Pentecost – Guidance from God

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Word and Spirit

The Christian celebration of Pentecost stems from the gathering of the apostles and others on the Jewish festival day.  While gathered the Spirit of God came upon them with the sound of rushing wind, and with tongues of fire above them.  They could then speak miraculously in the languages of all that heard them (Acts 2).  This receiving of the Holy Spirit marks the beginning of the church, and the power which allowed a small band of believers to fulfill their charge “to go into all the world, and make disciples.”

I Corinthians 12: 7- 11 (NIV) states: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,  to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”  These gifts gave the guidance and power necessary to change the world.

The first Pentecost was not the one in Jerusalem in circa 30 A.D. however.  It occurred in the Sinai fifty days after the escape from Egypt. It was here that Israel received the commandments of God.  A mission if you will.  They would be God’s people, and He their God. The guidance they would need was provided via Moses in God’s own words.

At Jerusalem God again gave a mission.  It was the empowering of His people to go into all the world, and to bring others into the fold.  On this day it would not be written word, but the living Spirit of God to guide them.

Are we up to that mission (of word and of power) today?  His guidance awaits us.

Padre

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The National Holocaust Centre & Museum (Beth Shalom)

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I have visited the National Holocaust Centre on several occasions.  These have included a field trip with my students, a study visit for my own benefit, and a couple of visits to hear Holocaust survivors give their testimonies.

The Centre is a bit off the beaten track, but has beautiful grounds studded with thought provoking statuary and themed memorials.  The internal spaces include a lecture theatre, library, and the museum.

The Camps Pillar is a potent symbol, as it represents the millions who died in the six camps named upon it, and soil from each lies beneath it.  Other memorials include one dedicated to the Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg who rescued thousands to only perish himself.

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Raoul Wallenberg Monument

This being an educational centre, there are several features which focus on children. These include a memorial where you are challenged to place a stone to remember the lost children, a monument to the hidden children and those that protected them, and a bronze sculpture representing the children of the Kindertransport.

The Centre also has regular educational events, and Holocaust survivors regularly tell their stories at the venue.  I have heard Kitty Hart Moxon and others here, and their accounts are powerful and moving.

The museum shows the progression of the isolation and persecution of the Jewish community, and the subsequent events of the Holocaust.  It is deeply touching, and calls for some soul searching on how one might respond in such circumstances.

While not the main focus of such a visit, their are some nice gardens, notably the roses of the memorial garden.  There is also a book shop and places to have lunch.

This is a place to take your time to take it in.  It is  place to learn, to reflect, and to reflect again.  It is well worth the visit.

Padre

Centre’s page for further information

Preparing for Pilgrimage: A Matter of Heart

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I have written on pilgrimage in the past, and hold this form of spiritual devotion in high regard.  Pilgrimage is not a random journey, or mere holiday, it is rather a profound expression of the desire to be linked with the divine by visiting those places associated with the faith.

That said, I am not a typical pilgrim in several respects.  Firstly, I am a “low church” Protestant.  Secondly, I am disabled with limited mobility.  As for the first of these it was of little consequence when visiting the Holy Land.  There I walked (even if only briefly) in the footsteps of Jesus and the Apostles.  I saw sights familiar to King David, and to the prophets.  But I have also journeyed to Walsingham, and Canterbury.  Here there was not the direct Biblical connection, nor one which in my own theological background “had significance.”  It instead was an act of devotion which was appreciative of the faith of my distant brethren who had made these journeys of faith.  I am thankful for the prayers that have been uttered there.  I am appreciative of the arts and works of those who devoted themselves to these expressions of their love for God.  It is this that is spiritually moving to me, and links me to “the communion of all the saints.”

I am now preparing to visit Santiago de Compostela.  This is a pilgrimage with mixed intention.  Whether this is the resting place of the Apostle James, or not, it is a place of prayer and worship. The faith of countless pilgrims has led them to overcome the desires of personal comfort, and to make long journeys of personal and spiritual discovery.  It is this which I too will be doing.

As a non-Catholic, and as one who can only walk short distances, I will need to make different preparations.  I will not travel the entire way of the pilgrim.  I will not have a pilgrim’s passport.  I will not be able to benefit from the spiritual and physical support at the way stops.  I will however, be prayerful, reflective, and dedicated to finding the presence of God in the place.

My preparations need not therefore need to include in much in arranging stops at way stations.  My eating and sleeping requirements will need only modest research.  But my biggest preparation must be of the heart. It is the heart motive of worship and praise. It is also in heart that I hope to benefit from the company of others who are seeking to encounter God.  I desire to celebrate the faith of those who I meet, and of those who have gone before me. May God bless me, and those I that journey along side me in our endeavors.

Padre

Vine and Branches

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Grapes

Pastor Rich reflected on John chapter 15 as part of the Harvest Service this week.  His text included the opening of the chapter, when Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

This is a great image as it evokes the image of the life-giving vine nourishing the branches.  This vine (and its extensions) are tended by a skilful gardener (the Father) who insures that the branches are fruitful.

