Something lovely for the weekend (25.09.15)

Friends (not church people) have recently asked me how I keep faith and talking a little with them I hear the question they’re asking asking like a shout into the silence.

How can you keep faith in a God you can not see, when the world all around you is falling into pieces and everyone is arguing over the best ways to pick them up?

How can you keep faith as an adult when all the childlike ways of knowing God are no longer big enough to hold the weight of your troubled heart?

As much as I’ve heard the question I’ve asked it too and all the time I come back to something along the line of this …

There’s a greater something

an invitation for more

Theres a great big Someone

Living inside out of you and me

He’s calling … calling …. 

Calling me back to the garden.

Molly Skaggs – Invitation 

Words from a vineyard

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If Jesus walked in a cornfield on the sabbath he must surely have walked amongst the rows of a vineyard too. With friends occasionally in fields of short straw stubble, at other times making a climb along a dusty path, passing a farm house up among the grazing sheep. Birds sing in a scattering of trees, small insects hum and with every step the views increase, spreading wider all the way to the shores of the sea. Perched on a hillside, drinking in the sun, row upon row of short staked vines, trained and pruned to produce a good harvest of fruit for the making of wine.

Jesus and his disciples lived alongside the men and the women who worked the vineyards and amongst their community in synagogue prayers they read from Isaiah 5, a vineyard where, the ground is cleared of stones and only the best vines are planted. In Psalm 80 another vineyard is planted and as an image of Israel, these vine are monsters, taking root and filling the land, stretching from one shore to the next, providing shelter for all.

But in both these Bible songs the fate of the vines is the same: ripped out of the ground and flung into the fire, Israel is the vine, dearly loved but unfaithful and disobedient she is destroyed by the blade and the flame.

This is the picture that the disciples had in mind when Jesus told them, I am the vine. They understood him and they did not understand him, all at the same time. The story they were familiar with is based on sin and punishment but the story Jesus tells has a different focus. In the new story Jesus himself is the vine, God is the gardener and anyone who is listening is invited to abide in the vine like a new shoot, trimmed and trained to grow and bound and inevitably producing fruit.

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.  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.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  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.  John 15 (NIV)

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I wouldn’t have noticed the two ways of seeing the vine imagery if I hadn’t visited a vineyard.

Shawsgate Vineyard is on a quiet B road, a few miles from Framingham, a tiny piece of hidden Suffolk that we sometimes visit. It has a castle and a river snaking its way down to the sea. There are farmhouses half timbered, ancient orchards and country lanes where the grass grows up through the broken tarmac in the middle of the road. Suffolk has a vine growing history that is 900 years old and the Domesday book records nearly forty vineyards in the county at the time of the Norman conquest. Shawsgate is a modern vineyard but you can feel the weight of years all around you.

I love being lost in thought between these vines. This is one of my favourite places and as I walked between the rows, thinking on the familiar words of John 15, I sensed a shift in my understanding of what Jesus was saying. Without ever acknowledging it I had seen the text as punishing and harsh. Without intending to I had a adopted a view of ‘my Father is the gardener’ that was all about God doing battle with my sin. In it God comes along with secateurs to cut out the rotten wood and the stems with fungus and blight. I am often on edge, often wondering what I will get wrong and the punishment that will result.

But amongst the lush green canopy of leaves that shade each tear drop bunch of ripening grapes I saw how the pruning work of this gardener is hardly ever the removal of diseased wood. These vines are attached to healthy stock, well watered and well cared for. They do not suffer from fungus and blight. The pruning of these vines is, as Jesus said, the removal of every branch that does not bear fruit because these grapes are always produced on one year old wood. At the end of every growing season the branches that have sustained the fruit are cut out and the plant rests over the winter. Because these branches will not bear good fruit again, their time is done. When the spring comes new shoots appear and these will form the branches that bear the new fruit. In this way the vine goes on being fruitful for as long as there is a gardener there ready to remove the spent wood. This is a process by which the gardener is able to produce one good crop after another from the same vine.

Can you feel the shift? One degree of glory unto the next? Does it speak to your soul?

