St Martins Church Ashton Upon Mersey
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               Some of the many faces of priesthood

Dear friends,

 Many years ago, before I was ordained, I was visiting a friend's church and it was hosting a flower festival. The theme of the festival was ‘The Church's Year' and there were some magnificent  and unusual arrangements, with Easter and Christmas, Ascension Day and Harvest Festival, Pentecost and All Saints Day, all picked out in a riot of colour and many different types of blooms. And in the midst of all this vibrancy there was ‘Lent': a large tray of sand with some bare twigs and stones dotted around. My friends, the vicar of the church, was a bit dismissive of it, his argument being that it was a flower festival, and maybe ‘Lent' could have somehow been  envisaged in flowers and foliage, even if it was subdued. A few sticks and stones in a tray of sand, he thought, wasn't what people were paying money to some and see.

 I sort of understand his point. But I've always remembered that ‘arrangement' more vividly than the ones for Trinity Sunday or Epiphany or Candlemas because it was so striking and different to everything else.

 This month we start our journey through the weeks of Lent, looking towards the love of God found in Jesus Christ hanging on the cross and risen from the tomb. It's a ‘season' in the Church's year that should feel different to others, even Advent. That's why we don't use alleluias in worship, remove flower arrangements from the church and have a more penitential feel to the services we plan. And that's why we try and make a special effort during these weeks to look at our lives and our faith and think about what is hampering both our growth towards God and our blossoming in love, joy and peace.

 The stripping back of things in worship and in our lives (eg by fasting, or giving something up) is not about acts of discipline to deny ourselves things, so we can pat ourselves on the back come Easter Day and say ‘didn't we do well!'. It's about clearing things away that maybe obscure a better or different view, and about re-arranging the priorities in our lives to ensure that we consider who and what is most important in our journey of faith. Have you ever redecorated a room and at the same time moved the furniture around into a different configuration? Sometimes we realise that things are much better with that chair over here and the rug over there and that bookcase on a different wall. Sometimes we wonder why we didn't do it before as it's so much better. And sometimes we think, actually, it was interesting to try, but it was better as it was. Lent is a chance for us to do this spiritually.

 

There might be things in our spiritual lives that need re-arranging and re-orienting, just as there might be things that don't, but we only realise they don't when we've moved things around and realise what we miss and why. Our love for God - and our understanding of his love for - us can become taken for granted or stuck in a rut: sometimes we need to be ‘unsettled' to grow, just as poppy seeds that have lain dormant for years can be encouraged to grow after being disturbed in the soil.

 There's a prayer/poem by Jean M Watt entitled Unadorned which envisages ‘Lent' as a bare tree and compares it to the fully decorated trees of ‘Christmas'. She says

Unlike Christmas which decrees

the setting-up, the dressing-up of trees,

Lent is a taking down, a striping bare,

a starkness after all has been withdrawn

of surplus and superfluous,

leaving no hiding place, only an emptiness

between black branches ... Lest we should miss the stars.

Re-arranging our lives, our worship, our attitudes, our priorities - all the things we might do as part of our Lenten Discipline - are so that we see the stars of God's love more clearly and so we can embrace Easter with a new confidence in, and perspective, of his generous call and gift to us in Jesus Christ.

 May we all be content with some bareness and stripping back in our lives of faith so that we do not miss the stars.

 With my prayers,


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The Methodist Covenant Prayer

 

I am no longer my own but yours.

Put me to what you will,

rank me with whom you will;

put me to doing, put me to suffering;

let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,

exalted for you or brought low for you.

Let me be full, let me be empty,

let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things

 to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

you are mine and I am yours.

So be it.

And the covenant made on earth,

let it be ratified in heaven.

Amen.

 

"BE PREPARED"  Our Lord tells us that he will come again... but he doesn't say when!  For over 2000 years people have been waiting but it could be tomorrow!