ActsofPrayer – Praying the M1 Corridor

Praying the M1 Corridor – Saturday 14th November (between dawn & dusk)

Introduction:
Over the summer of 2015 I had a growing sense that God was asking me to encourage prayer for the M1 Corridor in the UK. Having spent months pondering this and praying about it, I now have a clearer idea as to why and how this should be done.

Why pray for the M1 Corridor?
The M1 was the first motorway to be built in the UK. It connects the north of England (Leeds) to the South (London). On a map it clearly runs through the heart of England. For these reasons I believe the M1 Corridor is a symbol of the heart of these isle and God wants to touch that heart with the reality of His kingdom.

What to pray, for the M1 Corridor?
• For God’s Kingdom to come and God’s will be done in the lives of all who live in the communities (large and small) near the M1 Including: Leeds, Sheffield, Chesterfield, Nottingham, Derby, Loughborough, Leicester, Rugby, Daventry, Northampton, Milton Keynes, Luton and London.
• For all who work on and use the M1 including the emergency services.
• That God would heal the heart of the UK.
• For an outpouring of the Holy Spirit across the geographical area of the M1 Corridor where many may come to faith in Jesus Christ.

How to pray, for the M1 Corridor?
There are many different ways of responding to this call to pray including:
• Praying in a church building or home near the motorway.
• Standing over or beside the motorway (on a bridge).
• Driving on the motorway, perhaps for just a few junctions and back.
• At one of the many service stations on the motorway.
• Praying in numerous locations in one of the communities that straddle the M1.

A prayer for the M1 Corridor:
Heavenly Father, Lord God Almighty, as the M1 Corridor runs through the heart of England, we ask you to renew the heart of these lsles. Touch the lives of all who live by, travel or work on the M1. May many come to faith in Jesus Christ and know the life, love, light and liberty of His saving grace. We pray especially for all who live in poverty, the homeless, the exploited, orphans, the bereaved, those bound by addictive lifestyles, all who are poorly, the dying and this generation of children and young people. Bless them all with your protective healing peace. Amen.

If you organise a prayer event or would like to join me on the day, please contact me at: tmsumpter@hotmail.co.uk

‘…pray continually…’ (I Thessalonians 5: 17).

‘…pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.‘ (Eph. 6: 18).

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus‘. (Acts 3: 19-20).

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Habakkuk – Major Messages from a Minor Prophet

Can a prophet profit from challenging God?
Less is known about the prophet Habakkuk than almost any other prophet in the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament). We are given no information about his father, tribe or hometown, details found in many of the other prophet’s books. His name may not be Hebrew, but from an Akkadian word for a plant or fruit tree, indicating that he may have been from the ancient Middle-Eastern kingdom of Akkad.

Most, if not all people of faith, encounter times and seasons in their spitual lives when they doubt or question God. Few though are like Job, who was able to openly share and debate the painful issues. So it is very rare for someone to actually confront and challenge God about the apparent anomalies and contradictions of God’s actions. But this is what Habakkuk did!

One of the roles of a prophet was to serve as an intermediary between God and God’s people, especially highlighting when and how they may have strayed from God’s covenant. Habakkuk takes it upon himself to work in the opposite direction, calling God to account when God’s actions didn’t appear to correspond to those demanded by the covenant. This makes Habakkuk unique amongst the prophets and prophetic writings.

Dates, discrepancies and disagreements
The time period of Habakkuk has long been a matter of debate. From chapter 1 verse 6 it appears that an invasion by the Babylonians (sometimes referred to as Chaldeans) was imminent. This invasion could have occurred any time prior to 587 BC when Jerusalem was finally destroyed by the Babylonian Empire. The prophecies in the book were therefore likely given earlier, perhaps during the reign of king Jehoiakim (609-598 BC), during which time the Babylonian threat was increasingly felt. That would make Habakkuk a contemporary of the prophets Nahum, Zephaniah and Jeremiah. Interestingly Habakkuk’s prophecies also anticipate the subsequent defeat of the Babylonians which took place in 539 BC.

Small book packing a big punch!
The structure of the book is straightforward, with two questions (or complaints) put to God by Habakkuk, each of which is followed by God’s response. The first complaint concerns God’s apparent toleration of sin, especially injustice (chapter 1 verses 2-4) and is followed by the assurance that it will be dealt with by God, through using the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem (chapter 1 verses 5-11).

