teddy bear theology

girls
The bride, the bridesmaids and Mr Gruff (look closely)

A couple of Sundays back we held a wedding blessing in our morning service. It may be old hat to some of you to do things that way, but it’s not something I have ever done before. The wonderful couple [they read my bloggages so I have to say that ;-)] had been married 10 years ago in a civil ceremony but wanted to mark their anniversary by renewing their vows and recognising that God is now a part of their marriage.

I was not at all apprehensive about the service, but I did wonder how it would go – whether it would fit into a worship service and whether it would feel ‘right’. In fact it felt brilliant. It was an opportunity to thank God for all he had done in their marriage, to celebrate marriage, to think about relationships with God and one another.

In the sermon I commented on how, in their photos, a small bear called Mr Gruff was present. He had been there when D&S had met, he was there as their relationship blossomed, he was there at the wedding, he has been with them in their married life (good times and bad) and he was in church with us for the blessing too. He was also in every one of their wedding photos, but was mostly hiding in the background.

To me that seems like a lovely parable of how God is involved in our lives and relationships if we will let him. He’s there all the time. Sometimes we are conscious of him, sometimes it’s as if he’s in the background. Sometimes we acknowledge him and include him, other times he’s simply ‘just’ with us. Knowing that he is there is reassuring and encouraging.

Of course his preference is to be involved, to be acknowledged, to be engaged. But he is gracious and patient enough to be with us all the time, waiting for us to turn to him, to involve him once again and to include him in every aspect of our life.

He’s waiting for you now.

Be blessed, be a blessing

asleep
It was all too much for D…

noticing

After an interval caused by a wedding in Northern Ireland, a weekend and a Bank Holiday, what passes for normal service is resumed today as the bloggerel recommences.

The wedding was lovely. I shared the service with Stuart, the Minister of the Bride’s home church where the wedding took place, and Ben, the Minister at the church that the groom attends. Stuart led the service, I conducted the wedding ceremony and Ben gave the address. It was not as much of a tag-team wedding as the above description sounds, but for Alison it meant the Ministers of her past (Stuart), present(me) and future(Ben) churches all took part. There’s a nice synergy about that.

One of the things that is a little different in Northern Ireland is that they have streamlined the technicalities of the wedding service. They had already declared before the Registrar that there was no lawful impediment to their marriage so I didn’t have to ask them that. And instead of having to sign four separate hand-written copies of the marriage records (2 books held by the church, a certificate and the quarterly return for the Registrar) there was a printed copy of the marriage details from the Registrar and just one book at the church.

What all this added up to was a wedding ceremony with far less obtrusive technical sections so that the couple’s vows to each other were given even greater prominence. I think this is something we should adopt over on this side of the Irish Sea.

It got me thinking about whether there are other obtrusive technical aspects of church life that can distract from our prime callings of worshipping God, following Jesus and fulfilling his mission. Perhaps the most obvious one is… [drum roll] … the notices. They are a significant part of church life when they highlight important events, and share family news for prayer and support. But they can take over. I know of several churches where attenders are given a sheet with the news and events of the church and then someone stands up and effectively reads them out. Why?

In the first church I can remember attending they always gave out the amount of the previous week’s offering. I am not sure if it was as a challenge, to commiserate or as an encouragement. I can also remember that the Church Secretary, bamboozled by new-fangled modern technology, announced that there would be a strip film* in the church hall after the service!

But where do you put the notices in a service? I am torn. I know that if they are at the start of the service you can ‘get them out of the way’, but that suggests they are unimportant. However it also could give the unintentional message that what goes on in the church is more important than Jesus. In our morning services we usually have them midway through the service, but it is difficult to find the right moment where they are part of our act of worship without being obtrusive and interrupting the flow. I have started following them with prayers of intercession that may pick up some of the prayer needs alongside other prayers. Some churches have them right at the end, but then that can change the dynamics of the close of the service when people may want to pause and reflect on what God has been saying to them.

I am not sure there is a perfect answer to this, but I also do not see them as a ‘necessary evil’. In my view they should be an act of worship as much as anything else. It is a moment to offer a welcome to newcomers and help them feel at home in God’s family. It is an opportunity to focus our thoughts on the needs of others and on aspects of God’s mission through the church. Our Church Secretary has a nice balance to the way he does things – greeting by name people who are newcomers (if they want to be mentioned), highlighting one or two important events and sharing family news, and pointing people to the weekly sheet for all the news, information and prayer needs.

