“How silently, how silently”

Merry Christmas! This is the sermon I delivered at Midnight Communion at Putney Methodist Church. The texts were Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-14.

800px-Bernardo_Daddi_001One of the pleasures of Advent for me every year is to tell the stories of the season to children in schools and in our churches. To talk about our advent traditions, our wreath with its ‘four candles’, the nativity scene and all the things that make this season so special. I always begin by asking the children what the word ‘advent’ actually means – and sometimes I interrogate the adults too! – and I’m always impressed by the variety of responses I receive. Often, they have been very logically worked out by children, who observe the season from their own particular perspective.

One of the best answers I received was from a thoughtful young man at a primary school near my last church in Watford, who said he thought it meant ‘Countdown’. The more I thought about it, the more I thought how intelligent his response was. Because we all know that Advent, and the run-up to Christmas, can all feel precisely like that: a countdown to the last posting dates, the last chance to find the perfect present, the last chance to buy a pint of milk, and so on. It’s little wonder that so many of us find this season so stressful as a result!

There can be a temptation to think that it was the same with the first Christmas. Our Advent ring counts us down neatly to Christmas day: 4, 3, 2, 1, blast off! – it’s Christmas! We sing hymns like ‘Come thou long-expected Jesus’. We read very selectively from the prophets in the Sundays of Advent, all speaking of the coming Messiah – like the passage we just heard from Isaiah. We can come to imagine that Jesus’ birth was scheduled or even on a timetable.

Gaddi_Taddeo_AnnouncementNow, we know that there was certainly some messianic expectation around the time of Jesus’ birth from sources like the Dead Sea Scrolls. In reality, though, Jesus’ contemporaries had relatively un-defined ideas of what the Messiah would look like and where he might come from. I often reflect that it was definitely not like the X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent or similar programmes, which I used to watch occasionally in years gone by. If you have ever seen such shows, you will know that the most interesting episodes are the early ones, where you see huge numbers of contestants – with very different levels of talent – and we are meant to think that any of them could be the next ‘big thing’. Somehow, though, the camera always seems to know which people to linger a little longer on; with whom to spend more time, learning their back stories. And you immediately think, “We’re going to see more of them later.” It’s almost as if the programmes were heavily edited with the benefit of hindsight!

In our case, the truth is that if anyone had been filming in Judea in O AD they wouldn’t have been in Bethlehem despite the well-known prophecy from Micah that we hear each Advent (Micah 5:2):

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel

On the contrary, note how the Wise Men went straight to Jerusalem looking for the new-born “king of the Jews”. You also would not have picked out Mary and Joseph, the simple couple from Nazareth: remember Nathaniel’s first reaction to being told Jesus was the alleged Messiah in John’s gospel: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). You certainly would not have picked the shepherds to be the first recipients of the good news – unclean, loutish men, who lived on the very outskirts of human society, in every sense of the word.

After Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection, of course, it was a different story. Christians reading back in the Old Testament were able to see where prophets like Isaiah and Micah had indeed caught glimpses of the truth: that salvation would come through a child and he would be born in Bethlehem, for example. However, at the time, there were no camera crews waiting like ‘Springwatch’, or perhaps we should say ‘Messiah-watch’, in the borrowed stable in Bethlehem. Some Early Christians thought that this was shocking and felt that the world must have noticed this incredible event and they invented all sorts of elaborate background material, like the Protevangelium of James, detailing the lives of Mary’s parents, her courtship with Joseph, and the incredible infancy of their new child. None of these ever made it into the Christian canon and were quickly seen as forgeries. They demonstrated, though, that same interest that we now see in modern biographies in the early life of famous people after they are famous.

Lorenzo_Lotto_017The truth is that Jesus, the long-expected Messiah, the person who would turn BC into AD and whose birth is being celebrated this night in every corner of our globe was born in poverty and utter obscurity. There was no fanfare or pomp. No great master like Reubens or Rembrandt waiting in the corner of the table with his easel to capture the great moment. Jesus was a refugee child born in a borrowed bed, with no timetable or schedule, and not even Mary probably knowing exactly when he would arrive. As the carol we shall sing shortly, ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ puts it so beautifully: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given”.