This raises a yet greater moral problem for Habakkuk. How could God use as instruments of justice such a cruel and brutal people, indeed far more brutal than those who are being punished (chapter 1 verses 12-17). Habakkuk then waits for God’s response (chapter 2 verse 1), which comes when God promises judgement also on the Babylonians (chapter 2 verses 2-20).
Habakkuk responds to this assurance of God’s justice and love with what I refer to as a prayer-psalm of worship, recalling how God met Israel at Sinai (chapter 3 verses 3-7) and acting as a warrior on Israel’s behalf (chapter 3 verses 8-15). The short book ends with a deeply moving expression of the prophet’s encounter with, and trust in God (chapter 3 verses 16-19a).

Habakkuk.co.uk – Major messages for us from this minor prophet

1. Sometimes it’s easy to think we understand God’s ways completely, but that is never the case. God is not a doctrine to master, but a mystery to be mastered by! God’s ways aren’t like ours (Isaiah chapter 55 verses 8-9) and often in the seeming complexities, contradictions and confusion over God’s ways, we are called to wait until God’s will becomes clear (chapter 2 verses 2-3). That patient waiting is a counter-cultural, prophet act for us. living in an ‘instant culture’ which demands everything yesterday.

2. God’s people are never immune from the trials and problems of real life. Often God takes us through, not round trials, and uses them to help us grow into the people we are becoming. When we face difficulties, whatever they are, it is good to call to mind the past occasions when we’ve experienced God’s blessings, which is a wonderful way of developing a perspective of faith (chapter 3 verse 2).

3. Shaped by a consumerist culture it can be very easy for modern western Christians to believe in God when life is going well and we feel blessed, but to turn from God when life becomes hard. Habakkuk offers us a window onto a different kind of relationship, when we learn to worship God regardless of the outward circumstances (chapter 3 verses 17-19), not as a way of escapism from reality, but of taking that reality to the God who is with us within it.

4. It really is OK to take our most difficult and demanding questions to God. That is never frowned upon in the Bible, but is seen as an appropriate thing for God’s people to do; God wants us to do that and God can handle our frustrations and anger! For other examples see: Job chapter 3; Psalm 13 and Philippians chapter 4 verse 6.

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Putting Jesus’ Last Words First

Notes from a sermon preached at All Saints’ Ockbrook on Sunday 26th April (Bible Reading: Matthew Chapter 28 verses 16 – 20).

Mountains in the ministry of Jesus: According to Matthew’s Gospel there are three significant mountains in Jesus’ ministry: early on we have the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus’ articulated the ethical teaching he wished to underpin the lives of those who followed Him (still important in our culture predicated on moral relativism); mid-way through the Gospel we have the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus’ true identity and mission is revealed and lastly here in Matt. 28 as the Gospel ends, Jesus is on an mountain somewhere in Galilee sketching out his vision for world mission, to which all his followers are called.

Be in the right place and live in the right way: The 11 disciples travelled north from Jerusalem to Galilee. It seems somewhat strange they should be asked to do that because all the post-Easter action was taking place in Jerusalem. So why Galilee? It was a region with a mixed population of Jews and gentiles. Indeed being so far north it was called ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’. Jesus is commissioning his disciples not into a synagogue, temple, church of lecture hall, but to go out into all the world; to where people are.

So the 11 disciples travelled north to that mountain in Galilee because it was where Jesus had called them to be at that time. God calls us to different places at different times in our lives, but what’s important as Christians, is how we live when we get there!

When you are rightly related to God by salvation, remember that wherever you are, you are put there by God and by the reaction of your life to the circumstances around you, you will fulfil God’s purposes as long as you keep close to God. (Words given to me years ago by a friend Sue Harris).

Worship + doubt = faith & growth: When the 11 disciples saw Jesus they instinctively worshipped him. The Gk word translated worship is derived from proskyneo and means ‘to come towards to kiss (the hand)’ and denotes the external act of prostrating oneself. As Jews we could say they broke the third of the 10 commandments: ‘You shall not make for yourself and idol and you shall not bow down to them or worship them’. But in that act of worship they are symbolically affirming the divinity of Jesus the Christ!