I’d be interested to know what you do in your church, and why.

I was tempted to close with some notices bloopers, but then I came across this cute wedding joke:

The child was a typical four-year-old girl – cute, inquisitive, bright as a new penny. When she expressed difficulty in grasping the concept of marriage, her father decided to pull out his wedding photo album, thinking visual images would help.

One page after another, he pointed out the bride arriving at the church, the entrance, the wedding ceremony, the recessional, the reception, etc.

“Now do you understand?” he asked.

“I think so,” she said, “is that when mum came to work for us?”

*Film strips were half-way between a full-scale film and a slide show where slides were advanced on cue by manually scrolling through a strip of film. I guess it was the forerunner of PowerPoint!

wedding wound up

We’re back from the epic journey and wedding last weekend. It was a brilliant wedding and I hope that my Mum and Mike felt the love and joy as much as we did.

Tied up fishing net

I can now tie up a few loose ends in an abbreviated blog because there’s a lot else for me to catch up on and I am feeling exhausted.


The passage I preached on was Philippians 2:1-11. It was written to a church but I reckon the principles Paul is advocating apply equally well to a marriage. Nobody guessed that passage.


And the jokes:

One good turn gets most of the bedclothes.
 
When a man opens a car door for his wife it is either a new wife or a new car.
 
Something I have discovered from personal experience is that if your wife laughs at your joke you either have a good joke or a good wife.

And finally a piece of advice for Mike and a piece of advice for Mum.
 
Mike, the best way to remember Mum’s birthday is to forget it once.
 
Mum, if Mike’s words sometimes seem sharp it may be from trying to get them in edgeways!

what to preach?

Sooo, you’re preaching at your mother’s wedding in just over a week’s time and have been asked to provide a reading (from the Bible). What to choose?

Best to avoid some of the Proverbs (“a nagging wife is like a dripping tap”, “better to live on the roof than share a house with a nagging wife” and so on). Keeping well clear of Song of Songs (or Snog of Snogs as I think it should be better named) to avoid blushing, although the temptation to preach on SoS 7:2 “Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine” was briefly there. Avoiding all references to Lot’s wife (who, according to the apocyphal Sunday School blooper was a “pillar of salt by day and a pillar of fire by night.”) Ensuring I do not confuse 1 John 4:18 (“perfect love drives out fear”) with John 4:18 (“You have had five husbands and the man you now have is not your husband.”)

Calculator

I’m not going to tell you what I have chosen (that would spoil the surprise for anyone who reads this and goes to the wedding) but if you want to guess I will confirm if you are right. After all, there are only 1,189 chapters and 31,103 verses to choose from! Statistically the middle chapter of the Bible is Psalm 118. There are 594 chapters before it, 594 chapters after it and if you add those two together you get 1,188. The middle verse of the Bible is Psalm 118:8. What do you make of that? Some people (if you check out their websites) think it is amazing.

But I am less impressed. Firstly because in the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts there were no verses or chapters. They have been added later to help us find our way around, a bit like the section headings in some versions of the Bible. The second reason I am unimpressed is that someone has spent a lot of time working all of that maths out (I got it off a website). That’s like having a Bugatti Veyron (mega-expensive high performance sports car) and only reading the manual that comes with it rather than driving it. The Bible is such an incredible book (to describe it as a book is rather underplaying it) that it begs to be read so that we encounter God. Which bits have you read lately?

Visiting his grandparents, a small boy opened the big family Bible. He was fascinated as he fingered through the old pages. Suddenly, something fell out. He picked it up and found that it was an old leaf that had been pressed flat between the pages. “Mum, look what I found,” he called out.

“What have you got there, dear?” his mother asked.”

With astonishment in his voice, the boy answered, “I think it’s Adam’s underwear!”

A father was reading Bible stories to his young son. He read, “The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city, but his wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.”


His son asked, “What happened to the flea?”

Three boys are in the school yard bragging about their fathers. The first boy says, “My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calles it a poem, and they give him £25.”

The second boy says, “That’s nothing. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a song, and they give him £200.”


The third boy says, “I got you both beat. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a sermon, and it takes six people to collect all the money!”