And in my experience that is how God mostly works in our world. God almost invariably chooses the still small voice over the earthquake. The poor peasant woman to the local celebrity. The inclination of a human heart instead of divine lightning bolts.

At Christmas, we are remembering how God works through the everyday and the mundane to reach out to his creation. Through kinds hearts and deeds of simple generosity. Through patient acts of pastoral care and neighbourly support that go unnoticed by the television cameras. Through heartfelt, simple prayers. Through the everyday goodness of millions of individuals, trying to make their little corner of the world slightly better. Through bread and wine. Through you and me.

Like the prophets, and like Mary and Joseph, we usually have no idea what our actions or our words will lead to. We may feel ignored by the world and believe that what we are doing is pointless. But the message of Christmas – the supreme message – is that when we labour in the name of Christ, he walks by our side and gives purpose and meaning to everything we do. God works through the everyday and the normal with us, silently bringing in his Kingdom, like a child born in the night: unnoticed, ignored, in obscurity. But it is God himself, in the person of Christ Jesus, who dwells with us and within us, and I pray that you may know and feel him at work this holy night, and every night. Amen.

Charles_Le_Brun

Looking backwards and forwards in Luke

St_LukeAmid the excitement of advent and the busy activity of nativity plays and carol concerts, it is good sometimes to reflect more deeply on what our Biblical texts actually tell us about the birth of Jesus. To think about how the two different evangelists who chose to write about Christ’s nativity presented their material. What they included and what they did not; their style and mode of presentation; and what these opening chapters tell us about their larger stories about the life of Jesus.

This is precisely what we did tonight at Putney Methodist Church, as we listened to, and then reflected upon, the opening chapter of Luke’s gospel. We heard it read by David Suchet, in his excellent audiobook version of the NIV, to allow us the opportunity to really soak in the text. We then spent time discussing our thoughts and questions. What follows below is my summary of our discussion, with some editing and additions.

The first thing that we noted was how much of this chapter felt quite ‘Old Testament’. There are fewer explicit quotations than Matthew, who seems almost obsessed with the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy but allusions abound. Perhaps most notably to the story of Abraham (Gen. 11-21).  Mary, like Abraham, is described as a “servant” of the Lord (Gen. 17:17, 18:11-12 / Luke 1:38, 48); she shows humble obedience, like so many faithful Israelites before her (e.g. 1 Sam. 1:11, 25:41); and has found favour with God, like Noah, Gideon and other scriptural heroes (e.g. Judges 6:17 or 1 Sam. 1:15).

Fra-Angelico-The-Naming-of-John-the-BaptistElizabeth and Zechariah are also very similar to both Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 18), and Hannah and Elkanah (1 Sam. 1). All faithful Israelites, older in years, and longing for a child. God hears their prayers and responds with a seemingly miraculous birth, bringing forth a child destined for a vital role in God’s plan of salvation.

There are other important links to the Old Testament as well. A significant portion of the action takes place in the Temple, where Zechariah serves as a “descendant of Aaron” (Luke 1:5). There is no questioning here of the role of sacrifice or predictions about the destruction of the Temple (as we find in Luke 21:20-24). Instead, we seem to be in the same world as the high priests of the Old Testament, with Zechariah carrying on an unchanging tradition dating back centuries.

We also noted the beautiful songs within this opening chapter: the song of Mary, the Magnificat (1:46-55), and that of Zechariah, the Benedictus (1:68-79). Songs do not really feature much in the New Testament but they abound in the Old Testament. Someone has listed them all here, and they include songs sung by Moses and Miriam (Exodus 15), by Deborah and Baruk (Judges 5), by David (2 Sam. 1:17-27) and many others. The books of Psalm, Lamentations and the Song of Songs are literally full of songs!

