THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

 

The Reverend Tony Gilbert has started his Thought for the Day again, by popular request!

 

 

Friday 4th December 2020

 

What we see

 

A parish was in vacancy and the interview process for appointing a new vicar was underway. One candidate was clearly head and shoulders above the others. She had had a broad and extensive education, was the right churchmanship, preached very well at the requested sample sermon, had published a number of books and other works and had a series of glowing references reaching as far back as her time at theological college.

Not withstanding all this the interview was not going very well. The panel were dour, sceptical and unsmiling. Struggling to get any kind of positive feel from the panel the candidate finally asked the members to accompany her to the nearby fishing lake where she proceeded to walk across the lake on the water.

At this point a particularly crusty churchwarden grunted ‘Hrrrmph    well I see you can’t swim then!’

It is amazing how many people seem to prefer only to see what isn’t there rather than what is.

 

 

Thursday 3rd December 2020

 

Trouble ahead

 

A local churches together or ecumenical area decided it was time they held a joint mission to bring the ‘Good News’ to the local community.

It was all duly set up and seemed to run smoothly and well. After the events were over the church leaders got together for a final meeting to review what had taken place and plan for the future.

The Methodist group were full of enthusiasm. ‘We gained six new families as a result of this mission’ they jubilantly said.

The Roman Catholics too were pleased as they claimed to have gained four new families.

The looked at the Anglican group who also seemed equally pleased. ‘We did even better than that' they said 'we lost 10 of our most difficult families!’

The lesson I draw from this is not about who gets on with who but the fact that we have to be careful as churches that outreach aimed at the community really does touch the community and does not simply talk to the existing Christian Community and really in effect simply. ‘Shakes up the existing mix’. Over the years I have come across several examples of apparently successful outreach or mission work but that on closer examination shows the growth seen is simply at the expense of other local churches and not really showing much impact in the wider community.

 

Monday 30th November 2020

 

God’s Ways

 

One fine Sunday the Vicar woke saw what a wonderful day it was and was tempted to play hooky from his normal Sunday duties.

He ’phoned his curate and explained that he was feeling unwell and asked that the curate to take the 08:00 morning Communion. The curate obligingly agreed to do this and to take the later service as well.

The vicar then with a great sense of freedom dressed for golf, took his clubs and sneaked onto the local golf course before anyone else had got going. The weather was great and all was well as he played his round. But unbeknownst to the Vicar   St Michael was watching and he reported to God what was going on. ‘You’re not going to let him get away with this are you?’ asked St Michael. No said God and at once as the Vicar hit the ball, the ball sped away, hit a telegraph pole bounced off a tree and was carried by a Rabbit who dropped it in the cup as a hole in one.

St Michael was amazed ‘What did you do that for?’ he asked? The Lord smiled and replied ‘Ah but who’s he going to tell'.

As Isaiah has it (Chapter 55 vs 8 – 9).

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

 

 

Friday 27th November 2020

 

Morality

 

 

There is an old story that goes something like this:

 

Two people sitting in a café enjoying tea together. The waiter then brought out a large cake and put it in front of them. The waiter inadvertently cut the cake rather badly so that that there was one big piece and one small piece. The first friend reached out and took the largest piece. The second friend was rather put out by this and said - 'If I'd been you, I would have taken the smallest piece.' The first friend looked up and said, 'So what's the problem? You've got the smallest piece!'

 

I find this interesting because it is both right and wrong at the same time. I was always taught as a child to take the piece of cake or whatever nearest to you when offered a plate but I do know some parents taught their children to take the smallest. Nowadays I know that in reality these things are settled by a bit of negotiation.

 

It is also true that some people can and do try to use a moral system against the holder of it to gain advantage as in this story. Another good example and this one is from personal experience in the military was when certain unscrupulous enemies would put gun emplacements or shooters on hospital roofs or school playgrounds not because they thought this might offer their fighters more protection but in the hope that the allies would bomb them so that they could get a propaganda coup and horrify audiences around the world with stories of allies bombing innocent sick people or school children.

 

Leading a moral life is difficult and not everyone shares the same moral outlook. We can only do our best with the assurance that it is worth it in the end.

 

 

Thursday 26th November 2020

Apologies: no thought for today.

 

 

Wednesday 25th November 2020

 

Dalai Lama 2

 

Judging by the feedback I received for my quotation purporting to come from the Dalai Lama on Monday it was very well received. I say purporting because there are some who claim he did not say it. But be that as it may I have another one for you today.

 

‘One problem with our current society is that we have an attitude towards education as if it is there to simply make you more clever, make you more ingenious… Even though our society does not emphasize this, the most important use of knowledge and education is to help us understand the importance of engaging in more wholesome actions and bringing about discipline within our minds. The proper utilization of our intelligence and knowledge is to effect changes from within to develop a good heart.’ –

 

I chose this particular quotation because there is considerable concern around about children missing their schooling due to Covid restrictions and of course it is true many are missing it. But the way it is spun seems to suggest that education is merely the accumulation of facts skewed as a vehicle towards gaining a good career, a good job and of course a good pay packet. Whilst that of course may be true to some extent. No one seems to stop and ask what are we learning about ourselves and society from the way we are dealing with the crisis. There is much to learn if we just look around the world around us. Education after all comes in many forms.

 

 

 

Monday 23rd November 2020

 

The Dalai Lama

 

I am not one who believes that Christianity has the monopoly on wisdom although unfortunately I have met some Christians who seem to think it does.

 

The Dalai Lama was reportedly asked once ‘What surprises you most about humanity?’. He answered ‘Man surprises me because he or she sacrifices health in order to make money. Then sacrifice money in order to recuperate lost health. And then he or she is so anxious about the future that it is not possible to enjoy the present.

 

The result of all this is humans do not live in the present or the future; they lives as if they are never going to die, and then they die having never really lived.’

 

Perhaps in the Corona Virus crises we can see God’s hand telling us to ‘slow down, take stock, count our blessings and take the time to learn what it really means to live.’

 

 

Friday 20th November 2020

 

Today Tony's thought for the day is the Friday version of the Prayers by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. 

Please look at Monday 16th November where all the prayers are uploaded.

 

 

Thursday 19th November 2020

The Right Attitude

A newly ordained priest in a rather high Anglo-Catholic parish was very nervous about hearing confessions (and yes, as I said once before, we do have them in the Anglican church), so she asked her training vicar for some advice on how to do it properly. The older priest offered to sit in on her first session and silently watch and listen. This was agreed. The new priest’s first candidate came in made is confession and left again. The training Vicar asked the new priest to step out of the confessional and be debriefed on what had taken place. He made a few suggestions such as, ‘Cross your arms over your chest, and perhaps rub your chin with one hand. This will make you look both thoughtful and concerned’ he said. The new priest tried and agreed. The old priest then suggested, 'Try saying things like, ‘I see’, ‘Yes, do go on' and ‘I understand.' Or perhaps ‘How did that make you feel? These are all good encouraging comments and they help'. The new priest practised, saying these phrases for a bit and thanked the training Vicar for his time. ‘Not at all’ the vicar replied, ‘don't you think that's a little better than slapping your knee and saying ‘Holy Moses what happened next?!?'

 

It is good to remember sometimes that what appears to be a good story or even a juicy bit of gossip can be really be a heart-rending situation for the person to whom it concerns. Yes, perhaps someone is making a ‘Mountain out of a mole hill’ but such is their experience. The best and kindest expression of Christians' love is shown by those who know when to laugh with, when to show concern and when help is needed and then find the time to give it.


Wednesday 18th November 2020

 

 

Dogmatics

 

One day a Cardinal rushed into the Holy Father's office and he was quite beside himself with excitement. ‘Holy Father, Holy Father!’ he shouted ‘What is it my son?’ responded the pope much more calmly. Taking a breath, the cardinal said ‘Well I have some good news and some bad news. It’s so ….. O I don’t know how to tell you so which would you like to hear first?’ ‘O The good news’, said the Holy Father ‘definitely the good news’. ‘OK’ replied the Cardinal. ‘Well the good news is that the Lord Jesus has returned just as He promised he would!’ ‘Hallelujah, Hallelujah. Praise be to God!’, shouted the Holy Father. ‘So, what could possibly be bad news after such momentous news?’  ‘He has gone Canterbury for a private interview with the Archbishop!’ The cardinal replied.

It is very difficult when our firmest beliefs are shaken and doubt is placed in our mind instead. If 30+ years of varied ministry has taught me anything it is to be tolerant, accepting, accept change and not to try to force people into a mould of my own design. You never know, if you don’t do that you could eventually discover they were right and you were wrong all along and by then you might find that you have painted yourself into a corner.

 

 

Monday 16th November 2020

 

161120 Prayer for the Nation p1

161120 Prayer for the Nation p2

161120 Prayer for the Nation p3 

 161120 Prayer for the Nation p4

For a printable version of the above, please click here

 

 

 

Friday 13th November 2020

 

 

God Laughs

 

 

There are many stories funny or tragic about the human relationship with God and. One of the shortest and to my mind best is this.

 

Question. How can you make God laugh?

 

Answer. Tell God your plans.

 

Woody Allen the actor and film producer is attributed with making this quote famous but I am sure others have said it before him. It is after all a common experience.

 

And for many it is absolutely true. There are not many of us who decide early on what we are going to do in life, draw up our road map to get there and when looking back can say that is what we did.

 

Yet often when we do look back and see how different perhaps our life has turned out from the one we planned we can view it with satisfaction and know that by and large we have led the best one for us. The worst times we see are often the times when we have tried to do what we want in the face of a conviction that God wants us to do something else. And we have tried to ignore it.

 

Another saying this one by Barack Obama: ‘Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.’

 

With God behind us we are unstoppable.

 

 

Thursday 12th November 2020

 

 

Logic

 

 

A concerned social worker asked a drunk in a pub ‘And how long exactly have you been drinking?’

 

The drunk replied. ‘About 25 years, I suppose’

 

The social worker then looked thoughtful for a moment and then said. ‘Right so let’s make the calculation easy say a pint of beer costs £3.50: you drink about 3 pints a day – right?’ ‘Now three pints a day works out at £10.50 a day. Over a month that works out at let me see about £325.50. In one year, that would be £3 906 and over your 25 years of drink that would be £97 650?’

 

‘If you say so' said the drunk.’

 

The social worker then went on ‘Do you know that if you didn't drink so much, the money you have drunk away could have been invested and over that 25-year period with the interest you would have gained then you would have had enough money put by to be able to buy yourself something really nice perhaps a luxury sports car such as a Porcha or a Ferrari’

 

The drunk replied ‘well yes I suppose I would.’

 

The drunk then went on ‘tell me do you drink beer at all?’

 

Social worker ‘No certainly not’

 

Drunk ‘OK then so tell me where's your Ferrari?’

 

Logic is a wonderful thing but it has its limitations. It can be both perfectly correct and completely useless at the same time. It is the same with religion apply logic too rigorously and you think you have answer only to find the whole thing has run away like sand from a closed hand.

