye on the time too. I was amused that during the sermon, just as I was reading Psalm 23, the town parade went past the outside of the church with a band playing at the head of the procession. The band stopped playing just as I finished reading the Psalm. I told the church that it was appropriate as the psalms were originally sung to music!

The sermon finished at about 10.45.

That would not normally be a problem with a view to having 2 minutes of silence at 11.00.

But the church also also wanted to share Communion* after the sermon and I wasn’t sure whether we would have time. We also had a song to sing before Communion. I invited people to sing and afterwards I led the church into sharing the bread and wine.  The sermon had been on Jesus saying, “I am the resurrection and the life” and I made a link with that and that he invited his followers to share bread and wine “In remembrance of me”. I broke the bread and shared it with those who were serving and they took it out to the congregation at about 10.50. It’s a large congregation which meant that serving the bread took a while and we finished that at 10.57.

Are you feeling the pressure too?

I knew that we would not be able to serve the wine in 3 minutes so I took the decision to have the 2 minutes’ silence in the middle of Communion. So I introduced what we were going to do and at 11.00 we stood in silence for 2 minutes, after which I read the familiar ‘they shall not grow old’ words and prayed. We then sat and continued with Communion as the wine was served in small cups to each person and we drank together and once again reflected on Jesus who died for us.

After the service lots of people said how much they had appreciated that we did things that way, and few seem to have realised that it was not by my design. And I was blessed by the experience too – I reflected on the act of Remembrance in the light of Communion and Jesus saying, “Greater love has no-one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends.” I reflected on Communion in the light of the act of Remembrance and what it means – more than just keeping a memory alive. The unplanned order of things was very poignant and significant to me.

Reflecting on it all now, a couple of days afterwards, I realise that God often does that… he takes our plans and if they don’t turn out the way we intended he finds a way of speaking in and through the ensuing disruption. So for some of Jesus’ friends who went on a fishing expedition that proved fruitless he turned it into an encounter with him that they would remember for the rest of their lives (John 21). And, if I am honest, that’s so often what inspires me to write bloggages – unexpected moments turn into moments when God speaks to me. Maybe it’s because in those moments I realise that I am not in control and need to reconnect with the One who simply is.

I suppose the question is whether, in the disruption, we try to listen to what God might be saying or whether we are too busy trying to resolve things ourselves.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, Bread and Wine – depending on your tradition

un-god

The Laughing Christ
The Laughing Christ

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

Have you come across that before?

Or how about: “If you tell God that you don’t want to do something that’s what he will want you to do.”

If the latter is true: I don’t want to drive an Aston Martin car, I don’t want to have a perfect golf swing and I don’t want to have my own TV magic show.

[Still waiting for all of those three to happen].

I think I know what people are trying to say when they say these sorts of thing. It sometimes seems to be the case that God asks us to do the things we are most reluctant to do. Have a look at Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3 or read the book of Jonah. And I know too that my plans and thoughts may well lack God’s imagination, vision and expansiveness.

But behind these ideas is also a hint that God is a bit mean, vindictive, cruel, unkind… What sort of God would mock me? What sort of God would deliberately decide to ask me to do the things I least want to do? Not the sort of God I believe in. It’s very un-God.

These ideas say more about me than about him. They suggest that my understanding of him is too limited if I think he won’t want me to discuss my plans with him. They suggest that I have a restricted relationship with him where I am less than honest with him (or myself). They indicate that my knowledge of him is hampered by negativity and that I have not grasped just how much God is ‘for’ me. I don’t think God laughs at me in a mocking way, but I think he smiles at me in a loving, warm, ‘bless you’ way.

I don’t think God laughs when I tell him my plans. But if he is God and I am me, I would do well to listen to him and allow my plans to be shaped by him. And if his plans differ significantly from mine he is gracious enough to allow me to choose which ones I want to follow, to pick me up if (when) I get it wrong, and to make a fresh start.

I don’t think God is looking for me to do the opposite to what I want to do. But if he is God and I am me, perhaps I would do well to be willing to do what he wants, as he probably knows better than I do. Perhaps rather than asking him to send someone else or running away to Joppa (see Moses and Jonah, above) I could consider that what he wants would be good to do even if it is difficult, uncomfortable, or didn’t appear in my list of 100 things I would like to do in my life. After all I won’t be doing it alone or in my own strength. (And if I am then I need to make another attitude adjustment!).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

The plan is…

The plan is that I will have a great day off tomorrow. The plan is that tomorrow morning I will do one or two jobs that need doing and do some child-ferrying. The plan is that tomorrow afternoon I will go to Ipswich and watch a football match. The plan is that Ipswich Town will put in the best performance of the season and win at least 4-0. The plan is that I will have a great seat.

The problem is that most of those plans are reliant on factors that are beyond my control… unless of course my fantasy comes true and Roy Keane (the Ipswich Town manager at the time of this bloggage for the uninformed) realises he is one player short, looks into the stand, spots me and decides that I am exactly the right person to save the day and I score all four goals. Of course if that happens I will have to give up my great seat. What a dilemma that will be.

In the real world the words of the Scottish poet and hero Robbie Burns seem to be true: “The best-laid plans of mice and men aft gan aglay.” (translation: ‘the best-laid plans of mice and men often go wrong.’) Robbie Burns observed (how?) that human and mice plans often go wrong. The comedian Eddie Izzard asks a very pertinent question of this truism. What plans are the mice making – plans to get cheese? (It’s a brilliant routine that I won’t spoil by attempting to quote it here). But even if we put the mice plans to one side for a moment, it is true that our plans aft gan aglay.

The key is to have the ability of a chameleon. No, not having a tongue twice the length of our body. No, not having a sticky bit on the end of your tongue to catch insects. No, not having eyes that can look in two different directions at once. All those things make chameleons extraordinarily cool creatures. God was definitely on a roll when he was designing them. No, the coup de grace, the piece de resistance, the cherry on the top of the cake for the chameleon is the ability to change colour. Some say that it does it to reflect its mood, while others say that it does it for camouflage. All we know is he’s called the Stig… (sorry, slipped into a Top Gear parallel universe for a moment).

Chameleons are adaptable. They are able to change. That’s something we often find difficult because we find security in familiarity. There is a comfortable inertia that we have to overcome if we are to be adaptable, willing to step beyond our comfort zone and try things a bit differently. It’s not always easy, but it means that if the plans gan aglay we are able to respond and make new plans that may be better than the originals.

I guess that’s what Peter found when Jesus encouraged him to step out of the boat. His plan original plan was to get safely from one side of the lake to the other but he ended up being the first boardless surfer.