Crucially, this chapter serves as a vital bridge between the Old and New Testaments in the role it gives to prophecy. The experience of Zechariah, named after one Old Testament prophet, seems to have been clearly foreshadowed by another, Malachi:

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. (Malachi 3:1)

The prophecy then goes on to describe someone who acts in a very similar way to that of the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, John the Baptist, whose fiery ministry will be like “a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap” (Mal. 3:3). The age of the prophecy was meant to have ended, but here, Luke clearly shows us, it is active once more. Even an old man like Zechariah is now prophesying, like the sages of old (Luke 1:67).

199ad6ac18206f61989ede7cedf74a0b copyFinally, Luke emphasises the continuity between his gospel and the Hebrew scriptures in a way that is hard for us to spot in our English translations. That is his use of Greek. Luke was clearly a very well-educated and literate man, whose grammar and syntax is amongst the best in the New Testament. His opening prologue (Luke 1:1-4) is a highly polished and stylish piece of writing that would place him in the same literary league as many of his famous Graeco-Roman contemporaries. However, from 1:5 to 2:52 he switches style, and his Greek becomes deliberately anachronistic, aping the Greek of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures that was widely used at this time by Jews). It is as if I suddenly started dropping ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s into my blog post!

This was a very deliberate decision by Luke – a skilled, and careful author. He wanted his first readers / listeners to treat his opening chapters as a continuation of the Hebrew scriptures, with which they were so familiar. This was the same story, of the same God, he seems to be saying, intervening in the life of his world, just as dramatically and forcefully as he had done before, with a very similar cast of characters. Only at 3:1 does he slip back into the Greek of his own day, and many scholars have noted how you could quite easily start Luke’s gospel at that point. He is emphasising that now a new chapter has begun in the story of God’s people; one with a glorious new central character – the long-promised Messiah, God’s own son, Jesus!

We also noted, though, that this opening chapter very much anticipates what is to come in the rest of Luke’s gospel. It acts as a ‘taster’ for many of the themes we shall encounter again in the book. For example, Jesus begins his life in a backwater hamlet, Nazareth (1:26), born to a lowly woman of no family (1:27). Throughout Luke’s gospel, God’s chosen Messiah will continue to demonstrate a great concern for the poor and those on the fringes of society, clearly demonstrating that salvation has come to all.

We also see clear evidence of Luke’s especial interest in the role of women in the ministry and life of Jesus. Unlike Matthew, he emphasises Mary’s role in the story, actively saying ‘yes’ to God and being a vital part of his plan for universal salvation (1:38). Women will continue to play an important role afterwards: funding Jesus’ ministry (8:1-3); caring for him (10:38-42); acting as virtuous examples (15:8-10); and remaining with him faithfully to the end (23:27-31, 24:1-12).

ANGELICO,_Fra_Annunciation,_1437-46_(2236990916)It is through the agency of the Holy Spirit that Mary will conceive (1:35) and the chapter also reflects the vital role that the Holy Spirit plays in Luke’s account of Jesus. It fills John the Baptist (1:15, 17, 80), Zechariah (1:67), Simeon (2:25-27); and the early church (e.g. Acts 2:1-4), and supremely Jesus is a man of the Spirit – conceived by it, empowered by it (3:22) and baptised in it (3:16).  Mary’s over-shadowing by the Spirit (1:35) also links her not only backwards to some of the dramatic appearances by God in the past (e.g. Ex. 16:10, 24:15-18) but also forward to the Transfiguration (Luke 9:34) and Pentecost (Acts 1:8).

Crucially, though, in this passage Luke makes his Christology – his answer to the key question ‘who is Jesus?’ – clear in a number of ways. He establishes that Mary’s child is much greater than John the Baptist.  There are obvious parallels between the two annunciation stories (Luke 1:5-25 / 1:26-38). While John may be destined to be “great” (1:15), though, and both will be filled with the Holy Spirit, the titles and relationship applied to Jesus far outstrip those attached to John. He will be David’s true successor, but also much greater than him. David was an adopted son of God (Ps. 2:7) and beloved of YHWH, but Jesus is the actual Son of God. Not just a “Son of the Most High” (1:32) but explicitly the “Son of God” (1:35); a unique relationship to God.