 

 

Wednesday 11th November 2020

Absolution

Some years ago, an elderly lady went to confession with her local priest (and yes there is confession in the Anglican church as well as the Roman Catholic). Anyway, whilst there she confessed amongst other things to an act of adultery some 40 years previously. The priest was somewhat taken aback by this and said ‘Well it’s a bit of a long time ago but if you are truly sorry, I can still give you absolution now. Replied the elderly lady ‘O I don’t want your absolution I just like to remember it from time to time and I really need to tell someone.

There are some things we do like to remember because it gives us pleasure to do so or because we feel it right but on this Remembrance Day, we need to know that we are doing more than just recalling the past - heroic deeds or sacrifices made. Its is no coincidence that on this day besides remembering and giving thanks for past lives lost and deeds done the religious service goes on to ask us today to rededicate ourselves to working together towards a better and a peaceful future.

We are asked to learn from the past and work for the good of all in generations yet to be born.

 

Monday 9th November 2020

 

Soviet Jews

 

I believe I have spoken before about the Jewish community’s ability to laugh at itself and find humour in the difficult situations the people often found to be themselves in. It probably saved their sanity and it is something we could all learn from.

 

In the old Soviet Union, the Jewish Community was persecuted extensively by the authorities.

 

One day the phone rang at KGB headquarters. 

 

"Hello?" 

 

"Hello, is that KGB?" 

 

"Yes. What do you want?" 

 

"I'm calling to report my neighbour Joseph Goldberg as an enemy of the State. He is hiding undeclared diamonds in his firewood." 

 

"This will be noted." 

 

The next day, the KGB investigators went over to Goldberg's house. They searched his shed where the firewood was stored and cut up every piece of wood looking for secret compartments, found no diamonds, shouted at Goldberg for a bit and then left in disgust. A little later the phone rang in Goldberg’s house. 

 

"Hello, Joseph.  Did the KGB come over the voice asked?" 

 

"Yes, they did."

 

"Did they chop your firewood?" 

 

"Yes, they did that." 

 

"Well okay, now it's your turn to call. I need my vegetable patch dug over."

 

Friday 6th November 2020

The Barrister

Curious about the considerable success of a colleague, other Barristers in her chambers concerned decided to have her covertly watched. One day the Barrister was seen to get into her car and drive to a small country town some 50 miles away from London for no apparent reason.

Upon arriving in the community, the barrister was seen to pull out a great wadge of envelopes, stick stamps on them and spray them with a shot of perfume from a bottle in her handbag.

Eventually curiosity got the better of her colleagues and at a convenient moment they challenged her about what she had been doing. The Barrister responded "I was just sending out about 500 Valentine cards signed, "Guess who?"

"But why?" asks her inquisitor. 

"Well I am a divorce lawyer," she replied.

Probably not a morality tale I would endorse but nevertheless - they always say that luck and good things come to those who are prepared for them. It is the same with being a Christian. Christianity is not a passive belief set; one needs to prepare the ground and work at it.

 

 

Thursday 5th November 2020

 

 

A Prayer for Today

 

 

Dear God, so far today, I’ve done all right.

 

I haven’t gossiped, and I haven’t lost my temper, I haven’t upset anyone as far as I know and my mind is full of good intentions.

 

I haven’t been grumpy, nasty or selfish, and I’m really pleased about that!

 

But in a few minutes, Lord, I’m going to get up and out of bed, and from then on, I’m probably going to need all the help I can get!

 

Thank you!

 

Amen.

 

Wednesday 4th November 2020

 

 

Understanding the Bible

 

041120-WFTD-detail-sm

 

I would like you to take a look at a detail from this picture I am putting on the screen. It’s quite a well-known picture and you will probably recognise it. But first look at the brush strokes, the way the paint is laid on so thickly and the details of how the colour is used. It is really good to be able to understand how the picture itself was built up. Of course, actually this picture is a bit of an illusion any picture is. It is not the real object and the skill of the artist relies on the way our senses interpret lines and colour to make an impression on our brain of the object being painted. Now let me ask you a question. Can you work out from this detail what the painting looks like by extrapolating from it? No of course not. Let me put up a copy of the full picture for you.

041120-WFTD-Van-Goghs-Sun-F

Beautiful isn’t it? We know we need to stand back from the detail of any picture to admire the whole thing. It is interesting to examine how the artist worked and how the picture was built but we do need to see the whole picture to understand it. Why then I ask you if we can do this with a painting can, we not do it with a work like the bible. Many people seem obsessed with minute the detail of each passage within it and are incapable of standing back and getting a view of the whole picture. Of course, it is nice to know how various writers worked and built up their work but you really need to stand back from it to see it properly. If we could do that we would not be so wound up with the difficult bits, is this part true or not, who wrote that and why, and what did a particular sentence mean? And of course the Bible is only an image of reality anyway.

Every time you see a painting like this one of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers let it stand as a parable for how to read the bible as well.

 

Monday 2nd November 2020


Mad Dog


A lady spotted a sign outside a house that read ‘Talking Dog for Sale.’ Intrigued and having been on the lookout for a dog for some time, she went to the door and knocked. A man answered and agreed that he did indeed have a talking dog for sale. The lady asked to see it and if she could test it to see if it really could talk. ‘Be my guest’ said the owner. The dog was brought in and introduced. ‘pleased to meet you said the dog in very good English’.


Stunned by this the woman asked the dog ‘er tell me about yourself’. The dog replied. ‘Well I've led a very full life,’ ‘I was born in the Alps and trained as a rescue dog. I lived there for a bit rescuing stranded skiers and mountaineers. Then I was shipped of the Afghanistan where I served with the army. Whilst there, I got a medal for bravery for flushing out some Taliban fighters’. Now I have semi-retired and I spend my time reading to children’. The Lady was amazed at all this. She asked the owner ‘Why on earth would you want to get rid of an incredible dog like this?’ The owner replied, ‘Because he’s a liar! He’s always making up fantastical stories. He never did any of that!’.


Its amazing how focussed we can become on something that we lose sight of the bigger picture or just fail to see the value of what we have. Perhaps that is something of what Jesus was referring to in his parable of the speck in our neighbour’s eye but missing the plank in our own.

 

 

Friday 30th October 2020

 

Boring Vicar

 

The vicar of a particular parish was known widely for her very dull, lengthy and boring sermons. After a particularly long and boring sermon the parishioners filed out of the church saying nothing to the vicar. Towards the end of the line the vicar was pleased to see one of her stalwart regulars who was a thoughtful person and could always be relied on to comment on the sermon. After some thought ‘Vicar’ she said, ‘today your sermon reminded me of the peace and love of God!’ The vicar was thrilled. People did not very often say nice things about her preaching. ‘No-one has ever said anything like that about my preaching before’ She said. ‘Tell me why.’ ‘Well’ replied the stalwart – ‘it reminded me of the Peace of God because it passed all understanding and the Love of God because it endured forever!’

 

It is surprising how much effort we clergy put into preaching and preparing sermons when studies tell us that this form of teaching is the least effective anyway. It is also surprising that many theological colleges do not teach us how to do it well. The only advice I remember from my time at college – admittedly a long time ago- was ‘When you hear yourself say something like ‘And ninthly’ you know you have gone on way too long.'

 

I like to believe that stories such as the ones I use in these thoughts are very effective and they don’t go on long. On top of that I have the example of Jesus to follow who used this method extensively.

 

 

Thursday 29th October 2020

 

Being Right

 

One day a rather strident and confirmed Atheist accosted the local Vicar and he was clearly on a mission of his own.

‘Do you believe in eternal life?’ he demanded. The vicar was given no time to reply and the Atheist went straight on. ‘Well I can tell you it’s all a load of rubbish!’ he shouted. ‘I believe in science, evolution, survival of the fittest, and they tell us that when we die, that's it! No eternal life, no great judgement, and no God!’ he continued.

As if that wasn’t enough the Atheist carried on his assault against the religious people in general and their teachings. He aggressively and tirelessly went on. ‘Eternal life! Eternal life! Ha! It’s all pie in the sky stories to comfort children or to control the people.’ When I die that's it, it will be the end, no afterlife, no nothing’. And he continued in this vein for some time, until he reached his climax, ‘when I go, I will be buried six feet under and that will be it! Nothing: just a headstone to remember me by!

‘When I die, I am utterly convinced that that will be the end of me!’

‘Well thank God for that’ replied the vicar!

We have all met people so utterly convinced that they are right that they are both annoying and impossible to deal with. We find them in all walks of life When I was a student, I would not join the Christian union at the college because it was full of people who knew just how right they were and how wrong everyone else was it made the whole thing repellent.

We need beware lest we find we are doing the same thing without even realising it.

 

Wednesday 28th October 2020

 

 

Laughing in Adversity

 

The human condition is tough. Just at the moment there is a lot of fear grief, and in some cases bereavement around because of the Corona Virus. However, the human spirit is actually unconquerable and one of the best ways we have found to tame our fears is through humour. We can’t change things much but we can find ways to laugh in the face of adversity.

 

George went to the hospital to visit his best friend Bill who clearly and unfortunately was dying. George found it difficult to know what to say at such a time as many of us do but did his best to strike up a conversation. After a pregnant pause, in desperation he decided to talk about their shared love of cricket. After a bit ‘Bill’ he said in desperation ‘if there is cricket in heaven will you come back and tell me?’ George agreed that he would and that was pretty much the last thing the spoke about as Bill passed away shortly afterwards. That night while George was sleeping, he heard Bill's voice in a dream, ‘George this is Bill here...’ ‘What is it, what do you want?!’ asked George. ‘Well I want to tell you that its lovely up here, said Bill ,and I have some good news for you’ ‘What is that?’ asked George. ‘I have come back to tell you about the cricket as promised. Well you will be pleased to know that there is cricket up here with some of the world’s greatest players are around and anyone can play.’ ‘That’s great’ said George. ‘Thanks for coming back to tell me’. ‘Yes well hang on’ said Bill ‘there’s some not so good news as well.’ ‘O what’s that?’ said George? ‘There is a game listed for next Tuesday.’ ‘Well what’s wrong with that?’ ‘Your name is listed as keeping wicket’ said Bill.

 

Monday 26th October 2020

 

The Bishop’s Parking Space

 

The Bishop was running rather late for a Confirmation service. This was not unusual in a busy diocese. After a lengthy journey and a few wrong turnings, the Bishop arrived in the town where the service was supposed to be taking place only to find that all available the parking had been used. The Bishop realised that he had forgotten to ask the local Vicar to reserve a space for him.

He drove around for about 10 minutes and realising he was now seriously late and began to lose his temper. Eventually he turned his face upwards and in desperation prayed ‘Lord, if you can find me a parking space, I promise I will organise my life better in future and not have to rush around like a maniac losing my temper with everyone and putting mine and everyone else’s blood pressure up.