We cannot do God’s work in isolation from God.  “Good works” and “God works” are not necessarily the same thing.  Remember we each are flawed, and no matter how hard we try we will at some point get it wrong.  Here is where being attached to the living vine comes in.  It is our connection to that life (and as much as we might dislike it) and the occasional pruning of those misdeeds, through which we make a true difference in the world.

As a tended branch, we are linked to the divine.  While mixing the metaphor somewhat, Paul provides some embellishment. He writes, “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.  Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”  That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.  Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.  And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again (Romans 11:17-23).”

God prunes and He proves, but he also grafts.  We that are not of the physical line of Israel have been given a link to the Holy Root Stock by grace.  As wild branches we are grafted into the promise, and as such we too can be fruitful.  But like Jesus’ warning about unfruitfulness in John 15: 6, “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” So too can those of us grafted-in fall short.

Here again we can take comfort in God’s promise, “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness.”

Let us, both natural branches, and those grafted in strive to remain linked to the vine (or tree) and His kindness.  Let us be fruitful in God’s works.

Padre

A Day Visit to Dunkirk Beach

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Monument

The Battle of France, and the Anglo-French retreat in the face of Blitzkrieg in May and June 1940 are dark points in the British WW2 legacy.  But from seeming defeat, the bravery and determination of the the Expeditionary Force, the Royal Navy, and the people of both Britain and France led to “the miracle of Dunkirk.”  In the end, a total of 338,226 Allied soldiers were successfully brought back across the English Channel while under attack on all sides. This event often known as Operation Dynamo has recently been brought back into public attention by the release of Christopher Nolan’s film, Dunkirk.

Shortly before the movie’s release, my wife and I had an opportunity to visit Dunkirk.  It was a windy February day, but the starkness of the beach and the peril of the 1940s troops were made real by the experience.

 

There are several memorials and information signs along the waterfront, and there is also museum in the bastion that had served as the Allied Headquarters during the battle and evacuation.

 

While we made the journey primarily for the history, we did spend some time just watching the sea and walking among the dunes. The town of Dunkirk provides some nice bakeries and cafes as well, and we had baguettes and cheese as we took in the atmosphere and the history.

Dunkirk is easy to access form the Calais ferries and the Chunnel.  It is a thought provoking place to reflect on our heritage.

Dunkirk Anchor

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Trailer for Nolan’s Dunkirk

Deflection

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John chapter 4 provides a lengthy account of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman. Because of its give-and-take narration of a lengthy exchange between the two, it lends itself to numerous lessons for commentary.  These include xenophobia, Jewish/non-Jewish relations, and the Gifts of God.  It is on the aspects of accountability, reflection, and deflection which I will focus today, however.

The text in full reads (and italics are mine):

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.

So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria.  So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.  Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he (vs 1-26). . . .”

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah? (v 28-29)”

Here is a woman drawing water outside of the normal times for such an activity.  Is she an outcast? Perhaps.  It is noted she is a Samaritan (enough for a Jew to avoid her), yet Jesus engages her. This alone, therefore is not enough to isolate her. But, for certain she is a woman whose marital status, and present living arrangements are suspect.  She is “caught out” by this fact, when Jesus calls attention to it (as noted in the italics). Her response is one of deflection.  No admission of what at the time would be seen as at least implied sin, but rather a quick change of subject.

How often have we done that when a topic gets a little too close to home? Our personal shortcomings are to be moved away from quickly.  “After all there are more important matters to consider.”  She does exactly that.  The result, however, is the opening of her eyes to a greater truth than even her own sins.  The coming of Messiah.

This realisation of the incarnation of the Holy One is enough for her not only to own up to her own weaknesses, but to acknowledge them to the entire community, ” Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.”  She in her excitement at the presence of the divine, lets down her walls and shields, and in so doing brings the good news to others.

What greater impact might we have if we owned up to our flaws like that?  Can we remove the “Super Christian” mask long enough to see that we, like “all have sinned,” and in so doing see the potential to see the need to share the way beyond our sin (through Christ) with others?

Deflection in the end only fools ourselves. So rather than deflecting today, let us confess our mistakes and focus on the “living water” that washes away those flaws, and leads to eternal life.

Padre

A Visit to Britten’s Red House

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Red House

In our travels my wife and I have visited several composers’ houses to explore the musical heritage. It was in this vein that we visited the home of Benjamin Britten, “The Red House,” in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. We were not disappointed. The museum, gardens, and gallery are easy to access, and the staff are very friendly and welcoming. The reception area has a small book and memento shop.

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The museum, library, and gardens are really well maintained, and the audio headsets give samples of various works, as you scan original manuscripts and exhibits. The main house is closed in the off season, but even in the winter months there is more than enough to fill several hours still to do.  I found it very interesting to listen to pieces on the headset, while looking at the original texts, complete with his corrections and embellishments. I also found the library and its piano amazing.