Luke also makes clear that Jesus is the Messiah anticipated in scripture. Specifically, we see Jesus being connected to the great Davidic line of kings, a crucial part of contemporary Messianic expectation.  Gabriel is explicit that he will be given “the throne of his ancestor David” and that he will reign over Jacob forever (1:32-33). In Jesus, the promise made to David of a throne that will be established forever is fulfilled (2 Sam. 7:12-16; cf. Dan. 7:14).

Finally, he makes a clear distinction between the virgin birth of Mary, on the one hand, and Elizabeth and other miraculous births in the Old Testament (Gen. 18:14, 1 Sam. 1:20, Jdgs. 13:3, Luke 1:5-25). In the latter cases, God intervenes to help those who are struggling to bear a child, while Luke makes clear that Mary is not only young but capable of producing children with Joseph of her own (Acts 1:14). More than that Joseph, will play no part in the child’s conception, a point underlined by his virtual absence from Luke’s narrative (see 3:23 and compare with Matt. 1:18-25).

There is much more we could say about this one, fascinating chapter of Luke. However, I hope that what I have written has demonstrated the riches of our scriptures and how there is so much we can learn from the Bible by studying it together. Most importantly, I hope that these few paragraphs have demonstrated how the story of God’s salvation cannot be broken down into neat ‘halves’ or chapters. The Old and New Testaments are all part of our stories. The story of how God has never left his people alone in the darkness but has kept sending prophets and guides to show us the way, most importantly in the person of his son, Jesus Christ. That story continues today, as women and men across the world continue to be filled with the same Holy Spirit that filled Zechariah and Mary, challenging injustice and bringing joy and hope. I pray that we may know our place in that great story, and know the power of the promise of the coming Christ in our lives, this Advent season and always.

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The Bible Course: a review

This is a personal review of a recent resource produced by the Bible Society called ‘The Bible Course‘. I hope it’s helpful to others either considering running it, or those looking for new teaching material for their churches. 

The problem

https_2f2fcdn-evbuc_-com2fimages2f470966182f209564212222f12foriginalOne of the greatest challenges I face as a preacher and small group leader is helping people to ‘join the dots’ of the Bible. The sad truth is that many Christians simply do not know their Bibles as well as they should, and many only experience it on Sunday mornings in worship. This is far from ideal. The lectionary can be a great aid to preachers but it can also leave people feeling confused, wondering what on earth is happening in the readings. Generally, we are all right with the gospels, because the stories are fairly well-known and come in nice bite-sized chunks. However, I am repeatedly told that people simply do not understand the Old Testament passages, without a great deal of explanation. Even the epistles – which were, of course, really meant to be read in one sitting – can be hard. Someone described hearing parts of Paul’s letters as like walking into a pub halfway through a fight!

I was delighted, therefore, to learn that the Bible Society had produced a new resource expressly designed to give people the ‘big picture’ of the Bible: ‘The Bible Course’. Instead of focussing intensively on a few verses or even a single book, it takes people through the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. It aims to show them the arc of its narrative and how the different parts inter-relate. I have just finished leading the Course for the first time at Barnes Methodist Church and am delighted to report that it really exceeded all my expectations.

The course

s_thumbnail_v1The course is based around a high-quality video presentation by Dr Andrew Ollerton, who apparently developed it originally to help people in Cornwall new to the Christian faith. He is a very well-informed and engaging presenter, who greatly helps the whole course to come alive. It is accompanied by a booklet (also good quality), which contains useful notes, an overall plan of the series and a series of daily readings for participants. The films can be downloaded free from the Bible Society’s website after you register but the booklets must be ordered by post. They are not expensive, though, and our church simply footed the bill for everyone.