Matthew adds ‘some of them doubted’ and I’m so glad we get that honest insight. The word means a state of uncertainty and hesitation, rather than a settled unbelief and is used in only one other place in the NT (Matt. 14:31). Over the years I’ve come to realise that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; that is fear and that can anaesthetise faith. Doubt is the other side of the coin to faith. They paradoxically belong together. My experience has been time and time again, that my faith in Jesus has become stronger through my doubts.

As they worshipped Jesus, so he comes near to them!!

I read recently that many in our nation find some church worship services strange, inaccessible and uninspiring; and that’s being kind. They say it’s no wonder that Jesus never seems to show up. I was at a seminar a few years ago led by Archbishop John Sentamu and he said this: I thank God that people don’t go to some churches I know. They’re so gloomy and unhappy. The atmosphere can be so cold you could skate down the aisles.

I’ve come to appreciate the range of different worship styles we have in our churches here in this parish; it is a strength. But we must always remember we’re not to focus on the styles of worship, because we can end up worshipping those. Whatever the style, worship is an offering to God; God is always the congregation in worship, not us!!! What we do is for God’s benefit, not ours. As we do that, so we encounter Jesus in many different ways.

Putting last words first: Like all of us I have regrets when I look back at my life so far. One of the biggest is that I didn’t get to my father before he died and so cannot remember the last words we spoke. I had some help dealing with that and as part of that process wrote the following:

If only I could wind the clock back just once; if only. If only I could, I would wish to see you just once more; if only. If only I could stand at that hospital door, I would make sure I pushed my way through the doctors and nurses trying so desperately to keep you alive; if only. If only I could, I would take your big hands in mine and feel the touch that so often eluded us as father and son; if only. If only I could, I would hold you in a hug and feel the closeness of your heartbeat and breath; if only. If only I could, I would speak just four simple words, unembarrassed by those listening on; if only. If only I could, I would whisper up close in your ear: ‘Dad, I love you’.

Wonderfully, Matthew records some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples. These words give this passage its title: ‘The Great Commission’. Jesus, God incarnate, raised from the dead in power, commissions his followers or disciples (which means apprentices, students, learners) to go out and make disciples of all nations. Some say this should be translated as the ‘Great Omission’ because the church so often ignores it.

John Adair, well know author and leadership guru writes: ‘A hospital exits to make sick people better, whatever ends are pursued by some of the staff working there. There’s a truth about all organisations – what their purpose is supposed to be’.

Recently our church leadership (PCC) finessed our purpose statement: ‘Making Christian disciples who love God, love one another and live out God’s love in the world’. Whatever role we may have in the church, whatever gifts we have, I believe that call and commission to make disciples is for each of us. To intentionally live in such a way that our lives becomes windows onto the life of Jesus, making Jesus present for people by embodying something of what he is like and what a life filled with Jesus is like. There are people around us in life that only we can reach for Jesus; so the question is: are we seeking to?

Ever think you’re too small to make a difference? Maybe you’ve never been 2 bed with a mosquito!  If we don’t disciple people, the secular culture around us will.

The presence and presents of God: Here’s the crescendo of Matthew’s gospel. A wonderful, breath taking promise. The Gospel began with an assurance that the baby Jesus would be Immanuel or God with us (1:22). It closes here with the reassurance that he is still with them and would be for ever! The fulfilment of that prophecy happened at Pentecost when the HS was poured out and the presence of Jesus was then with them in tangible and tactile ways.

God is everywhere, but in order to know God we have to experience God somewhere. The everywhere God has to become the somewhere God. God is with God’s people (Bishop Stephen Cottrell).

Following Jesus can be tough, important to remember that in out consumerist culture. As Christians we’re not cocooned from the pains and strains and pressures of everyday real life. But we are promised the presence of Jesus (The Holy Spirit and His gifts), necessary for us to fulfil our mission and ministry in him.

The Victorian explorer David Livingstone once addressed students at Glasgow University. He rose to speak and his body bore the marks of struggles as a missionary in Africa: gaunt from over 30 severe illnesses; left arm hanging flaccid from a lion attack…He said, would you like me to tell you what supported me and kept me going all those years amongst people whose language I couldn’t understand and who were often hostile to me. It was this: ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’.

Go to it, go do it! Let’s remember that God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called!  Let’s also remember that God has called each of us to know Christ and to make Christ known. Let’s seek to do that in God’s strength, which St. Paul reminds us is made perfect in our weakness. As we do that, so we play our part in fulfilling the Great Commission and putting Jesus’ last words first!