Miraculously, as he drove on a parking space suddenly became available just in front of him. He again lifted his face up and said, ‘Never mind Lord, I’ve just found one!’

Miracles are odd things. Firstly, we tend to expect them to be spectacular events probably accompanied by lightning and thunder, secondly, we often are not really sure we believe in them anyway. Thirdly when they do happen, we either don’t notice or we just ignore them because they don’t suit us - like the Bishop in my story. Miracles happen around us all the time they are just not necessarily the ones we expect or are looking for. Every time someone receives help from a food bank it may just be the miracle they were praying for.

 

 

Friday 23rd October 2020

The Bishop, The Archdeacon and the Rural Dean

This story is from before the Corona virus.

A Bishop, an Archdeacon and a Rural Dean were walking through the park on their way to the cathedral when they stumbled across and antique oil lamp. The Archdeacon picked it up and gave it to the Bishop who gave it a rub. Immediately a Genie came out in a puff of smoke and thunder. 

The Genie thanked them, ‘You have freed me after hundreds of years in that prison so I will grant you three wishes, that’s one for each of you.’   

‘Well, you’re the most junior you go first said the Bishop to the Rural Dean!’ Ok she replied I will. I wish to be in sun in the South of France, driving a speedboat, without a care in the world and a bottle of champagne at my elbow. A cloud of smoke appeared and poof, she was gone.   

The Bishop and the Archdeacon were astonished but carried on. ‘You next’ said the Bishop. ‘I wish for a month staying on the best golf course in the world having lessons from a world champion and playing a round every day’ said the Archdeacon. A flash and smoke and he was gone to. 

‘Now it’s your turn,’ said the Genie to the Bishop. ‘I want those two back in the office immediately after lunch’ said the Bishop.

In this world timing is everything. To know what to say and when to say it or knowing the right time for action and the right time to hold back is a gift from God.

 

Thursday 22nd October 2020

Getting the Family Together

Just around Christmas time a mother living in London called her daughter who had moved to America for work to give her a message, ‘I hate to tell you this’, she said ‘but your father and I can't stand each other anymore so we have decided that we are going to divorce.  That's it! I just want to live out the rest of my years in peace. I am telling you now so you and your brother won’t be too surprised when I move out.’ 

 

The mother then hung the up phone. The daughter on the other hand immediately ‘phoned her brother.  Who said ‘don’t worry I am sure we can sort this out – just leave it to me’.

 

The brother then ‘phoned his mother and pleaded with her not to do anything precipitate until at least he and his sister could come home and help them to talk it through. We can both be there by Sunday he said.’ Mum with reluctance agreed that she would do nothing until they had arrived.

 

When the mother had hung up the phone she turned to her husband and said ‘See I told you we could get them to come for Christmas. Now what shall we tell them for Easter’?

 

It’s true isn’t it that because we live such busy and dispersed lives sometimes it does take an emergency to get the family together. Perhaps we should take stock more often before the emergency.

Wednesday 21st October 2020

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kotzk

As you know from time time to time I like to drop in a thought or two from the Jewish tradition. I think doing so illuminates our own Christian thought.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kotzk (1787-1859) was a leader of Polish Hassidic Jewish community. He was noted for being a recluse and having a sharp tongue. He never wished to become a leader of the masses. Nevertheless, the more he tried to avoid fame, the more people seem to have flocked to him, eager to hear his words. He was a brilliant scholar with great insight who valued the truth above all, He couched many of his teachings in short witty lessons on Scripture and the writings of the sages. Here, are some examples attributed to him.

God made the human upright, unlike the animal who walks on all fours. While the beast sees only the earth, man can also look up toward the heavens.

A great generation can make do with petty leaders. But a lowly generation needs great leaders.

So and so, now he is amazing, he learns so much. When does he have time to know anything?

Even a wagon driver is a leader. And woe is to the wagoner whose horses take control.

And lastly

If a person maintains his faith when he is in trouble and sees no solution, is his faith true? What choice did he have? But if a person has all that he needs and still chooses to place his trust in God—now that is a true faith.

 

Monday 19th October 2020

 

The Hearing

 

 

A young man turned up at a rather charismatic church meeting and was inspired by the words to ask for help.

 

At the end of the meeting he sought out the pastor and asked ‘Can you help me?’ The pastor replied ‘with God everything is possible what do you want?’

 

The young man replied ‘I need you to pray for my hearing,’

 

Whereupon the preacher put his fingers in the young man’s ears and prayed fervently. After half an hour when he was finished, he asked the young man, "How's your hearing now?"

 

‘I don't know," said the young man. ‘I don't go to court till next Tuesday."

 

The church is always willing to pray, help and encourage but sometimes, it appears to me, the church seems to be so close to understanding the needs of the people but yet somehow manages to miss them completely. Perhaps we make too many assumptions.

 

I wonder what the young man went away thinking.

 

Thursday 15th October 2020

 

Presence

 

In the silence of eternity, a presence made itself known to me

 

I am the truth, I am knowledge

 

And I will show you all things.

 

You are blind now

 

But it will not always be so.

 

Do not strive to see, you have not the power.

 

It is I who will grant you sight.

 

In the darkness of my prison a thought came to me

 

I am freedom; I am the breaker of chains

 

And you shall be set free.

 

You are bound now

 

but it will not always be so.

 

Do not fight on your own, for you are too weak

 

It is I who will be your strength.

 

In the roar of a rising sun I heard a voice

 

I am the dawn, I am the morning light

 

And I will come quickly

 

You are in darkness now

 

but it will not always be so

 

Do not seek after me, for I am not to be found.

 

It is I who will come to you.

 

 

© Tony Gilbert 2010

 

 

Wednesday 14th October 2020

 

I am told that The BBC once reported a story that a welsh politician asked the government for information about UFO sightings and whether it would fund UFO research.

Officials wrote back to the politician, the following which I will have to show you because I cannot pronounce it myself. Here it is:

“jang vIDa je due luq … ach ghotvam’e’ QI’yaH devolve qaS.”

As you can see it is a bit unpronounceable. It is not actually gibberish as it first seems and it does have a translation. It apparently means, “The minister will reply in due course. However, this is a non-devolved matter, and actually it is written in Klingon which you may remember from Star Trek.

I think that this shows two things one that civil servants do actually have a sense of humour but secondly and more importantly it makes me ask ‘How often do you think church people are asked a religious question which they then proceed to answer in a very complicated and incomprehensible fashion such that it might just as well be Klingon for all the good it does? I think it happens too often. I certainly believe Jesus was at pains to make his ideas and concepts at their heart very simple. Personally, I believe that if the central concept of salvation in the Christian faith is not understandable at least in part by even the most simple or addled human mind then the whole exercise must become meaningless.

 

12th October 2020

 

Learning – Hillel

 

The Jewish faith has a lot to teach us about both spirituality and everyday livingand Judaism does have a long tradition of sages.

Hillel the Younger [or Hillel Ben (which means son of) Gamaliel] was a Jewish religious leader of the early 3rd century AD. He should not to be confused with his ancestor Hillel the Elder or his relative Hillel II. Which means there are far too many Hillels for me to cope with! But anyway-

There are a number of Hillels, all of whom were noted scholars. It is sometimes difficult to know who said what. But I believe, Hillel the younger is responsible for one of my favourite sayings which is:

Do not say ‘When I have leisure I shall study’. Perhaps you will never have leisure!

How true. How many times do you hear people say I would like to study such and such but simply do not have the time? For myself I always believe that studying something is important to keep the mind active and receptive and I try to have something on the go at all times. I would encourage everyone to do the same. After all the more we learn about the world the more we learn about ourselves and the absurdity of it all.

If nothing else you get a string of letters after your name!

 

Friday 9th October 2020

 

Taking Advantage

 

One day the phone rang in the Vicar’s office which he duly answered.

 

‘Hello’ the caller said. This is the Inland Revenue here, ‘Am I speaking to the vicar of St Oswald in the Mire?’ ,


‘You are’ replied the Vicar.’

The revenue person went on ‘well we have a query here about one of your parishioners and perhaps you can help’.

‘I'll try.’

‘Do you know Mr A Smith in your parish?’

‘We do have a Mr Smith in the parish. He lives in the big house.’

‘Is this man a member of your congregation.’

‘Sometimes, he is, yes.’

‘Well’ said the revenue person. ‘The thing is he is claiming that he regularly covenants donations to your funds which this year totalled £5000 pounds and he wants a tax exemption on those donations. Can you confirm this?

‘He said that did he!’ said the vicar ‘Oh he will, he will!”

 

 

Its amazing how often people try to take advantage of the church, from using it as vehicle for getting their children into a good church school to expecting the church to marry their sons and daughters or provide food banks for those in need, or Christmas lunches for the elderly without ever coming near the place but then I suppose one of the roles of the church is to freely give without counting the cost. Speaking of which, did you know that faith communities provide a disproportionately high number of helpers to caring organisations and charities?

 

 

 

Thursday 8th October 2020

 

The End of the Road

 

A priest and a Rabbi found themselves joined together in an unlikely alliance to hold up a sign at the side of the road which said ‘The end is near! Turn around now before it’s too late!’ A speeding driver went past but slowed down enough to lean out of the window and shout. ‘You people are mad – get a life!’ He then sped off around the corner out of sight. The priest and the Rabbi listened intently for a moment and then suddenly heard the sound of screeching tyres and a crash followed by a splash. The priest turned to his comrade and said, ‘You know, perhaps we would have been better to put up a sign saying bridge collapsed instead?’

It is fascinating how we often hear and see what we want to rather than what is actually being said to us or shown to us. I know that before I was ordained people were much more interested in what I had to say about religion and the church than afterwards. Its ironic, I think this was because the people we are speaking to often think, often wrongly, they know what a clergy person will say and know that they don’t want to hear it so they switch off. It follows therefore that the best people to bring new members to Christ maybe not be the clergy but you.

 

 

Wednesday 7th October 2020

 

Life?

 

Tell me do you shout at your Computer? I know I shout at mine when it won’t do what I want it to. In fact, I jokingly often say to people when they tell me of their computer’s problems ‘Have you tried shouting or even swearing at it?” Perhaps you get angry with the telly box when it won’t record properly and do you remember John Cleese in Faulty Towers, many years ago hitting his car with tree branch in anger and frustration because it wouldn’t start. Its strange how we sometimes invest inanimate objects or machines with a life in this way and often a malignant one out to thwart us at that! But then what is life? Scientists have defined it but there are deficiencies in that definition. Some ancient religions used to believe that all things had life in them and you do occasionally meet country folk today who say we should always thank a fruit tree when we take its fruit.

 

At the moment I have been watching the re-runs of Battlestar Galactica – I always enjoy science fiction- but the writers of that amongst other things are examining the theme of what life is. They essentially ask us at what point would a self-aware robot or android be considered to be alive and if it is alive does it have a soul?