The course divides the Bible into eight sessions:

  • Introducing the Bible
  • Creation & Covenant
  • Exodus & Promised Land
  • Judges & Kings
  • Exile & Prophets
  • Jesus & the Gospels
  • Acts & the Church
  • Revelation & Review

Each session is then presented in the same format:

  • a welcome from the host (in this case, me), with suggested ‘warm-up’ questions
  • a 15 minute teaching video
  • discussion time
  • another 15 minute teaching video
  • time for personal reflection

In practice, we did not always follow this strictly. We found that the video prompted so many questions that we generally had another discussion time at the end as well!

Review

At the end of the course, our group had a feedback discussion, where we reflected on what we had learned and our feelings about the course as whole. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

A good overview – Everyone (including me) felt the course had definitely achieved its stated purpose. It had really helped give folks an overview of the Bible as a whole, “not just a random collection of books,” as someone put it. The timeline of the Bible that Dr Ollerton had created, and which was used throughout the series and the booklets, really helped people put the different parts together and understand the genres of literature we find in the Bible (prophecy, history, etc.).

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Excellent for the Old Testament – People felt the course had particularly helped their understanding of the Old Testament. This is undoubtedly the part of scripture that confuses people most and about which I tend to get the most questions. It was inevitably quite a challenge to fit everything into four sessions and the latter half of session 5, which had to tackle everything from the Exile onwards, was the only part of the course that felt hurried. However, people definitely emerged from the course with a much greater understanding of how the Old Testament was created and how it relates to the New Testament.

Good for all levels / ages – The course is primarily aimed at those who are newer in faith and, as the writers say, it would be good for those who had recently done an Alpha Course or similar. The group I led was mainly composed of people who had attended church for most of their lives. I wondered if the course would be too easy for them but apparently not. They all found a great deal in it that consolidated existing knowledge and extended it. They liked the tools the course gave them to interpret scripture on their own, and to think about things like context and application. One participant, who has studied her Bible for decades, stated that she could, “happily watch it all again,” which I thought was praise indeed!

Conviction – We all felt that one of the greatest selling points of the course was the infectious enthusiasm for the Bible that Dr Ollerton and his co-host brought to it. They were clearly absolutely convinced of the importance of scripture and of its message of good news, and they convinced us! The stories and examples Dr Ollerton gave were relevant and  accessible. There were also a number of good personal testimonies about the power of scripture to change people for the better.

l_buy-manualGood quality – Vitally for me, the whole course looked and felt professional. Sadly, so many church publications look rather dated and cheap, but this one was unashamedly modern and attractive. To paraphrase General Booth, I see no reason why the Devil should have all the best publicity!

Different interpretations – My greatest fear starting the course was about the particular interpretation of the Bible that the course might carry with it. Coming from a liberal background, and knowing the general tenor of some Bible Society productions, I wondered if it might be theologically very conservative, with unhelpful assumptions about certain controversial aspects of faith and practice. I am pleased to report that, with a very few exceptions, this was not the case. Dr Ollerton clearly comes from a different place on the theological spectrum to me, and to many of my church members, but he spoke with great enthusiasm about his own convictions and did not attempt to denigrate others’ views.

The only warning point I would really make about the course, flowing on from this, is the important role of the host. My group felt that it had been very helpful to have a course leader who made it clear from the outset that different people had different views on some subjects, and encouraged free-ranging discussion. We actually found the videos helpful for provoking debates about issues such as miracles and faith healing, which revealed a range of responses. It was vital, though, for people to be given permission to disagree with the presenters’ views and with one another, while recognising that we all valued the Bible in our own way.

It also might have been helpful for the course to have mentioned how different interpretations of the Bible have arisen over the millennia. The course unashamedly presented the Bible through a particular hermeneutic, reading all scripture through the lens of Jesus. Had time permitted, it would have been good to have mentioned some of pitfalls of such an approach, and to have mentioned some modern perspectives on Biblical interpretation, notably perhaps feminist readings and the insights of Liberation Theology. I recognise, though, how easy it is to criticise, and how hard the producers had worked to squeeze everything into only eight episodes.