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Garden

The ticket for the property is good for one year, and it can be useful, as there is so much to take in.  The museum links Britten’s life and experiences with what was going on in the world around him, from his visit to Nazi Germany, through his UK career, and eventual peerage. This was one of the most informative “famous composer’s house” museums, I have seen, and by far the most entertaining.

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Entry to Museum

A link to the Britten-Pears Foundation and visitor information.

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A Second Mile

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How far shall we go?  To what degree do we, in good humour and good faith, face insult, perceived wrong, and out right hostility?  The human reaction, and one that the “me centred” society in which we live would support is “not far.”  In fact, I need to stand up for my rights, my honour, my self-esteem . . . “my, my, my.”

Yet Jesus put forward a different example.  He was wounded for the transgressions of others. He suffered insult without uttering a reply (Matthew 26:63).  This should not be surprising to us.  Jesus had made this approach an ideal in His public teaching. Matthew 5:38-48 reads,  “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.  And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.  Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.”

Do not respond to evil with evil.  Do not shirk unpleasant responsibilities.  Go beyond what is required or asked of you.  A hard order!  But, one He put into practice, even to death.

It has been said that under the Roman occupation, a soldier could compel a non-Roman citizen to carry his kit for a mile.  This was a deeply unpopular expectation, and one which accentuated the conquered, and subservient status of a proud Hebrew people. But even this “institutional” discrimination was not exempted in Jesus’ model.  In fact, a second mile was metaphorically (and indeed actually) set as a standard.

And to such a person who wronged you, whether in a slap on the cheek, or the taking of your property; what should be your attitude to them?  Forgiveness.  Matthew 18:21-22 reads, “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”

If we are to be true disciples we need to move beyond the “me” and the “my.”  We need to remember the “He” and the “Thy.”  Jesus literally took up His cross.  Let us at least in attitude bear ours.

Padre

 

 

Oxburgh Hall: Our Second Moated House

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We visited the National Trust’s Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk. The grounds, moat, and house are picturesque and we got to enjoy the views both in and outside “the castle.”

The Hall is actually a moated manor house, but it was constructed considerably after Igtham Mote.  Most of the construction is Jacobean, but the “fantasy” of castle grandeur is there.

The house is approached by way of a single bridge which takes you into a central courtyard.  The towers and general size are larger than its Kent cousin, and does provide more of a sense of the Medieval than its actual Medieval counterpart.

The National Trust run a small shop and tearoom, and there are a few bench seats in the courtyard to “take it in” from.

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Tea Room Window

We went to the tearoom in the main hall and sat in a dining area with some views of the grounds beyond. The service was a little unusual as we were asked to order outside the dining area, then were shown to a table and seated, and the order followed shortly thereafter.

The Assam tea was good, as was the hot chocolate (with a very generous helping of cream). The scones were a little on the crumbly side, and rather average in size. The clotted cream was good, though the jam was rather ordinary (even if National Trust branded).

Outside the moated area there are wooded walks, and well tended gardens.  It is well worth a visit just for the scenery.  The property also has outer “fortifications” which enclose the garden areas and main house, and there is an orchard with a variety of apples and pears.

This is a great place to visit, whether to chill in the gardens, or to explore the historic house.  It is also really interesting to compare with the experience of Igtham.
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But It’s Impossible

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I had a discussion today with a class on the message of the miracles of the New Testament.  I noted that the calming of the sea in Mark 4:35-41 (and Matthew 8:23-27) not only showed Jesus’ power over the elements, but was remarkable even to his disciples as in their minds only God could control nature.  “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” The realization must have been staggering to them.

The immediate responses I received, on the other hand were, “It’s impossible,” and “”How do we know?” To the second, the short answer is that a witness (Matthew) recorded it.  To the first, I responded that if it happened, it by definition is not impossible. To which, I received the “Well, I don’t believe it” reply.

I gave the following points to ponder.  If an Inuit was told 100 years ago of a place where it was never colder than 50 degrees F, and that less than a inch of precipitation fell in a year, might they show disbelief?  But, does their disbelief mean the Sahara didn’t exist. And if a resident of North Africa were told of a land where feet of frozen rain fell each year, and that the temperature seldom rose above 50, might they show a similar skepticism? In short, just because we with our limited experience have not witnessed an event, does than stop it from being true?

The challenge in this age of doubt is for people (including people of faith) to open our horizons to the power of the divine.  We need to see beyond our “facts;” and trust.

The message of the miracles is as important today as it was to the first disciples.  We need to step out of our comfort zones and assumptions, and marvel at the acts.  It should not be a case of “Well, it’s impossible;” but rather of “Who is this, that even the winds and waves obey Him.”

Are we open to that, today?

Padre