 

I don’t know any of the answers here but perhaps our instinct is telling us that God wants us to respect all of creation and is infused and connected with all of it – including computers!. After all, in Genesis 1 vs 31 we are told that God saw all that he had made, and it was very good’.

 

 

Monday 5th October 2020

 

Harvest Belief

 

I have been flattered by the number of people who have asked if I could carry on with my ‘Thoughts for the Day. I believed I had run out of ‘thoughts’ but have put my head in a bucket of cold water I have had just a few more!

 

So:

 

Some time ago in a communist country one of the ruling commissars of the collective approached a farmer and asked ‘Comrade farmer, how has the harvest been this year?"

 


The farmer looked up and replied "Oh, by the Grace of God we have had mountains of vegetables and potatoes".

Angered by this response and wanting to remove what he regarded as old-fashioned superstition from his people the commissar reminded the farmer "Remember comrade we now know that there is no God".

 


"Well yes said the farmer", "And there are no mountains of vegetables and potatoes either"!

 

It does not matter how much we may wish something were true no amount of posturing or threat or wish can make it so. We may wish that people in the third world and other places did not go hungry but at this time of Harvest that won’t change unless we actually do something ourselves to help.

 

 

****************************************

 

During the first lockdown of Covid-19 the Reverend Tony Gilbert live-streamed a Thought for the Day on the Three Valleys Team facebook page.

Here are the texts for you to read at your leisure.

 

 

 

Friday 17th July 2020 - the final "Thought for the Day" at the end of the first lockdown.

 

 

 

The Devil Pays

 

Every morning in a small row of houses a woman would step out from one front door and whatever the weather would look up to heaven and shout ‘Praise you Lord for all your creation’. Now it so happened that an Atheist moved in next door and soon got rather fed up with what he regarded as nonsense. So as the woman went out each morning he would follow up with a shout of ’There is no God’ and so it went on for several months.

Eventually as winter approached the Atheist heard the woman also pray after her praise. ‘Please Lord help me I do not have enough money to buy fuel and I have no food’. Now the Atheist was not an unkind man and saw a way to make his point so he bought and paid for an order of food and also some fuel for the central heating.

The Following morning the woman came out and with extra gratitude praised the Lord for his great bounty. At that point the Atheist popped his head over the fence and said. ‘There is no God I paid for the food and the fuel myself.’

‘Praise the Lord after some thought’ said the woman ‘you sent me bounty all this and made the devil pay for it!’

Of course, she was wrong. The religious don’t have the monopoly on goodness and an Atheist is not the Devil. God can and will use any one or anything as his hands here on Earth. As Christians who are aware of this we should be ready to serve whenever called upon.

As the lockdown is easing now, regretfully I will be signing off from these thoughts for the day now. I hope you have enjoyed them and found the thought provoking. As I like to say. I’ve just run out of thoughts!

 

 

Thursday 16th July 2020

 

Who are You?

 

I am sure that you have all heard the story about the irascible person who feeling that they have not been dealt with properly comes out with the immortal line. ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ To which the response is always something along the lines of ‘No but if I find out I’ll come back and tell you!’

It is difficult to know who people really are. For instance, the media enjoy using stereotypes. Anyone over 65 is a ‘pensioner’. It sounds informative but the term is used anyone from a retired street cleaner to a retired merchant banker. They are all lumped together and it does not take you very far forward. I remember in the Armed Forces. Female officers who had left the service to get married and have a family were quite angry at being treated completely differently when they were no longer seen as an officer but a mother/homebuilder.

As I say finding out who people actually are is difficult. One of the first questions we tend to ask someone when we meet them for the first time is ‘What do you do?’ We need to ask this because it helps us assess them.

My challenge to you is not to ask that question but find something else that starts a conversation. It is difficult believe me but it does give a new perspective and may help us to see others differently.

 

Wednesday 15th July 2020

 

Cynical

 

Many things I find amusing and two of my favourite short comments are these.

If you are the boss, smile at everyone you meet today and they will be worried for the rest of the day that you are up to something.

And second

If someone askes you ‘How are you today’ then tell them – in detail.

As you have guessed both these comments show a cynical take on the world. I find them both amusing but they are only amusing because there is enough truth in them to make us see where they are coming from, particularly the sting in the tail. It is a shame that we can’t always trust our bosses and it is equally a shame that often when people do ask you how you are they are merely using a polite form of conversation and don’t actually want to know.

I think then that it is very important for Christians to be honest. By all means smile at people, to make them feel good, for an honest motive not to worry them because they do not trust you and if you ask someone how they are be prepared to listen when they tell you. It’s important.

It is a practical expression of Jesus’ command to love one and another

 

Monday 13th July 2020

 

Sir Arthur Sullivan

 

A tale is told of Sir Arthur S. Sullivan (1842-1900), the British composer and conductor, you know, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. It is said that Sullivan returned home one night after a lively party at which the wine had flowed freely. His house was one in a row of identical terraced houses on his street, and he realized that in his inebriated state he couldn't tell which one his house was. His is solution to the problem was to walk along the street, and in front of each house he found the metal shoe scraper which he tapped with his stick. One rang a familiar note. "E-flat, that's it," he said to himself, and tottered drunkenly into his own house.

Whether this is true or not I don’t know but it is a good story. It illustrates how good we humans are at problem solving and how we can come up with new and often novel ways of doing things.

Who would have thought if we had been asked that the church would be able to thrive under the lockdown conditions but it has and new ways have been found to do our work?   All we have to do now and it won’t be easy is to learn from the lessons of the past four months and take the best from them.

 

 

Friday 10th July 2020

 

The Devil

 

Three people were traveling on board a ship, when they were accosted by the Devil. The Devil proposed a challenge to them. The challenge was that if each traveller were to drop something into the sea and the devil cannot find it, then the devil would grant the winner prosperity and good fortune for life. However, If the Devil did find it, then the that person’s soul would be forfeit and they would take up immediate residence in hell. The three believing themselves up to the challenge accepted it. The first traveller chose a tiny diamond the colour of water and threw it overboard. Unfortunately, this was not good enough and the devil quickly found it and took the first soul. The second dropped a fish in the water but again this was not good enough and the second traveller is taken. The third traveller filled a bottle with water and poured it into the sea and although there is plenty of water to be seen the devil could find it and conceded defeat.

 

There are many of these old folk tales about challenging the devil and about being tested. They are fun to read or listen to but they also teach us about ourselves. They are really often about risk and greed as much as human ingenuity when under pressure and we can learn from them. If the travellers were not greedy for wealth, they would not have risked all but by the same token sometimes we take a risk and it pays off.

 

 

Thursday 9th July 2020

 

Certainty and Uncertainty

In 1899 Charles H Duell, Commissioner at the, U.S. Office of Patents was reported to have said. “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” He must still be revolving in his grave today.

Before that in 1872 Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse is reported to have said "Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction." I wonder what he would have made not just of bacteria but of viruses as well.

It is easy to convince ourselves that we have reached the pinnacle of understanding and it is easy to believe that in a particular direction no further progress can be made. It is said as something of a truism that a good scientist will first tell you that something can’t be done and is impossible, then tell you why it can’t be done and then go ahead and do it anyway.

People who don’t know much about it tend to invest a lot in the certainty of science whereas in many ways they are trusting to shifting sands. The world we live in is not just strange but stranger than we can imagine as Werner Heisenberg the proponent of the uncertainty principle said.

It is generally only the ignorant who say that science has left no room for God.

 

Wednesday 8th July 2020

 

Ways of Doing Things

 

An Anglican priest, a Rabbi, and a Methodist minister who were friends were arguing about who was best at their job. On a wild impulse they agreed as a challenge that they would go to the local zoo find a bear, and attempt to teach it something of religion. Later they got back together to say how it went. The priest begun: “I found the bear alright and sat by the cage and read passages from the lives of the saints, then I sprinkled him with holy water. I am sure something of the message got through.” “I too found another bear,” said the Rabbi, “and taught it the word of God direct from the Torah”. The bear was so mesmerized and docile in fact it almost seemed to be asleep. The keeper said next week I can go into the cage and try to teach him Hebrew.” They both looked at the Methodist Minister, who seemed a bit bruised and battered with a plaster cast on his arm. “Looking back,” he said, “maybe I shouldn't have tried to start with the total immersion Baptism.”

It is important for all religious people to know who they are talking to and what their experience of life is if they want to have a meaningful relationship. We all tackle things differently but too many people are convinced that their way is the right way and that there is no other. Wisdom comes from understanding the ‘other’ and working in that environment.

Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding.

Proverbs 3:13

or

A person may think their own ways are right,

but the Lord weighs the heart.

Proverbs 21:2 

 

 

Monday 6th July 2020

 

Heavenly Home

A very wealthy person died and went to heaven. The newly arrived soul was met at the pearly gates by Saint Michael. ‘Come in’ said St Michael and took the new arrival on a tour of heaven. As expected, the streets were golden and they passed many magnificent mansions. The wealthy person began to get quite excited. But they soon left the magnificent mansions behind and came to a small rather shabby shack. ‘This has been set aside for you’ said St Michael.

“Why should I put up with this said the wealthy person? I was rich in life, had influence, worked hard and I’m used to having the best and clearly you have ‘many mansions’ up here”

‘Well’ said St Peter ‘we have done the best we can with what you gave us in life.’

It’s a slightly different slant on ‘Laying up your treasure in heaven’ which you can find Matthew 6 vs 19 – 20 and I would not want you to think you can buy your way into heaven but it does make a point. As Matthew says:

 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’

 

Friday 3rd July 2020

 

Saints

 

Many saints the church holds dear were demonstrably not nice people! But hold on a minute.

I am given to understand that surveys today have shown that for many the cult of celebrity has usurped religion for moral guidance and that people are more inclined to listen to the words of their favourite celebrity than they are from any other moral teacher. It has also been shown that ardent fans often falsely imbue their favourite celebrity with many of the good qualities previously associated with sainthood and they are often less likely to believe that their celebrity is capable of a crime, even in the face of the evidence and somehow they judge them less harshly than they might judge someone close to them if they do fail in some way.

Christianity developed the idea of sainthood not so that the individual could be worshipped, nice or nasty though they might be, but to emphasize some aspect of that person’s life that was true to the faith and truly Godlike. In fact, those we hold to be saints were very conscious of their failings and of God’s redeeming power. By encouraging us to look at those lives it puts a better perspective on our lives. Much better in fact than holding up the latest celebrity be it a singer, actor, footballer or anybody else as the model for our lives.

 

 

Thursday 2nd July 2020

 

Holiday delay

 

         As we begin to lift the lockdown, I was reminded of a story about going on holiday. Some holidaymakers were getting a bit fed up because their flight was delayed for an hour or so and they were left sitting on the runway in the ‘plane waiting to take off. Eventually over the speaker system an announcement was made that the delay was due to a warning light coming on in the engine control system and the pilot did not feel it was safe to take off until it had been rectified.

