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This Tuesday I had the privilege of taking the funeral for a parishioner who had been a gifted musician, playing the drums. He had passed this talent onto his son, who composed and played a drum solo as we closed the curtain around his father at the crematorium. Drummers in bands can often be overlooked in favour of the “frontmen”; the guitar players and singers. But they are an essential element of the sound. There is a story, perhaps exaggerated, of the late Charlie Watts, drummer to the Rolling Stones. Allegedly Mick Jagger was heard to exclaim “Where is my …. drummer?” when Watts could not be found. On hearing about this, Watts sought out Jagger, grabbed him firmly by the throat and proclaimed “I am not your …. drummer, you are my …. singer”.
Now for one of those leaps vicars are famous for. The Bible reading for last Sunday was from a letter by St Paul to the dysfunctional church at Corinth, whose members were arguing over status. Paul used the image of a human body with many parts, some not discussed in polite conversation, but all essential to the whole, to remind them that although we may have different roles, we all need each other. Someone has to tidy the church, fix the gutters, pay the bills, organise the events, cut the grass, attend the meetings. Indeed, this is as true in wider society as it is the church. The singer needs the drummer, the drummer needs singer, as Paul would recognise.
Rev David Poyner
A posting unashamedly inspired by this Thursday’s thought for the day, in which the commentator spoke of signs that perhaps the Covid epidemic may finally be loosening its grip. I am not sure I entirely share this, but with the sunny weather this week, my own mood has lightened and I do have hope we will finally come through it. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, I also hope that England will eventually beat Australia at cricket; I even have a wild hope that Kidderminster Harriers will beat West Ham. Oh yes, and I sometimes talk about hope in my sermons.
The word hope has many different shades of meaning, ranging from the frankly unrealistic to something which, whilst it may not yet have happened, is an event that is certain, even if we are not sure how it will work out. The end of the Covid epidemic is an example of the second of these; it will end, but I cannot predict when that will happen; I have some power to influence the event by my actions, for better or worse. England eventually beating Australia is also something that will happen, but is quite beyond my power to influence. A Harriers cup run is not going to happen. And the Christian hope? This is founded on the conviction that there is a God whose nature is love and who will establish his kingdom of love here on earth. It will happen, but the time that takes is in our hands.
Rev David Poyner
The last few weeks have seen a number in our communities lose loved ones, sometimes in the most unexpected and painful circumstances. I have found myself standing awkwardly, unable to offer any meaningful words to those in grief. I suspect the truth is that in these moments, there are no words that can be said; there will be pain and it simply has to be endured. Each of us reacts differently; at least, those were the wisest words that were said to me when I suffered a bereavement a few years ago.
I am sometimes asked as a vicar how I cope; does it make it easier that I believe in Heaven? I am not sure that does help me. I believe that God’s love for us does not cease at death. But exactly how that works out is not something I know, or indeed care much about; in the life of faith, there are some questions we simply have to leave for God. I do draw strength from the most detailed picture we have in the Bible of death and grief; the account of Jesus visiting the house of his friends Martha and Mary, still raw from having buried their brother Lazarus three days before. Jesus knows their grief; he weeps. If you want to know what the phrase “God with us” really means, look no further; God shares in the deepest human pain. And, perhaps as a promise to us that love is really stronger than death, Jesus orders, Lazarus from his tomb. And Lazarus cannot ignore the command of love; he rises. So if you want to know what the word “hope” means, look no further; somehow in this story we see that the God of life prevails.
Rev David Poyner
Finding our Centre
This week, some words from a recent post by Pete Greig, a church pastor in Surrey.
“Jesus is to be found in the eye of the storm. This is something I am learning. In fact, with all the distractions, deletions and distortions of this turning world, it has become my necessary daily practice simply to sit in silence and stillness each morning for a few minutes, re-centering myself on the peace of his presence, re-anchoring my scattered senses in the absolute bedrock of his love.
This is not a type of prayer I was taught as a child and at times it doesn’t even feel like praying. … But I believe that God’s quiet invitation to each one of us at the start of this year is this: ‘Be still and know that I am God.’. We know ‘of’ God through the bible but we actually know him through the practice of silence, stillness and solitude….
I believe that our world needs people who carry this deep stillness, a lack of anxiety, a reassuring quality of eternity in their hearts. Each morning in prayer I reinstate Jesus as the One whose loving actuality defines reality – not my hormones, not my bank balance, not my problems and pains. Only his presence. Without these moments of recentering I can easily spend my day like a pin-ball pinging between flashing lights, propelled from reaction to reaction by circumstance….
T.S. Eliot captures and conveys the spirit of precisely this kind of silent praying;
‘You are here to kneel, where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more than an order of words, the conscious occupation of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying’”
Rev David Poyner
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a year ago, I, along with many others was trying to reconcile Christmas with Covid. I see that I wrote optimistically about vaccines that would eventually allow a return to normality. I wasn’t entirely wrong, but we are now faced with new uncertainties but all-too-familiar worries; is it save to meet? What should I do? On one level, religious faith offers little beyond platitudes; we are not divinely protected from Covid, or worry or anxiety. So what can we offer?
The Christian answer is that at Christmas we mark a resetting of history; God entering our world as one us. So often our Christmas carols get this wrong; the baby Jesus did cry, like any other human baby because he was a human baby, not God pretending to be one us, “veiled in flesh”. It is only through this total acceptance of all that it means to be human, frail, weak and mortal, that the divine can help us, by showing how we can partake of the divine nature, of living in pure love. It is a process that at best we can only catch in glimpses; but in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we see what is possible, to live life in or out of Covid season as God intends.
Rev David Poyner