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Mary Moments:

The demands of life are increasingly frenetic, propelling us into ways of existing that are contrary to our human nature. We need a balance of work, rest and play, yet most of us are going too fast, rushing from each activity but never really stopping to reflect on who and where we are. Sometimes we run just to stand still. Part of that is necessary of course, mortgages to pay, kids to feed and clothe, cars to run. Nevertheless many of us are beguiled by the notion that by going faster we pack more in, and so get more out of life. Some of our pointless busyness shows there never was a more pernicious and crafty lie as that one.

In reality, speed like death shortens life. We end up doing too much, but all at the shallow end of the pool. We fail to spend time feeling the textures of life, the good times and the painful times and miss the depths of experience and character formation they bring. We remain shallow people, skimming across the surface of life. Fast, yes, but in reality having little or no impact on the world around. Speed for some becomes a wonderful excuse for evading the issues that populate their lives and need attention.

This frenetic busyness has also crept silently beneath the radar of many churches. Instead of offering windows onto heaven, they offer a mirror of the world around. As a church leader myself I’ve discovered how easy it is to be so busy with the work of the Lord that I forget the Lord of the work!

Preachers often tell us that we should be like Mary, who sat listening at Jesus feet, rather than her sister Martha who busied herself preparing the meal. But I think we have to get real and that means getting in touch with how we are hard-wired as individuals. Each of us is in reality a combination of both Martha and Mary, which often creates tension within us. For example, I’m more Martha than Mary. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a bit of a Mary in me, it’s just that I’m at my happiest when I’m busy doing something, whatever that something is. I feel out of my depth when I have nothing to do. That’s how I am. There’s no sense in pretending I’m anything or anyone different. Others will be the complete opposite, being more Mary than Martha and they will find fulfilment in being rather than doing.

Recognising my tendency to be dominated by the Martha side of me, I have invested time in developing the Mary part, cultivating what I call Mary Moments. These are times that take seriously the discipline to withdraw from the rush and busyness of daily life, when I try and ‘be’, rather than ‘do’; slowing down and centring in on my relationship with God, whom I know as Father through Jesus Christ. Times when in the wonderful words of Eugene Peterson I ‘…interrupt my preoccupation with myself and attend to God, placing my self intentionally in a sacred space, in sacred time, in the holy presence and wait’.

I don’t have a set number of these times of prayer each day, they are more spontaneous, but nevertheless I do sometimes plan the spontaneity, as I imagine Mary might. So for example before breakfast (or mid-way through the morning if I’ve been working in the study), I will go into the lounge, away from the distraction of the phone. I will sit on a comfy chair, back straight, legs together and hands on my knees. Sometimes I will simply lie down on the floor or kneel, though as I get older kneeling for any length of time has become more difficult; the getting down is fine, it’s the getting back up which is the problem. I then visualise myself going into the presence of my Heavenly Father. Once in that imaginary room I pray the following prayer:

Heavenly Father, I come now to be with you. I want to hold you and be held by you. I want to hug you and be hugged by you. I want to embrace you deeply and be deeply embraced by you. I desire to feel the protective warmth of your arms around me and to look up into your accepting, affirming and smiling eyes. Thank you that you love me. Thank you that you have time for me. Thank you that you are interested in me and my needs. Thank you that I can trust you and that this is a safe and secure place. So speak now for your servant is listening’.

I don’t rush through all that, but often linger over certain phrases and try to visualise what I’m praying actually taking place, such as being embraced by God. I then remain in silence for a short time. Sometimes I have experienced a tangible sense of God’s presence. Occasionally I have a very real sense of God speaking to me in some way. Once I saw a picture of a large eye in front of me. This induced in me a sense of deep and tangible peace. I believe it was a symbol of God’s eye picking up the thought expressed in Proverbs 15:3: ‘The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good’.

Meditation is also a good way into Mary Moments. This is the process of quieting the mind by focusing on a single fixed point – our breathing, or a mantra such as the Jesus Prayer (prayed in the mind not out loud): ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me’. I usually breathe in on ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ and breathe out on ‘have mercy on me’. I can sit in silence from 5 minutes to 20 minutes, allowing these words to caress my mind and sensing my whole being filling with peace.

