31/05/20 Pentecost Sunday

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Greetings on Pentecost Sunday. This would have been my last Sunday leading public worship before my retirement on Wednesday 1 July 2020. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been possible because of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown. Next month I’ll be taking my remaining holiday entitlement at home before retiring and moving away from Wallsend.

It’s a matter of personal regret that I’ve not been able to lead Wallsend Corps in worship over these last few months, have a public farewell, or hand over leadership in the usual way. My sincere hope and prayer is that Wallsend Corps will be able to move forward into a new future under the leadership of Cadet (soon to be Lieutenant) Luke Cozens. I’m currently preparing handover information and I’m in contact with Luke to ensure a smooth transition of leadership in unique circumstances, ones I believe can be seen as both a challenge and opportunity. God bless you, Major John Ager.

Here’s a short video message from our Territorial Leaders Anthony and Gillian Cotterill introducing a Pentecost Sunday worship meeting, click here for more details. You can find an outline of it by clicking here.

Here’s my Bible message for Pentecost Sunday, the Bible readings are Genesis 11:1-9 and Acts 2:1-21 which can be read by clicking on the links.

When Chichester Cathedral was being renovated in 1962 they found that the medieval builders had built a magnificent cathedral on poor land and hadn’t extended the foundations far enough. As a result of this oversight, the 20th Century renovators had far more work than anticipated.

We don’t need reminding of the parable of the house built on the sand and the one built on the rock. It’s so important that we build our lives upon Christ, getting the foundations right and then building in the power of the Holy Spirit.

But let’s go right back to the beginning, literally, to the Book of Genesis and the story of the Tower of Babel. Genesis means ‘beginnings’, it’s a book that deals with the beginning of everything, not in a scientific way, but in a far more profound way.

Genesis focuses our attention on certain aspects of life, the first eleven chapters paint a picture of the world as God meant it to be, but they also show the appalling mess we’ve made of it; the message is timeless, because we continue to make a mess of it.

In these opening chapters of the Bible we have parables of immense significance. From there on, the rest of the Bible show us what God has done to get us out of the mess, culminating in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

We have the story of Noah and the Flood, the message being that the world merits nothing less than total destruction. The Flood symbolises God’s timeless judgement on humankind, as appropriate now as when it was written.

Noah wasn’t perfect, but he represents those in every age who walk with God. God always offers a way back to himself, if only we live our lives with reference to him.

Then we have the story of the Tower of Babel, a story that echoes the Fall: human defiance of God. But instead of the story being set in a garden with two people, the setting is bricks and mortar with a developing civilisation.

The age-old problem is that individuals and humankind as a whole build for their own glory rather than for the glory of God.

William Neil writes:
Man wants to run the world in his own way. He wants to put himself at the centre of his civilisation on a pedestal inscribed with the name: “Glory to MAN in the highest”.
Note how verse 4 says: “Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for OURSELVES”.

This is the mistake we make again and again. There is only one God and Creator, we are created in his likeness, and our destiny is to know him, to live in fellowship with him, humbly seeking and obeying his will for our lives.

The builders’ desire for autonomy recalls the rebellion in the Garden of Eden, and establishes the need for Abraham’s redemptive faith in the midst of international disorder. Far from the original garden, the first cities in Genesis represent arrogance, tyranny and wickedness. The city on the Babylonian plain was a magnet for human pride and idolatry, a tower that reaches into the sky. NLT Study Bible

When we put ourselves first, God comes and confounds our plans, and there is chaos and disorder. The confusion of tongues in the Tower of Babel story is but a symptom of a much deeper disharmony that prevents unity and common understanding.

We talk about people ‘not speaking the same language’, meaning that their positions are so far apart that they might as well be speaking a different language.

We see this between individuals, groups and nations. Pride, injustice, and selfishness: all preventing meaningful communication and reconciliation.

But had you ever considered that the story of Pentecost balances the story of the Tower of Babel?

The divided language of Babel becomes the common language of Pentecost, the story is turned upside down; or more correctly the right way up.

The miracle of Pentecost was that a new language came with power, the language of love, the language of the Spirit, the language of unity, a language that all could understand; the love that God showed in sending his Son as Saviour and Lord, a suffering servant for all humankind.