Conclusion

Overall, I would thoroughly recommend this to all churches and Christians. So many house groups and Bible study groups I know struggle desperately for good material, and I think this could be a real God-send for them. I would even say that every church should consider running a course like this at some point, if they are serious about helping people understand their own scriptures. I shall finish with the response of one of my older members, who gave the course his highest praise:

So many courses are like the Doxology. During, it’s all, “Glory be to the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” but afterwards it’s, “As it was in the beginning…”. This one, though, will really change us all, I think.

Amen to that!

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Our everyday (Advent) God

Lighting a candleThis is the sermon I preached today at Putney Methodist Church. It is Advent Sunday today, traditionally the start of the Christian liturgical year. The set readings were Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 21:25-36.

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars.” (Luke 21:25) Our readings this morning are a vivid reminder that we are very firmly entering the season of Advent – and not Christmas. The season of the year when we remember a two-fold ‘coming’. Not just the birth of the coming of the Messiah as a child two thousand years ago in Bethlehem, but also the promise that Christ gave his followers that he would come again.

This two-fold nature of Advent is a perennial problem for preachers. At one of my old churches, we always used to have an Advent parade service with the local Scouts and Guides on this Sunday. Of course, they did not want to hear dismal readings about prophets and waiting for the Second Coming, they wanted stables, carols and Christmas right now!  Sadly, the readings and hymns for these first Sundays in Advent are so full of portents and worrying language, that they can seem completely unappealing to most children and, if we are honest, adults too!

This Sunday is no exception. Over the last couple of weeks, as I have worked my way through the lectionary, I have had to speak at length about some very difficult passages. I have talked about the nature of apocalyptic literature, which we find in Biblical books like Daniel and Revelation. I have spoken about the historical context of these passages and the disturbing nature of their message. Don’t worry, though, I promise not to repeat myself today!

I will just simply note that we have the same kind of literature this morning. Today, it comes from the gospel of Luke, a book that is usually much ‘fluffier’ and gentler than this, with its stories about shepherds, prodigal sons and so forth. Here, though, Luke is recording some of Jesus’ last words before his death. As with the other gospel writers, he records Jesus using that same kind of apocalyptic language at this point in his ministry – language full of mystery, awe and wonder.

Yet importantly, even here, in this most mysterious and apocalyptic of passages, Jesus uses the language of the everyday. He does not speak in the language of systematic theology or complex philosophy. Instead, he picks the most simple and straightforward of metaphors:

Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. (Luke 21:29-30)

00-159-167_ps1He tells his disciples to look at the trees, for signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. Just as we might look to the bulbs poking their heads through the ground to give us hope of spring. Jesus urges us to see his promise that the Kingdom of God is truly coming with power in the everyday things of life.

That is exactly what we need to do too this advent season. I would not urge you to gaze across the stars, looking for signs and portents, comets and apparitions. Instead, let us look at the world around us. Look for God in the mundane and everyday. Fig trees are not as common in Putney as they are in Palestine but I firmly believe we too can catch a glimpse of God’s coming in the everyday things of life. In the world of nature around us. In the kindness and generosity of strangers for people whom they will never meet (as shown by our donations to the Foodbank today). In the simple pleasures of our life together.

Earlier this week, I met up with a man who is contemplating a complete change in the course of her life. He is a father with three children and has a very demanding job in the City of London, and we actually had to meet in a café near to his work in order to find time for the chat. He asked me questions and I told him a little about life in the full-time ministry. I urged him, though, to reflect fully on the nature of ‘vocation’. Too often when we think of Christian vocation, our thoughts immediately turn to people in dog collars and funny clothes! Yet all Christians have a vocation. We all have a calling to witness to the love of God wherever we are. Be that in the office, at home or wherever. We have a calling to bring God into the everyday of life, not just Sunday mornings. So many of the problems in our world and in our history have come about because folks have forgotten that fact. I would be delighted if he entered a process of discernment and found out that he was meant to be a minister in God’s Church. But I would be equally delighted if he discovered a vocation to work in a city bank, or a solicitors’ firm, or a care home, so that people could see signs of God’s coming in the everyday business of life.