One of the passengers accosted the stewardess and asked how long they could expect to have to wait until the problem was solved. ‘Well, that depends…’ said the stewardess. ‘Depends on what?’ asked the passenger. ‘How long does it take to get an engineer or find a replacement part?” ‘Well’ explained the stewardess. ‘We aren’t looking for a replacement part its just taking time finding another pilot willing to fly’.

Sometimes in our desire to please or meet self-imposed deadlines it is all too easy to become very narrow minded and bent on a single track that we miss the obvious and make poor decisions. Institutions and individuals are both liable to do this. Mostly, thankfully, we get away with it without much ill effect but occasionally the consequences are serious. Often, we just need to learn patience and the ability to see the wider picture.

 

 

Wednesday 1st July 2020

 

Love

It is funny how things get attributed to people when they did not actually say or do them. There is a saying attributed to JRR Tolkien who you may remember wrote the ‘Lord of the Rings’ and other stories.   It is a good saying and it has passed into general thought and it is probably not one we would disagree with. It seems appropriate to remind you of it today as we begin to come out of lockdown and look back over the past months.

I think the rightness of the saying has been well proven and it if hasn’t then the very fact that it chimes a bell with many who hear it now would suggest that we believe it ought be true.

What is the saying? It is this: “Some believe that it is only great power that can hold evil in check but that is not what I have found. It is small everyday deeds of ordinary people that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

In fact, Tolkien never as far as I know wrote this passage at all. It was written by a scriptwriter for the film version of “Lord of the Rings” and put into the mouth of one of the characters.

Millions of people have probably heard that saying now and a search of the internet shows that many are trying to follow it up. It is surprising how God uses ordinary people to get the message across.

 

Monday 29th June 2020

 

The Devout Christian

 

We have many lovely walks in Dorset and I know many of us are rediscovering them during the lock down. Anyway, a devout Christian was out for a walk one day and the route took the walker along a narrow path on the top of a cliff. Unfortunately, due to the constant erosion of the cliff the path now ran very close to the edge at one point. It was at this point that the walker unfortunately stumbled over a root and fell over the edge. Luckily the walker was able to grab hold of a shrub sticking out of the cliff face and hold one.

 

Looking around it was soon apparent that there was no way to climb up and escape nor was there any route going downwards. This devout Christian was stuck clinging on to the shrub root. Being a devout Christian, the walker decided to pray. The prayer was a cry for help. ‘O God I have been a Christian all my life and now I need your help’. Amazingly after a moment a voice came from heaven which said. ‘Indeed, you have my child and I am moved to help you on this occasion. Just release your hold on that plant root and I will send my angels to bear you gently to the ground.’

 

The Christian was silent for a few moments looking at the sea below and the sky above and then said ‘errm is there anyone else up there?’

 

Sometimes it takes a crisis for us to realise that our faith maybe is not as strong as we thought it was. It is a sobering thought.

 

 

Friday 26th June 2020

 

Generous Givers

The old Parish church building was crumbling away and desperately in need of some restoration. The new Vicar was full of enthusiasm and decided to preach about the need to be a generous giver. As she mounted the pulpit her eye fell on a member of the congregation who was reputed to be very wealthy. Taking this as a good omen she launched into her sermon. It was a good sermon and persuasive and as she neared the end the wealthy man stood up and said ‘Vicar I will contribute to your appeal the sum of £1000.00’. As he sat down a rather large chunk of plaster was dislodged from the ceiling and fell on the wealthy man covering him in dust. To which he replied 'oh alright I will make it £5000.00.' Again, he sat down and a couple of roof tiles fell off landing on the pew in front to of him. 'Make that £10 000' he said and moved to another pew.

The church warden could be heard praying loudly from the back ‘Lord hit him again, hit him again. He’s worth more than that!’

There is no doubt that the church needs funds. Tithing is supposed to be part of the Christian life and way but generally in fact each parish church is very dependent on a few generous and regular givers who make up the lions share of the contributions. If we really recognised that the church needs this help and all gave a little more, rather than being so reliant on the ‘few’ things would be a little rosier. As we begin to open our buildings once more please remember that.

 

 

Thursday 25th June 2020

 

 

 

Out of the mouths of babes…

 

A few days ago, I read you some prayers that young children had written. Well hear is another insight into the way children think about God.

 

A Sunday School teacher asked her charges to take some time and write a letter to God. The letters were collected in and some were quite interesting.

 

One small boy wrote ‘Dear God we had a great time in church today. Wish you could have been there.’

 

Another wrote. ‘Dear God thank you for my new baby sister but I actually wanted a puppy’.

 

And another little girl wrote. ‘Dear God if you watch me in church on Sunday I’ll show you my new shoes.’

 

Another girl wrote ‘Dear God please can I have a real pony. I promise I have never asked for anything before you can look it up.

 

Its not what they say that is so interesting and it is quite amusing, no its the underlying assumptions that we must have taught them that make it so fascinating. It is a reflection on us. As it says in the Bible ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings...’

 

 

Wednesday 24thJune 2020

 

Jesu is watching

 

Late one night, a burglar broke into a house he thought was empty.

 

He tiptoed through the living room but suddenly he froze in his tracks when he heard a loud voice say: "Jesus is watching you!"

 

Silence returned to the house, so the burglar crept forward again.

 

"Jesus is watching you," the voice boomed again.

 

The burglar stopped dead again. He was frightened. Frantically, he looked all around. In a dark corner, he spotted a bird cage and in the cage was a parrot.

 

He asked the parrot: "Was that you who said Jesus is watching me?"

 

"Yes," said the parrot.

 

The burglar breathed a sigh of relief, and asked the parrot: "What's your name?"

 

"Clarence," said the bird.

 

"That's a dumb name for a parrot," sneered the burglar. "What idiot named you Clarence?"

 

The parrot said, "The same idiot who named the Rottweiller Jesus.

 

It is funny how even non- Christians have a sense that there is a presence in their lives even though they will often ar

 

gue that it is nonsense. I know that many people dislike centring a church building because this sense of presence makes them uncomfortable. People are often much nearer to God than either they or we are prepared to recognise.

 

Monday 22nd June 2020

The Two Angels

 

Caroline sent me this passage which is a story from Bernard Levine, an author on Jewish matters and spirituality.

 

The story goes that there are two angels sent from Heaven every morning to visit us on Earth. The first Angels name is ‘Ask’. The second’s name is ‘Praise’. Both these angels carry a basket. The first Angels basket is full to the brim. It is overflowing with prayer requests to God. Things such as ‘Give me a bigger House’, ‘I want a new car’, ’Get me a better job’, ‘I want more money’.

 

The second angel’s basket is almost empty. At the bottom there are just one or two words of praise.

 

Think about God – every day. God has lots of our requests to supply more and fulfil our demand and wants.

 

‘Will we ever be satisfied and grateful for what we already have’, asks Levin. ‘Tell me’ he asks ‘have we been praying all this time begging God to supply and yet hardly ever make time to thank God that we are alive and praise him for every heartbeat and breath?’

 

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful, he says if we would seek and direct our prayer to give praise and glory to the ‘Giver’ first before we focus so much of our prayer-time on seeking ‘gifts’ and what we want from God”

 

Every day let’s make God our pleasure – because God is everything we need.

 

 

Friday 19th June 2020

This is a variation on an old story but it is worth the re-telling.

A storm descended on a small village, and it was soon clear that the village was going to flood. As the waters rose, a devout Christian was seen to kneel on his front step praying that the village would be spared.

A neighbour noticed and said ‘come on mate I have a spare seat in my canoe we can get out of here together. The waters are rising fast.’

'No,' said the Christian. 'I have faith in the Lord. He will save me.'

Still the waters rose and were lapping around the Christian’s front step. A police officer in a motor boat came by and offered a ride to a place of safety

‘Come on’, the officer said. ‘We need to get you out of here before the river bursts its banks and things get a lot worse’.

Once again, the Christian was unmoved. ‘I shall remain. The Lord will see me through.'

After a while the river did burst its banks and the water level rose rapidly, it water crept up the Devout person’s body until it was chest deep. Suddenly a rescue helicopter appeared.

‘Grab the ladder the crew person said, 'this is your last chance.’

Once again, the Christian insisted the Lord would be a deliverer.

Predictably the water carried on rising and the devout person drowned.

When being interviewed by God in heaven, the now dead Christian said 'Lord, I had unwavering faith in you. Why didn't you deliver me from that flood?'

God shook his head. ‘What more did you want from me? I sent you two I two rescue boats and a helicopter.’

God does still do miracles but it just may not be the one we are looking for. Its up to us whether we recognise them or insist on looking for something else.

 

Thursday 18th June 2020 

Words

A young brother and sister twins were known for their mischievous pranks. One day their school took the whole class, which included both of them, to visit the church. The vicar met them at the door took them on a guided tour and explained a few things about the church and its history. He then started talking about God and asking questions of the children. Eventually he asked the question ‘but where is God?’ The children looked on politely but no-one answered. The vicar zeroed in on the mischievous pair. ‘Where is God he repeated? asking them directly. ‘The boy shrugged’ and the girl said defiantly he doesn’t know.

Later that day when they got home they were strangely silent. ‘What’s the matter asked mum?’ After some intense questioning it was clear that mum was not going to let it drop so the girl answered ‘I think we’re in trouble at school’. ‘Oh’ said ‘mum why?’ ‘Well’ she reluctantly replied ‘we went to church today and the vicar doesn’t know where God is and he thinks my brother has taken him!’

Words are such a poor way of talking about God and our faith. As St Francis of Assisi is alleged to have said ‘Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.’ Perhaps words should be our last resort and not our first. Words just carry too many assumptions.

 

 

Wednesday 17th June 2020

 

Learner Driver

 

Two people unfortunately died and found themselves queuing outside the pearly gates to get into heaven. The first was quite young and the second person was a rather elderly priest. St Michael came out to greet them both but warmly shook the younger person by the hand, offering a luxury apartment, all sorts of rewards, a parade of welcome and a quick interview with the Almighty. The priest watched this with interest thinking if this person gets so much what can I expect?

 

Eventually St Michael came over and was noticeably more brusque. ‘Hallo he said. We have been expecting you come on in’. He went on ‘we can’t offer you much I’m afraid but will see what we can find and unfortunately the waiting list to see the Almighty is very long at the moment’ ‘Just a minute’ said the priest. ‘That young person who came in I happen know never went to church and did not lead a remarkable life in any way, yet you put on all these events and celebrations why? I on the other hand have served the church for many years and you offer me virtually nothing!’

 

‘Oh yes’ said St Michael. ‘The thing is that, that young person was a learner driver and, in a life, cut short managed to put the fear of God into far more people than you ever did with a full life of preaching!

 

Sometimes it’s worth remembering that bringing people to Christ happens in the most unlikely ways and is inspired by the most unlikely people. You just never know how our thoughts words and actions are going to affect other people.