Mary Moments are eminently transferable to any context. So, for example, I’ve prayed like this in my study, in a car wash (I was in the car!), on a train, whilst driving (with eyes well and truly open of course), out walking, on a park bench, in church, on a beach, in the bath, beside a swimming pool etcetera.

They have become a wonderful way of trying to take God with me (as it were) into each day, rather than leaving God in my quiet time before breakfast. They are punctuation marks in my days, ways of creating godly rhythms to buttress my life against the cut and thrust of daily life. They are a constant reminder to me of the need to re-orientate my life towards the light and life and warmth and wisdom of God’s kingdom.

The call to withdraw from busyness and speed, to switch off the mobile and TV and computer, to swap all the ‘doing’ for some ‘being’ is a radically prophetic one. As is the willingness to relax in Jesus’ presence, as Mary did, and practice unconditional attentiveness towards him; to wait with him, rather than expecting him to be a ‘waiter’ meeting all our needs.

The concept of the Sabbath day has well and truly gone from our week here in the UK, a change which seems irrevocable. All the more reason then, for us to take the concept of Sabbath into our lives and to create space for rest and spiritual renewal. Mary Moments are one way of cultivating such important values. They remind us of the need we have in life to slow the pace, create some space, and find a place to seek God’s face, just as Mary did.

Mary Moments are not about slowing down in order to go faster, a phrase used by some contemporary management gurus. Mary Moments are designed to slow us down to go slower. That way, I firmly believe, contrary to popular opinion, we can live more deeply the life God wants.

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Lent: Saying ‘Yes’ to ‘No’

Lent often carries with it the idea of giving up chocolate, cakes and sweets as a way to kick-start the post-Christmas, pre-Easter diet. I heard the prayer of someone who struggled to give up cakes one Lent: ‘Lord, if you can’t make me skinny, please make all my friends fat’. In reality, Lent is much more valuable, and counter-cultural than that. The 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Saturday offer Christians opportunity to recalibrate their lives as disciples in the Way of Jesus Christ, and to learn from Him the freedom of saying ‘Yes’ to ‘No!’

Watch and Pray
In Lent we are invited to accompany Jesus on a journey which starts in the desert and ends in the garden of Gethsemane. There Jesus calls his disciples to ‘watch and pray’. The experiences we have this Lent can be made into opportunities to draw closer to God, so that when the time comes for us to watch and pray in the rocky places, we may be better prepared.

Speed shortens life
Some years ago I heard the German theologian Jürgen Moltman say in a lecture: ‘Death shortens life and so does speed’. We often think that by going faster, we get more out and pack more in. But the reverse is often true. Speed means we don’t fully engage. Haste means we often fail to feel all life’s textures, the joys and the pain. We miss the enrichment both these can bring.

Before Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil, he had a tremendously affirming experience of his Father’s love at his baptism. As he rose from the waters of the Jordan, he heard the Father’s voice say: ‘You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased’ (Mark 1: 11). With this ringing in his ears, he entered the desert – the darkness of the divine withdrawal. Through testing he faced his fears, accepted the limits of his humanity and trusted in the assurance of God’s love.

Following the example of Jesus we need escape hatches from the pressure cooker called haste. Lent offers us opportunities to create margins or hard-shoulders in our lives, to learn quietness and attentiveness before God; to pray. One simple definition of prayer is ‘To keep trying to turn back to God’.

Living more simply
In our culture of consumerism, consumption and comfort- eating Lent offers us the challenge of ‘voluntary simplicity’. To consider how God might be calling us to simplify our lives, to choose not to indulge certain appetites, developing the discipline of giving things away, learning to enjoy things without feeling we have to own them. What disciplines are we intending to exercise this Lent in order to create space for God, to be ready for the challenge of the spiritual battle? One definition of repentance is ‘Getting free to be further drawn into the life of God’.

Human extremity is the frequent meeting place with God
The desert places we sometimes face are fierce, but can also be friendly, because God is in the facts, whether visible or not. The difficulties we face are like fire, they can refine us. Often the only way into the Promised Land is through the desert. In the Bible human extremity is the frequent meeting place with God. The fact that God didn’t remove the ‘thorn’ in Paul’s life is a reminder there are many things which can only be accomplished by waiting and living through the difficulties that grate against us and test our faith.