IMG_0687One person who has witnessed to this profoundly is the Christian writer, Paula Gooder. She is not an ordained priest and writes profoundly about our ‘Everyday God’, in her book of the same name:

The God who came to earth to live among us was not, and is not, afraid of the ordinary things of life. He does not need find settings or loud noises. He came to earth not offering abstract ideas or fancy theology but the essentials we need to survive. He came yearning to draw us back into relationship with himself, and with one another, and used every means possible to achieve this … The every day God whom we worship was not squeamish and calls us similarly not to steer clear of the ordinary things of life but to embrace them, and through them to bring transformation to the world.

[Paula Gooder, Everyday God: The Spirit of the Ordinary, London: Canterbury Press 2012, p 85.]

Those words were drawn to my attention this year by another Christian writer, and someone who preached here at Putney not long ago, Rev’d Dr Philip Richter. He was leading a wonderful retreat I went on in May, entitled ‘Photography and Spirituality’. Of course, it helped greatly that the course took place in Rome during a wonderfully warm May! But the challenge he gave us was very similar: to find God in the lens of our cameras. Not just in the grand ecclesiastical and imperial buildings of Rome, but in the everyday things of the city. We were mostly Methodist ministers on the course and he encouraged us to do the same when we returned to our places of work. To find God in Putney, in Croydon, in north Wales and everywhere. It’s a challenge I have tried to reflect upon whenever possible.

So, I would like to finish my reflection today with a hymn and some images. The images are a few of my snaps from over the last year, which speak to me, but may not speak to you, about finding God in the everyday The hymn is a relatively new one in our books by the Christian writer and musician, Bernadette Farrell. And I leave you with the same challenge this Advent season. This season of signs and portents. Where do you see our everyday God in your lives? Where is God’s Kingdom breaking through into our own? And if you do not see any signs, is it because God is not there, or because we are not looking?

Earth’s creator, everyday God – Bernadette FarrellOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Earth’s creator,
everyday God,
Loving Maker,
O Jesus,
you who shaped us,
O Spirit,
recreate us,
come, be with us.

In your presence,
everyday God,
we are gathered,
O Jesus,
you have called us,
O Spirit,
to restore us,
come, be with us.

Life of all lives,
everyday God,
love of all loves,
O Jesus,
hope of all hopes,
O Spirit,
light of all lights,
come, be with us.

In our resting,
everyday God,
in our rising,
O Jesus,
in our hoping,
O Spirit,
in our waiting,
come, be with us.

In our dreaming,
everyday God,
in our daring,
O Jesus,
in our searching,
O Spirit,
in our sharing,
come, be with us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGod of laughter,
everyday God,
God of sorrow,
O Jesus,
home and shelter,
O Spirit,
strong and patient,
come, be with us.

Way of freedom,
everyday God,
star of morning,
O Jesus,
timeless healer,
O Spirit,
flame eternal,
come, be with us.

Word of gladness,
everyday God,
word of mercy,
O Jesus,
word of friendship,
O Spirit,
word of challenge,
come, be with us.

Gentle father,
everyday God,
faithful brother,
O Jesus,
tender sister,
O Spirit,
loving mother,
come, be with us.

20180525_154450Our beginning,
everyday God,
our unfolding,
O Jesus,
our enduring,
O Spirit,
journey’s ending,
come, be with us.

Alleluia,
everyday God,
now and always,
O Jesus,
alleluia,
O Spirit,
through all ages,
come, be with us.

Bernadette Farrell (b. 1957). Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 45
Words and Music: © 1996 Bernadette Farrell.  Published by OCP Publications, 5536 NE Hassalo, Portland, OR 97213, USA.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.