 

 

Monday 15th June 2020

 

Children’s Prayers

 

Jesus in Matthew 18: 2-4 is reported to have, called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

In 1965 Authors Eric Marshall and Stuart Hemple collected Children’s prayers together in a book called Children’s letters to God. I doubt if it is still in print but I still have a copy.

 

I thought you might find some of their prayers worth listening to.

 

Dear God

Christmas should be earlier because kids can only bee good for so long. – Beth

 

Dear God what is the point of being good if no one notices? – Mark.

 

One of your clouds made a face that scared me. Please don’t do it again. – Ellen.

 

Dear God we’ve got a lot of religion in our house so don’t worry about us. – Teddy.

 

Dear God did you mean a Giraffe to look like that or was it an accident? - Norma

 

If nothing else the children’s prayers simplicity and honesty certainly make you think. Perhaps we need to get in touch with our childhood selves from time to time.

 

Friday 12th June 2020

 

Getting the Church to Fly

A very charismatic vicar was preaching to her flock one day and trying to infuse them with excitement about the future of the church. ‘This parish is standing still she said it has got to learn to walk.’ At the back an enthusiastic voice shouted yes, let the church walk.’ Yes, said the preacher getting into the spirit of the sermon but that will not be enough; to be really dynamic it’s got to learn not just to walk but to run.’ ‘I agree’, said the voice from the back’ let the church learn learn to run.’

Feeling that she was getting somewhere good and that the congregation was behind her the vicar went on ‘but even that is not enough this church must learn to fly’ ‘Hurray said the voice from the back let it fly!’ ‘But, ‘do you know what?’ said the vicar if we are really going to fly as a church, we are going to need money!’ ‘We can’t do anything without it’. To which the voice at the back shouted. ‘Oh, that’s alright I’m OK with walking’!

Need I say more.

 

Thursday 11th June 2020

 

Satan’s favours

As I have mentioned before I believe that there is a lot we can learn from the Old Testament but also I think there is also much we can learn from more modern Jewish thinking. After all God was speaking to Israel long before the Christian community was around.

Menachem Mendel Torem of Rimanov  (1745 – May 29, 1815) was a famous HasidicRabbi who lived in what is now Poland. He attracted many scholars around him and was noted for his wisdom. His writings and his sermons were published after his death.

It is said that one day he dreamed the he was ascending to heaven and that whilst there he heard an angel pleading with God to grant Israel wealth saying: ‘Behold how pious they are in poverty; give them riches and the will be many times more pious.’ The Rabbi enquired the name of this angel. ‘He is called Satan’ he was told. Mendel exclaimed: ‘Leave us in poverty then O Lord and safeguard us from the favours of Satan.

Is it not true that sometimes what we wish for are the very things that will harm us? How many times do we read how a lottery winner’s life has been ruined, their marriage destroyed and their friends lost through their new found wealth yet everyone wants to win the lottery it seems.

 

 

Wednesday 10th June 2020

 

 

An Old Bible

 

One day a collector of antique books ran into an old friend of his from college days. Unfortunately, from the collector’s point of view this friend was simply not interested in antique books. Anyway, the friend told him that he had been rummaging through some old books in charity shop one day when he came across a very old bible. He happened to mention that it was printed by ‘Guten-somebody-or other’. The collector’s heart missed a bit or two. ‘Er do you mean Gutenberg’ he asked nervously. ‘Yes, that’s the fellow’ replied the friend. ‘What did you do with this bible asked the collector?’ ‘O it was so old and tatty that I threw it away’ he said.

 

‘What shouted the collector ‘That was probably one of the most valuable books ever printed. They sell for millions of pounds and you threw it away?’ ‘O I doubt if this one was that valuable said the friend, not only was it falling to bits it had notes scribbled all over it by some bloke who signed himself as Martin Luther!’

 

Sometimes ignorance can be bliss than there is the risk that we never know what we have missed. The same is true with religion and our faith.

 

Monday 8th June 2020

 

Creativity

 080620 WFTD picture Creativity sm

 

Creativity as I have mentioned before is part of our very nature. Indeed, doctors will tell you that to create something is actually very good for your health. Many years ago, a friend of mine who was borderline depressive was told by his doctor to find a creative hobby.

God undoubtedly designed us to be creative and he encourages us to be fulfil our lives by being so. Look at this painting by Jan Provost of Belgium (1465-1529). He has allowed his creative imagination free reign and produced an allegory in paint and it tells a tale. At the top is the all-seeing eye of God. To one side the lamb of God on the other the Bible. The hand of God holds the globe, the Earth, in the centre of the picture and on it rests the Redemptive Cross. There is much else besides which I leave you to discover. It is interesting to spend time looking at this picture to see what can be found in it. The painting is an extraordinary piece both as a whole and as its component parts. To some it is a magnificent painting but to others it is a contrived oddity – take your pick.

But don’t just spend time looking at this painting admiring others creativity let us dedicate ourselves today to doing something creative ourselves. There are no limits on what that might be or constraints on how good we are at doing it. We will be the better for doing it.

 

 

Friday 5th June 2020

Creativity

A child asked their priest or, if you prefer, vicar parent. ‘where do you get your ideas for your sermons from?’ The reply quickly came back ‘from God of course’ ‘So said the child if the words come from God why do you keep screwing up the paper, throwing it in the bin and starting again?’

Two things strike me about this story.

The first is that perhaps the child was right in implying that its parent was not hearing God and was either blocking the message from coming through properly or alternatively, not liking it when it began to take shape so that it was discarded.

The second thing to strike me is our need to create. The sermon writer wants to create something memorable and worthwhile. In this we do show that we are made in the image of God who is the great creator of everything so it is hardly surprising then that we should wish to create as well.

Unfortunately, we are part of a fallen human race and sometimes we let our desire to create get in the way of our ability to listen to what God actually wants us to do or say. It’s can be a difficult conundrum and something we need to work on every day.

The assumption in the story at the beginning of this thought is that the child does not really understand the process but perhaps that is wrong. Perhaps the child in this case actually understands better than the adult.

 

Thursday 4th June 2020

Bats

Most country churches seem to have Bats that live in their churches. They can be very messy and cause quite a few problems. Unfortunately, it’s not an unusual problem and bearing in mind that bats have legal protection it can be a difficult issue for the clergy. Three members of the clergy were discussing the problem one day and swapping idea about how they might alleviate the problem.

One said he put nets out below the ceiling so that any mess made by the bats was captured before it reached the pews or the altar. Another said that he had tried using incense in church because he had heard that bats did not like it and tended not to roost where it was used. Unfortunately, a lot of the congregation didn’t like it either.

The third said I have solved the problem! How the others asked? I baptise them and put them on the electoral roll he said. ‘I haven’t seen them since!’

The church is very often taken advantage of in this way. Even in this so-called secular age we are asked to perform wedding and baptisms when we know perfectly well that we will not see the participants again. It’s a shame of course but spirituality and nearness to God are not dependent on people coming to our particular church. God is quite capable of reaching whoever he wants to without our presence. Our job is to keep the house open for whoever and whenever it is needed.

 

Wednesday 3rdJune 2020 

 

What’s so Funny?

I enjoy using humour in both my sermons and in these thoughts for the day. If it makes me laugh then I am sure it will make you laugh too. I sometimes think that in another life I would have enjoyed being a stand-up comedian. However, just making you laugh is not the sole aim of what I am doing here. Experience shows that people listen more closely and remember for longer something that is told to them with a bit of humour included in it and one of the jobs that I was commissioned to do at my ordination was to teach.

It is not often recognised that Jesus himself used a lot of humour in his teaching and I am sure the people of the time would have reacted favourably to it. Jesus laid his hands on Peter’s head and said ‘Upon this rock I will build my church’. I am sure he was aware of the double meaning. ‘The idea of the blind leading the blind’ would probably have seemed funny to his audience.  ‘What idiot would place a lamp under a bushel or under a bed and not on the lampstand?” and so on. We have so pressed and minutely examined what Jesus said and did that we have pressed out the life that was there. Laughter is every bit a human experience as suffering and we should not forget that Jesus said ‘I bring life and I bring it more abundantly’

And for today’s memorable humour. The young curate said ‘would any lady who wishes to join the young Mothers group please see me in the vestry after the service.’

 

 

Monday 1st June 2020

 

Occasionally in my life I have been asked to get involved with RE and one of the questions I liked to pose to senior school children was this.

Two Friars were in London for the day and whilst they were standing outside one of the many churches to be found there, they unfortunately witnessed a car accident. One of the Friars said to the other ‘quick you go in to the church and pray for the people involved in the accident and I will go and see what I can do to help.’

The question I asked was ‘which one was right?’ the practical helper or the one who went into the church to pray. Normally the first reaction from the class was that the practical helper was the one who was correct. They justified this because they would say praying would not have done anything useful. After a while though this would lead to a debate about what we actually do when we pray. It would get interesting after that.

Of course, like many things there is no easy right answer and both action and prayer have their place. The difficulty for us often is working out what that place is.

The question really is   what is prayer?

 

 

Friday 29th May 2020

Judging

 

Judging people is something we tend to do automatically. We look at their clothes, we listen to how they speak, we like to know what job they do. It is very difficult not to Judge using our chosen criteria.

 

When I was growing up it was generally expected that on Sunday one should put on ones ‘Sunday best’ clothes for going to church – I am sure many of you will have had the same experience. The youth club therefore was rather frowned upon for tending to turn up to Communion in jeans and T-shirts. The fact that 20 or so people in the age range 15 to 20 were coming to church was quietly ignored in favour of complaints about inappropriate dress.

 

On investigation it became clear that those who thought one should put on one’s best clothes held the, probably unspoken, theological view that we had to honour God by making every effort to look our best when attending church.

 

It also became clear that the youth club members were not intending to be disrespectful but that they had a different but equally valid theological point of view and that can be best summed up in the statement ‘this is me and I come before you as I am without pretence’.

 

Neither position is right or wrong. In fact both are good.

 

When we understand where people are coming from in this way, we can begin to see why Jesus was so emphatic that we should not judge each other.

 

 

 

Thursday 29th May 2020

 

One day, an antique collector was walking through a town when he noticed an old cat lapping milk from a rather ornate bowl outside the front door of a house. The bowl caught his eye and his expertise told him that it was extremely old, rare and consequently very valuable. He resolved to get the bowl. He went up to the front door rang the bell and when eventually the aged occupant answered the door. He offered to buy the cat.

The aged householder replied, "I’m sorry, but the cat isn’t for sale.”

The collector said, "Please, I need a hungry cat around the house to catch mice. I’ll pay you twenty pounds for that cat."

Eventually the owner was persuaded to part with the cat for £25.

As the collector picked up the cat and turned to leave, he said casually almost as an afterthought, "Look I’ve paid you quite a lot for this cat I wonder if you would mind, if I took this old bowl as well? The cat’s used to it and it’ll save me from having to get something else for it to drink from."