He does not want to punish you, He wants to love you and to keep you safe.  He has a skilful way of producing good things in you. Draw close to him and read his word. Think on the good things of God and let Him heal and cleanse your soul of every harsh thought or fearful response that has ever stopped you knowing his love.

Abide in me, say the old words of the King James. Words of welcome.

There is nothing you can do that will make God love you more and nothing that will make him love you less.

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. John 15.5 (KJV)

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Shawsgate Vineyard is between Framingham and Badingham in Suffolk, on the B1120. It is open to the public.

Something lovely for the weekend (4.9.15)

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Picture from snapemaltings.co.uk

6 am on our Suffolk holiday up early and queuing for tickets for the Aldeburgh Summer Proms. The organisers hold back twenty tickets to sell on the day from the box office in the town and the box office at the Maltings. First come first served, there’s a surprising sense of adventure followed by accomplishment, in the wait and then the purchase. I don’t think we could have done better than four tickets at £6.50 a head, to sit on the floor of one of the most beautiful concert halls in the country and listen to the London Philharmonic. The added adventure for the children was that they had never before seen the inside of the Aldeburgh Festival Hall with its splendid timber roof, built by their own grandfather, over forty years ago.

I loved growing up ‘owning’ a small piece of Suffolk history: that my dad had been a part of Benjamin Britten’s grand plan to construct a world class music venue from a disused maltings in an obscure village on the Suffolk coast. Its situated in the heart of the places where he grew up, a part of Suffolk that we are totally in love with. If you have been there you will know that there is nowhere else in the county quite like it for experiencing huge skies and whispering reeds.

My dad built barns for most of his working life. When we drove out into the countryside on a Sunday afternoon he would point out a barn he had built, maybe attaching a story to it, about the farmer or something unusual that had happened on the site. I don’t know anything about barns or carpentry but I have retained a love of timber framed buildings and a fascination with how they are made. If you are a similar age to me you may remember the movie, The Witness, set in the Amish communities of Pennsylvania. This crime thriller casts Harrison Ford as the detective John Book but most of us will remember the movie for its amazing barn raising scene. A huge building constructed before your eyes without the help of any machinery.A great thing to watch.

I came in tonight exhausted; first day back at school and Peter flying to the States, I haven’t had enough sleep and I’m still catching up from my Greenbelt weekend. Anyway, I found this lovely video from Esther Emery at Church in the Canyon. It shows her family and friends raising their own timber framed house and it made me feel better.

Have a lovely weekend, friends!

For Alyan

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When something like this happens it’s easy to respond with personal promises and resolutions. One stop responses, tears shed and petitions signed. It’s easy to decided to change everything in the wake of a viral photo of a small dead body washed up on the beach.

But what if we did all change the way we live, from this moment and forever? What if we did let the love of God reach deep into our pockets and the locked corners of our savings accounts? We could easily decide that it’s less about holding onto the privilege and plenty of our safe western lifestyle and more about justice in a world that clearly has enough for us all. We could get really radical, let our decisions in the supermarket and on the high street, be overwhelmed with the kind of compassion for the poor that Christ spoke about on that beautiful mount. We could break our heart a little more often for the hurting spirits and broken bodies of world in chaos and tell the politicians and decision makers some simple truths about God’s splendid plan for a re-made world. We can go to bed tonight praying for the work of the international peacekeepers and leaders, those  around the negotiating tables and those on the ground. We can intercede earnestly for the NGO and serving Christians all across Europe and throughout the middle east who risk their lives and their own tender hearts helping others simply survive.

Tonight there will still be parents putting children into boats and sending them out onto the sea, to an unknown future in an un-named place, because it is safer to do this than it is for them to stay where they are.

In the meantime this is a crisis and the politicians who says that accepting more refugees will not solve the crisis are wrong. It will solve the crisis; it just might not solve the problem. We respect the work that governments do in solving the problems but today, it would seem, the people are asking the politicians to respond to the crisis because we don’t want to see anymore pictures like the one of little Alyan dead in the sand.

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

What can we do?

Write to your MPSign the petition and Give to Tearfund

Work with one of the many organisations delivering aid and relief to refugees, for example Help for Refugees in Molyov

Back to school time, consider funding a backpack for a refugee child returning to school via World Relief