God’s love in sending Jesus is something that speaks to the human heart far more eloquently than words could ever do. As we open our hearts and lives to God’s Holy Spirit he fills and empowers us to live this language of love in the world.

God can work in and through us when we’re open to God’s Holy Spirit, who takes our weaknesses and makes us strong, who takes our brokenness and makes us whole. Then the Holy Spirit can do the work of building the kingdom.

We can always move forward in his power and strength; building on the past, building in the present, and building for the future – especially in these new circumstances of coronavirus. Building, not for our own glory, but for God’s glory.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what thou dost love
And do what thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with thee I will one will
To do and to endure.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Till I am wholly thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with thy fire divine.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with thee the perfect life
Of thine eternity.

Happy the Man (Dryden-Horace)

analog antique blur classic
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I read this poem the other day and, apart from the general ideas it conveys, I feel it’s especially appropriate in the current situation of coronavirus pandemic lockdown. Many of us are finding it difficult working from home (or in restricted circumstances) and are not as productive as we normally would be. But if we ‘have lived for today’ as best we can, we can truly say ‘I have had my hour’.

Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
Be fair or foul or rain or shine
The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
Not Heaven itself upon the past has power,
But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.

John Dryden (1631-1700)
translating Horace (65-8 BCE), Odes, Book III, xxix

No one wants a slow watch!

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No one wants a slow watch, or do they? In our busy world, maybe we need to think again about the meaning of time and how we can best live in the present. The present is the only time we’re given to live in, the past has gone and the future is not guaranteed.

Last year (as our family is now complete and we’d celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary) I decided to buy Naomi an eternity ring, and because she knew I’d had my eye on a Slow Watch for a while, she bought me the watch in the photograph as an early retirement present (I retire in July this year).

I’ve had an app called TerraTime Pro on my mobile for a while now, and this has the concept of an hour hand that rotates once every twenty-four hours, rather than once every twelve hours. The idea is to reconnect with the rhythms of earth and sun, night and day, moon and stars. This is also the concept behind the one-hand of the Slow Watch.

A Slow Watch allows you to see the entire day in one view and experience time in a natural way. It fundamentally changes the way you look at your watch and gives a much better consciousness about the progression of the day. With only one glance at the watch, I get a good orientation of where I am in the day. Taking a closer look, I get a precise enough indication of the time.

This way of showing the time is inspired by the original clocks that were based on the sun clock. Those early clocks had only one hand and displayed all twenty-four hours, and you can still see them on some old church towers.

In modern life it’s so easy to chase the minutes and get stressed by time, maybe we’d all benefit from turning back time and being slow again.

Mind you, I currently only tend to wear it on my day off or holidays. Perhaps I’ll wear it more when I retire.

How To Be Here (Rob Bell)

How to be Here Cover

I first became aware of Rob Bell after seeing one of his NOOMA series of short videos, a series I can wholeheartedly recommend. A previous post of mine is about one of them. He’s also an author and I’ve just finished reading his excellent book How To Be Here which focusses on living fully in the present and creating a life worth living.

It’s very easy to live life in the past; possibly dwelling on failures, regrets and ‘what might have been’ scenarios. Or perhaps we imagine that circumstances will be better in the future, and then we can achieve our goal(s). Either way, we miss the opportunity to be the best we can in the present and fail to start out on the road to fulfilment. We need to recognise that ‘we are where we are’ and seize the moment.

Rob was once a Christian pastor and uses scripture throughout (but in a new and refreshing way) which gives this book wide appeal to those of all faiths and none.

His own description of the book is as follows: Do you ever feel like you’re skimming the surface of your own existence? Like you have more options and technology and places to go and things to do than ever and yet it feels at some level like you’re missing out? Like you’re busy, but it’s not fulfilling? That’s why I’ve written ‘How to Be Here’, to help us live like we’re not missing a thing. Because that’s what we all want, right-to feel like we’re fully present, here, and nowhere else, creating a life worth living.

It’s easy to read in short sessions when you have an opportunity; I read it in spare moments on my smartphone. Let me know what you think of it if you’ve read it, or (if you’ve been inspired by this post) after you’ve read it, obviously.

See also: Resurrection (Rob Bell)