The owner replied, "I’m really sorry but you see that’s my lucky bowl“: “Lucky Bowl – what do you mean lucky bowl?” Well the owner replied “so far this week I’ve sold sixty-eight cats because of it."

I have two questions for you. Were either householder or the dealer who tried to get the bowl cheaply behaving morally? What do you think we as Christians should have done if we were in either of their positions?

 

Wednesday 27th May 2020

Literal Understanding

A mum and dad decided it was time to have their three children baptised. So, they arranged classes and eventually the time came. On the designated Sunday morning as they were on the way to church the mum noticed that her nine year old seemed unusually quiet and preoccupied.

When asked what the problem might be the child said ‘mum I would like to go first please.’ Impressed by the child’s keenness she asked ‘Why do you want to go first?’ Reluctantly the child finally answered ‘well I don’t really want to be Baptized in the water that has my brother and sister’s sins floating around in it.’

We have to be so careful when explaining things to children because they often see the world very differently from adults. There is a whole framework of understanding behind some of our most simple of beliefs that we tend to take for granted. When we preach that baptism washes away our sins why would a child not think they are floating around in the water? It’s a minefield that we have to navigate when we try to teach the faith.

 

 

Friday 22nd May 2020

A scientist decided he wanted to study the behaviour of frogs so he started off with the simple stuff.

 

The scientist marked out a measured course put the frog on the start line and said ‘Jump froggy jump’. The frog obligingly jumped four feet so the researcher wrote down in the research note book ‘frog with four legs jumps four feet’.

 

The scientist then found a frog with only three legs and put it on the start line and said ‘jump froggy jump’. This frog also obligingly jumped but this time only three feet. The researcher wrote in the research book ‘frog with three legs jumps three feet.

 

Similarly, it was that found that a two-legged frog only jumped two feet and a one-legged frog only jumped one foot. The researcher duly noted all this data in the research note book.

 

At last the researcher came to the frog with no legs. As with the others it was placed on the start line and told ‘jump froggy jump’. Nothing happened. The researcher tried again but louder ‘jump froggy jump’. Still nothing happened. The researcher then wrote in the note book.   ‘Frog with no legs deaf!’

 

It is so easy to jump to the wrong conclusion even in the face of all the evidence!

 

 

Thursday 21st May 2020

In his autobiography, Mahatma Ganda told of his time as a student in South Africa. He reported that he had become deeply interested in the Bible particularly Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

He became convinced that Christianity held the answer to the caste system in India. The caste system has long plagued India and it prevents particularly lower caste individuals from progressing beyond the limits of their social position. He was so serious in fact that he said he considered becoming a Christian himself.

One day he tested his enquiry out and decided to attend a Communion service and then get further instruction. Unfortunately, he was stopped at the door and told that if he wanted to attend church, he was most welcome but that he should go to one reserved for Blacks.

He never followed up with his enquiries but still never disregarded Christianity entirely. When asked about it one time he reportedly said:

“Oh, I don’t reject Christ. I love Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ”.

 

Wednesday 20th May

When I was little, I seem to remember a phrase that older people used quite often in adverse circumstances and that was ‘Mustn’t grumble’. It then seemed to move into the repertoire of comedians and then by today you rarely hear it at all. I suspect it became popular during the first world war when the situation was often difficult and times were hard. Continued grumbling is never pleasant to listen to and often there is little that can be done to rectify the situation anyway. So it is energy poorly spent

I think it was recognised that society runs better and is happier when people work together giving thanks for what they do have rather than grumbling about what they haven’t got.

I heard a story about an older person who was renowned for staying positive. Unfortunately, this older person one day tripped and fell down stairs. They were duly taken off to hospital and luckily found to have no serious injuries. ‘Mustn’t grumble’ the person told the doctor with a smile ‘that’s the fastest I’ve moved for years.’

We can always find something to celebrate even in the most difficult of situations.

 

Monday 18th May 2020

 

A Doctor went to have his haircut and when it cam time to pay, the hairdresser refused to take any money saying that Doctors had done so much for the country that he could have this haircut for free. The next morning when the barber opened shop door, he found a hamper of fruit outside with a note of thanks in it.

A Nurse also showed up for a haircut and again the barber refused payment as a vote of thanks for all that nurses had done to look after the people. The next morning, a bottle wine was found at the door also with a note of thanks on it.

Later that day a politician turned up for a haircut and again the hairdresser refused payment as a vote of thanks for the leadership shown in the crisis. The next morning when the hairdresser opened the door, he found a line of politicians waiting outside for a haircut.

Stereotypes are useful for the media as a kind of shorthand and they use them a lot but in fact their use is sloppy journalism and it can be very misleading. Stereotypes are fun to play with but that is all they are – fun. People are not really stereotypes.

The Christian faith does it best to look at people as individuals. The book of Revelation speaks of each of us being given a stone with our name on it. This is a recognition of as us as individuals and not a stereotype.

 

 

Friday 15th May 2020 

 

Gnaeus Piso once Roman governor of Syria is said to have interpreted the applause of his soldiers as an attempt to undermine his authority and to question his judgement. It sounds silly but then Cyrus the Great of Persia was so incensed and took it as a personal insult when one of his favourite horses was drowned will crossing the deep river Gyndes that he declared he would so weaken the river that it could be ‘crossed by women without getting wet above the knees’. Seneca a Roman thinker said that such reactions stemmed from an ‘abjectness of spirit’ which itself stemmed from a persistent fear in ourselves that we somehow derive ridicule.

 

And it is too easy to dwell on things that happen particularly when we are in isolation as we are now. Such things can build up.

 

Did such and such not return my phone call because they don’t like me or, when I saw them, they were in a hurry and rushed off not speaking much; were they trying to avoid me? It may simply have been that the person wanted to have a longer phone call and was setting aside a better time or that they rushed off because they had a commitment and were late for it.

 

In isolation there may not be anyone to tell us to snap out of it or tell us we are being silly. It is easy to fall into the trap that Seneca described. But he went on to say that the only cure for such fears and thoughts was ‘to learn to be a friend to myself’. ‘You may be sure’ he said ‘that such a person is a friend to all mankind’.

 

 

Thursday 14th May 2020

I like to refer back to Judaism from time to time as in it are our Christian roots.

The Shulchan Aruch (Hebrewשֻׁלְחָן עָרוּך [ʃulˈħan ʕaˈrux], literally: "Set Table"), but sometimes known as the Code of Jewish Law, is the most widely consulted of the various legal codes in Judaism.  Together with its commentaries, it is the most widely accepted compilation of Jewish law ever written.

Here is a passage from it that we as Christians would do well to remember and to consider.

“The manner of sitting, movement and affairs of a person, when alone in the house are not the same as when in the presence of a great king. One’s manner of talk and boasting when among one’s own family and friends is likewise not the same as when in the company of a king.   In the latter case a person would certainly take precautions that his or her movements and manner of speech be properly prepared. So much more should one be cautious then when considering that the Great King, the Holy One, blessed be he, whose glory fills the whole world always stands near and observes our doings.”

 

God be with you this day and every day.

 

 

Wednesday 13th May 2020

The FIsherman and the Frog

 

I enjoy doing these thoughts for the day and I particularly enjoy the feedback the generate. It has become apparent from the feedback that a range of different thoughts is needed to accommodate the different circumstance and condition of the audience.

A country priest was in the practice of going fishing when ever he could find the time. One day sitting on the riverbank he notices a frog sitting on a lily pad nearby. The frog spoke to him and said.   ‘I am really a princess who has been cursed but if you kiss me I will turn back into a princess and reward you handsomely.’ The priest smiled picked up the frog and placed it in his fishing bag.

From the bag a voice could be heard. ‘told you I was a princess, kiss me and I will make you happy for the rest of your life!’ Again, the priest ignored the frog.

Again, the voice from the bag said. ‘What is wrong with you?’ Didn’t you hear what I promised?’

The old priest finally smiled and spoke. ‘Frog it is kind of you to offer but at my time of life I would prefer a talking frog to a princess but thank you.’

Understanding your audience right is everything! This is true for all of us and not just preachers.

 

Monday 11th May 2020

Hillel and Shammai

Hillel and Shammai were highly respected doctors of the Jewish law who lived and operated around Jerusalem just after the time of Jesus. They both had their own schools of disciples. They were often consulted on points of law and how one should conduct one’s personal and communal life.   That they had different approaches is summed up in the saying circulated at the time that said " Let a man be always humble and patient like Hillel, and not passionate like Shammai".

It is interesting to note how close some of the thoughts expressed by Hillel were very close to the ideas and concepts that Jesus proclaimed. It shows that Jesus was well ‘plugged in’ to part so the establishment thinking on the Jewish Law.

A heathen came to Shammai and said ‘I will be come a convert to Judaism on condition you teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot’. Shammai chased him away with a stick. He then went to see Hillel and said the same thing ‘I will become a convert if you teach me the whole Torah whilst I stand on one foot’.

Hillel replied ‘Whatever is hateful to you do not do to your neighbour. That is the entire Torah. The rest is merely commentary. Go and learn it.’

 

Friday 8th May 2020

 

American Servicemen in Britain

Today I am going to read to you from a little book that all American service people coming to the UK were given in 1942 to help them understand the British with whom they would be living and working

…. For many months the people of Britain have been doing without things which we Americans take for granted. But you will find that shortages, discomforts, blackouts and bombings have not made the British depressed. They have a new cheerfulness and a new determination born out of hard times and tough luck. After going through what they have been through it is only human nature that they should be more than ever determined to win…

…At home in America you were in a country at war. Since your ship left port, however you have been in a war zone. You will find that all of Britain is a war zone and has been since 1939….

…. Use your head before you sound off, remember how long the British alone held Hitler off without any help from anyone…

…..You are coming to Britain from a country where your home is still safe, food is plentiful, and lights are still burning. So, it is doubly important for you to remember that the British soldiers and civilians have been living under tremendous strain….

… Remember crossing the ocean doesn’t make you a hero. There are housewives in aprons and youngsters in short pants in Britain who have lived through more high explosives in air raids than many soldiers saw in the first-class barrages of the last war.

It is good to see ourselves as other see us. This gives a vivid insight into how the Americans saw us in 1942. Most appropriate for today, I think.

 

 

 

Wednesday 6th May 2020

The Jewish faith has a long tradition of accumulating and recording stories, acts and saying outside of the regular scriptures. They are the fruit of much study of the human condition over 3000 years and of the scriptures themselves. This collection may be found in the Talmud. The wisdom found there is well worth listening to. For instance, this story attributed to Rabbi Baruka of the 5th century.

 

Rabbi Baruka was standing in a market place when the prophet Elijah appeared to him. Baruka asked the prophet if anyone among the people there who was destined to share in the world to come. Elijah looked around and he pointed at two people. Baruka went over two the pair and asked them what they did to find out why they should be so deserving.