Don’t test God’s love, trust it!
Lent offers us the challenge of going on in Christian discipleship. In our instant age the only instant thing in our lives is our acceptance before God. The rest we need to work on, accepting God’s word that His grace really is sufficient for us, for His power is perfected even in our weakness! As we enter this Lent let’s remember we don’t need to test God’s love, we need to trust it.

A practical response to Lent
Each year I use the following three headings to help me engage with the challenge of lent: Giving things up, Taking things up, Giving things away.

Giving things up:
This is choosing not to indulge certain appetites. Fasting can lessons the hold material things have over us, and helps us make room for God in our lives. The obvious fast is from food. Some fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Others fast one meal a week or from certain foods. Of course you can fast from other things IE the TV. Here’s a possible list:

Meat free Monday
TV free Tuesday
World Wide Web free Wednesday
Thirst free Thursday (no alcohol)
Facebook free Friday
Shopping free Saturday
Sermon free Sunday (that of course is a joke!!).

Taking things up:
Jesus says we should fast to better concentrate on God, so I like to create space in Lent to take something up to help me do that:

Read a life of Jesus (one of the Gospels)
A devotional book (this year I’m recommending My Father’s Tears’ by Mark Stibbe)
Book a Quiet Day (at a local Convent etc.)
One quiet evening each week with no TV, Radio, Computer etc.
Try different styles of prayer.
Create times of silence

Give things away:
In the OT fasting is often linked with acts of justice and compassion towards others. There are so many practical things we could do: shopping or gardening for a neighbor etc. The website http://www.40acts.org.uk details something practical we could do each day of lent.

Prayer:
God of stillness and creative action, help us to make space for you this lent, that we may live deeper lives as those who follow the Way of Jesus Christ; Amen

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Lent: Reflect – Contemplate – Be Inspired

Watch and Pray
In Lent we are invited to accompany Jesus on a journey which starts in the desert and ends in the garden of Gethsemane just outside Jerusalem. There Jesus calls his disciples to ‘watch and pray’. The experiences we have this Lent can be made into opportunities to draw closer to God, so that when the time comes for us to watch and pray in the rocky places, we may be better prepared.

Speed shortens life
Some years ago I heard the German theologian Jürgen Moltman say in a lecture: ‘Death shortens life, and so does speed’. We often think that by going faster in life, we get more out and pack more in. In fact the reverse is often true. Speed means we don’t fully engage. Haste means we often fail to feel life’s textures, the smooth and rough, the joy and the pain. We miss the enrichment all these can bring us.

Before Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil, he had a tremendously affirming experience of his Father’s love at baptism. As he rose from the waters of the Jordan, he heard the Father’s voice say: ‘You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased’ (Mark 1: 11). With this ringing in his ears, he entered the desert – the darkness of the divine withdrawal. Through testing he faced his fears, accepted the limits of his humanity and trusted in the assurance of God’s love.

Following the example of Jesus we need escape hatches from the pressure cooker called haste. Lent offers us opportunities to create margins or hard-shoulders in our lives, to learn quietness and attentiveness before God; to pray. One simple definition of prayer is ‘To keep trying to turn back to God’.

Living more simply
In our culture of consumerism, consumption and comfort- eating Lent offers us the challenge of ‘voluntary simplicity’. To consider how God might be calling us to simplify our lives, to choose not to indulge certain appetites, developing the discipline of giving things away, learning to enjoy things without feeling we have to own them.

What disciplines are we intending to exercise this Lent in order to create space for God, to be ready for the challenges of the spiritual battle? One definition of repentance is ‘Getting free to be further drawn into the life of God’.

Human extremity is the frequent meeting place with God
The desert places we sometimes face are always fierce, but also friendly, because God is in the facts, whether visible or not. The difficulties we face are like fire, they can refine us. Often the only way into the Promised Land is through the desert. In the Bible human extremity is the frequent meeting place with God. That God didn’t remove the ‘thorn’ in Paul’s life is a reminder there are many things which can only be accomplished by waiting and living through the difficulties that grate against the flesh and test our faith.

Don’t test God’s love, trust it!
Lent offers us the challenge of going on in discipleship. In our instant age the only instant thing in our lives is our acceptance before God. The rest we need to work on, accepting God’s word that His grace really is sufficient for us, for His power is perfected even in our weakness! As we soon enter Lent, remember we don’t need to test God’s love, we need to trust it.