 

In reply to his question they said “We are merry-makers. When we see a person who is downcast, we cheer him up. When we see two people quarrelling with one another, we make peace between them.” Gaining entry into heaven is not complicated.

Monday 4th May 2020

My Grandmother who died at the age of 94 was a very strong-willed lady. In fact she could be quite difficult. When she was 85 I went around to see her and found her in what she called her gardening clothes. On asking her what she had been doing she replied that she had been cutting the grass for the old people next door. Now I know that those ‘Old people next door’ were in fact in their 70s and at least ten years younger than my grandmother.

A similar older person was interviewed by a reporter. He asked what advice she would give to people of a similar age. She replied that ‘at our age it is very important to keep using our potential or it dries up. It is important to be with people and if possible, to be of service to someone. That is what keeps us alive and well.’

I am sure that my grandmother would have agreed. She rarely used a bus if she could walk and heartily disliked being inactive.

It worries me therefore when the government wants to take all these things away from the over 70s in a blanket order that they should all stay inside for their own good. The irony is that in such clumsy attempt to protect the elderly, will deprive many of their reason to be alive.

Luckily, I can hear my grandmother’s response in my imagination. ‘I’d like to see them try’ she would have said.

 

Friday 1st May 2020

 

This is a story borrowed from the author Anthony de Mello

A dialogue between a sceptic and her newly converted friend.

So, you have decided to follow Christ, have you?

‘Yes’

‘Then you must know a lot about him’. ‘Tell me in what country was he born?’

‘I don’t know’

‘How old was he when he died’

‘I have no idea’

‘How many sermons did he preach’

‘I really don’t know’

‘You don’t appear to know much about the person you have decided to follow then, do you?’

‘You are right. I am ashamed about how little I know of him’. ‘I do know this much though. Three years ago, I drunk to much every day, I was in debt, my family was falling to pieces, my wife and family would dread my returning home each night. But now I have given up drink, I am out of debt and ours is a happy home. All this Christ has done for me. I know all that I need to know for now.

From Song of the Bird ty Anthony de Mello 1982

 

 

Thursday 30th April 2020

Sermons always worry me. Is it too long? Is it too short? Are the ideas I am putting forward simple enough not to confuse people or are the ideas I’m putting forward intellectual to engage the minds of the congregation? I can tell you that it can be a real headache. I prefer a conversational style myself whilst other preacher are much more formal. Which is best?

I am sure that I am not the only priest who after a sermon has had someone come up to me to say that they were really moved by what I said and that I spoke directly to them. Then when telling back what so moved them, I realise I actually never said that at all!   Very often the content of a sermon is in the ear of the beholder. Do we hear what we want to hear or is it the work of the Holy Spirit operating through my words?

After a very long and boring sermon the parishioners filed out of the church saying nothing to the preacher. Towards the end of the line was a thoughtful person who always commented on the sermons. "Vicar, today your sermon reminded me of the peace and love of God!" The Vicar was thrilled. "No-one has ever said anything like that about my preaching before. Tell me why." "Well - it reminded me of the Peace of God because first it passed all understanding and it put me in mind of the Love of God because it endured forever!" 

Sometimes we just can’t win!

 

Wednesday 29th April 2020

 

A new female priest was appointed to be vicar of a rather staid and traditional parish to a fishing village near the sea. Whilst she was accepted by many in the parish some of the traditionalists on the church committee had a hard time with the new situation. However, they were fair minded and wanted to be as gracious as they possibly could.

Now one of the traditions of this parish was that the priest should bless the fishing boats at the annual festival. So when the time came the new vicar and a few of the committee members got into one of the boats in preparation for the ceremony.   The boat went then out into the middle of the harbour. Suddenly the vicar realised she had forgotten her prayer book which she had left in the car. ‘I’m sorry’ she said ‘I’ll have to go back and get it’. Whereupon she stepped out of the boat walked across the water to the harbour wall went up the steps to her car got her book and walked back over the water to the boat and got back in.

‘Typical’ said one of the more sceptical committee members. ‘Just like a woman always forgetting something!’

Sometimes our prejudices can be so strong we fail to see the miracle before our eyes because of them.

 

Monday 27th April 2020

A fervent and newly ordained curate was using the humble squirrel as her example for the Sunday Children’s service. ‘I am going to describe something to you’ she told the children, ‘and I want you to raise your hand if you can tell me what it is’. The children waited eagerly.

‘This thing is an animal and it lives in trees’ said the curate – No hands went up.

‘It likes to hide nuts’ she said.’ Still no hands went up.

‘It comes in two varieties one Red and one Grey. Nothing.

‘It has a long bushy tail she said and leaps from tree to tree.’ Some of the children looked thoughtful but still no-one said anything.

Eventually a boy at the back put his hand up. ‘I know the answer must be Jesus he said but it sounds like a squirrel to me!’

Teaching the faith is difficult and it is amazing how children pick up nuances in what we say that we did not even suspect were there.

 

Friday 24th April 2020

A wealthy man was so concerned at the thought of being parted from all his wealth when he died that he decided to try and do something about it.

 

He started praying to God asking if in his case an exception might be made and that he be allowed to take his wealth with him. One night angel was sent from God to explain to the man that the rules were quite clear and there were no exceptions. “Nobody brings in anything from Earth to Heaven” the Angel said.

 

The rich man was not accustomed to giving up. He did not become rich by giving up at the first obstacle so he carried on praying and in fact increased the frequency and the fervour of his prayers. After a while the Angel again appeared to him and said “Alright God has heard your prayers and will allow you one suitcase in which you can pack what you like”.

 

The man was overjoyed. Eventually he did die and he found he was allowed one suitcase as promised. He filled the suitcase with Gold bars as the best way to carry his wealth. Arriving at the pearly Gates St Peter came out to greet him and saw the case. “Oh yes he said I remember you - well you’d better let me look in the case then”. The man opened the case to show off his gold bars. “St Peter looked for a moment and the said in a surprised way. “Pavement why on earth have you brought pavement slabs to heaven?”

 

Sometimes we get so fixated on what is important to us here on Earth that we forget to realise that what is important here may not be so important in the hereafter.

 

 

Thursday 23rd April 2020

 

Covid-19-230420-WFTD-Portra

 

 

 

I know it is St George’s day to today but I spoke yesterday about stories and how important they are at transmitting truth but of course stories need not be told with words. I wanted to carry on that theme for a bit.

Take a look at the painting of a tailor by Giovani Battista Moroni. It seems to me that there is a story here just bursting to get out.

He is a man at work and clearly, he is confident and a professional. He is well groomed reasonably young - I am terrible at judging ages at the best of time but he looks youngish to me. He is dressed in good clothes which from the way the light falls shows that the material is expensive. Therefore, one may assume that he earns a good living and is probably well regarded by is customers and community. He is looking straight at us the viewers unafraid, or not intimidated, by rank or status and seems to invite us to explore his world.

I wonder if we lose the ability to really look at pictures and explore their story in this modern world where images are two a penny.

 

Wednesday 22nd April 2020

Jesus was a great story teller but he did not invent the medium.  The teaching of truth through the use of stories was and is a great Jewish tradition. 

 

In Jewish mythology there is the story of the teacher who gave his teaching only in parables and stories, which his disciples listened to with pleasure and occasional frustration.  They clearly did not understand all that they were being told and sometimes they longed for something deeper and more complex.  The rabbi was unmoved by their protestations and complaints.  To all their objections he would say, "You have yet to understand my friends, that the shortest distance between a human being and a Truth is a story."

 

Another time he said "Do not despise a story just because it is simple.  Many truths are at their heart very simple.  A lost gold coin is found by means of a penny candle; the deepest truth is found by means of a simple story."  Somehow a story can encapsulate a truth in a way that that thousand hours of lectures or sermons cannot.

 

Monday 19th April 2020

Today Tony Gilbert showed a book with prayers especially written for the Covid-19 crisis by Barbara Glasson, President of the Methodist Conference .

It can be downloaded from

www.CofE.io/ChurchOnline    The whole book is 32 pages but you can copy and print the pages you want.

 

He shared one of the prayers:

We are not people of fear;

we are people of courage.

We are not people who protect our own safety:

We are people who protect our neighbour's safety.

We are not people of Greed:

we are people of generosity.

We are your people God,

giving and loving,

whatever it costs

For as long as it takes

wherever you call us.

 

Good Friday 10th April 2020

The Absent Minded Professor

There was once a theological professor who was always so absorbed in his work and higher thoughts that he forgot the simplest details of everyday life. One morning his wife said, "Now Henry, remember, we are moving house today. I have sorted everything out so here, I'm putting this note in your pocket with our new address. Don't forget we are moving!."

The day passed and the professor preoccupied with what he considered to be other weightier matters forgot all he had been told and went home to his old house. He still had the key and he entered the front door. Unsurprisingly he found the place empty. Distraught, he walked out to the curb and sat down wondering what to do now. A young boy walked up to him, and he asked him, "Little boy, do you know the people who used to live here?"
The boy replied, "Yes, Dad, mum said you'd forget everything she told you."

The ‘Higher things’ is a dangerous thing. It stops us paying due regard to the everyday and makes us forget the important message because believing we know it we concentrate on what we consider to be more important things. Before long we have forgotten the message and it’s meaning and are fully taken up with those other things. Like the professor. He was to taken up with his thoughts that he did not listen to his wife when she told them he was about to move. He did not need to listen because he knew where they lived – or thought he did. It’s the same with Good Friday – we think we know it. This year though everything is thrown into the air and the old certainties are changing. Time to look at the stories more closely perhaps.

 

 

 

Maundy Thursday 9th April 2020

Children Will Learn About Christianity as they Grow Up

Today is Maundy Thursday but did you know the word “Maundy” comes to us as from an Anglo-French word derived from the Latin “mandatum,” which means “commandment.” It refers to when Jesus, in the Upper Room during the Last Super, said to the disciples: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34, Revised Standard Version).  We are always learning.

I often hear parents say that they don’t want to worry their children with religious matters ‘let them make their own decisions when the grow up’ they say. My reply is that they might learn these things if they go to Church with you but otherwise how are they to do so? On what knowledge will they be able to base their decision as a grown up? There are few places for them to gain such knowledge. So, on what grounds will they make their decision? We are lucky in this benefice in having church schools that do teach about Christianity and other faiths in a very balanced way. However, teaching about something is not the same as experiencing it. Some parents are keen to have their baby christened but again are content to take no further action somehow expecting their child absorb Christianity as he or she grows up but with no actual exposure to it. Don’t get me wrong, I am very pleased that parents and children do come forward for baptism (Christening) and I am sure that God can do miraculous things but it would be nice to meet him halfway! In all the Churches in this benefice we try to be open, friendly and welcoming and we try to teach anyone who asks what it means to be a Christian. In fact, finding the answer to that question is a lifelong study. But however long it takes we are convinced that it does improve our quality of life along the way and who could ask for more for their children? What better way to celebrate Easter than trying to teach our children more about Christianity.