A practical response to Lent
Each year I use the following three headings to help me engage with the challenge of lent: Giving things up, Taking things up, Giving things away.

Giving things up:
This is choosing not to indulge certain appetites. Fasting can lessons the hold material things have over us, and helps us make room for God in our lives. The obvious fast is from food. Some fast for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Others fast one meal a week or from certain foods. Of course you can fast from other things IE the TV. Here’s a possible list:

Meat-free Monday
TV-free Tuesday
World Wide Web-free Wednesday
Thirst-free Thursday (no alcohol)
Facebook-free Friday
Shopping-free Saturday
Sermon-free Sunday (that of course is a joke!!).

Taking things up:
Jesus says we should fast to better concentrate on God, so I like to create space in Lent to take something up to help me do that:

Read a life of Jesus (one of the gospels)
A devotional book
Book a Quiet Day (at a local convent etc.)
A quiet evening each week – no TV
Try different styles of prayer.
Create time and space for silence

Give things away:
In the OT fasting is often linked with acts of justice and compassion towards others. There are so many practical things we could do: shopping or gardening for a neighbor etc. The website http://www.40acts.org.uk details something practical we could do each day of lent.

A prayer:
God of stillness and creative action, help us to make space for you this lent, that we may live deeper lives as those who follow You, in the way of Jesus Christ; Amen

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Holocaust Memorial Day: Keeping the Memory Alive

I once listened to a panel of religious ‘experts’ addressing questions at a youth event. They’d all prepared well and were ready for ‘it’ when it came, the question about how can there be a God of love when there is so much suffering and pain in the world. The answers were all crafted well and clear, but to be honest they left me cold. The offence of so many theodicies (which seek to justify God in the face of such accusations) is that they claim to be able to explain the inexplicable and tame that which is wild.

A few years ago I travelled to the Auschwitz camps with a group of Roman Catholic teachers and social workers. Although I’d studied Nazism at school nothing could ever have prepared me. The displays of human hair – literally small mountains of it – and all the tiny children’s clothing and shoes precipitated an eruption of emotions. Words still don’t come easily or adequately….

Whilst there I had the privilege of meeting a survivor of that largest grave-yard on earth. He had seen, touched, smelt and felt things that are truly unimaginable. He stood before us, frail, struggling, yet determined to give us his story. With tear-filled eyes he asked each of us to do all we could to keep the memory alive so that it might never happen again. He told us he had never been able to forgive those who did such wickedness or to believe in God again. Who was I to trample over his experience?

Towards the end of the trip, a few of us visited a bar in Krakow. The conversation turned almost inexorably to theodicy and the question of God’s culpability or otherwise in evil and human suffering. As a priest the spot-light rested on me for an answer. I explained how I most certainly didn’t have a definitive answer to that mystery, but that as a Christian I believed God entered with deep empathy into our human experience. That must mean that God suffers too: as a Fatherly-Mother, God suffers with us; as Jesus, God suffers as us and as Spirit, God suffers in us. God’s love absorbs all the evil and suffering without being overwhelmed or degraded. That was my partial and inadequate answer, and still is…

On this 70th Anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz camps by the Soviet Union, I write this in memory of the Holocaust survivor who asked me to do all I could to keep the memory alive. I do so also to honour all who died there in Auschwitz (and all other such camps), especially the children and teenagers. I also honour all those who have suffered similarly in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur; may they all rest in peace. The following poem is written as a tribute to them all:

 Eliminationism

A meticulously
planned hell
with nothing left to chance
or accident;
industrial, symmetrical,
a final sadistic solution, organised so well.

Cramped cattle-cars crammed
suffocatingly-full of
precious human cargo.
Standing room only:
no food, no water, no toilets,
just the stench of death
for which they’d all paid good money.

Shaved, shivering, separated
from the caressing smiles
of loved ones,
walking ‘The way to heaven
in a camp constructed
for the purpose of
eliminationism on an industrial scale.

Here was death, just death,
rising like incense
beneath azure blue
European skies
from the chimneys of
the biggest graveyard on earth.

No formula for surviving
the killing machine,
liberation the most
beautiful and
tragic of moments;
broken people,
almost dead, leaving camps which never left them.

Many have been strong enough,
brave enough, to give expression
to the:
inexplicable,
inexpressible,
incomprehensible;
the nightmare from which so many would never wake.

Tim Sumpter

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