Christian · community

Clearing away the rubbish

This morning, Small Boy, Little Miss and I were litter-picking as part of a church ‘Helping Hands’ event. I found myself getting annoyed as, once again, I was picking up other people’s rubbish: drink cans, cigarette butts, sweet wrappers and bits of plastic.

And then I thought about my rubbish: my short-tempered-ness, my judgementalism, my selfishness, my envy…….

Who takes my rubbish away?

Our church is now part of an ecclesiastical mash-up – a joining together of a Pentecostal congregation and an Anglican congregation. Even though Sunday mornings haven’t changed much, I have found myself feeling increasingly at home within Anglicanism: the importance of words, the heritage, the architectural and material symbolism, and the theological space for uncertainty and mystery.

Who takes my rubbish away again and again and again?

Most merciful God,

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

we confess that we have sinned

in thought, word and deed.

We have not loved you with our whole heart.

We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.

In your mercy

forgive what we have been,

help us to amend what we are,

and direct what we shall be;

that we may do justly,

love mercy,

and walk humbly with you, our God.

Amen.

(From: https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/common-worship/service-word/service-word-morning-evening-prayer-night-prayer )

May the God of love and power

forgive you and free you from your sins,

heal and strengthen you by his Spirit,

and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord.

Christian

Have mercy on me

‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner’

I first came across this ancient Eastern Orthodox prayer in The Perfectionism Book, and then again, shortly afterwards in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (another marvellous book for those seeking to grow in Christian maturity). 

I often say it (out loud but quietly or simply in my head) when pushing my sleeping daughter in her buggy. The words remind me of my need for a saviour and how I do not need to strive to earn God’s love.

Grace offends. I relate more to the older brother in Jesus’ short story of The Prodigal Son. The child who works diligently and responsibly is aggrieved by the scandalous acceptance of the returning younger brother who’d asked for his inheritance early and spent it on wine and sex. 

The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’ (Luke 15:30 The Message)

‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner’

These words remind me of my need for grace. It often seems easier to accept God’s forgiveness for my wrongdoings and failings than to recognise there’s absolutely nothing I can do to earn his affection.

There’s nothing I can do that will ever stop him loving me. 

Yet, I struggle to believe his love for me is not dependent upon my performance and achievements: whether moral, academic, social or professional. 

The truth is there’s nothing I can do to make God love me. 

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‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner’

Forgiveness is liberating and when I experience – just briefly – the peace and acceptance which comes from knowing I no longer have to strive to impress God or meet impossible targets, I have a taste of a deeper freedom and joy: I am loved because I am loved. I am loved. 

And the truth is I am a sinner. I’ve messed up and I fail: I do what I don’t want to do and I don’t do what I want to do. Sometimes I don’t even want to want to do the right thing! 

I had a longing this week to be ‘ashed’ on Ash Wednesday; a deep desire to publicly and physically acknowledge my need of mercy and my reality as a sinner. So I attended a service in a nearby high Anglican Church. 

I recently read Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas – the premise of which is that we all have different ways of connecting with God and growing spiritually. I did not score highly on what he calls ‘sensate’ – liturgy, architecture, classical music – a worship experience which affects all the senses. My preferred ways of encountering God are through study, showing love to others and fighting injustice.

Yet on Wednesday evening as I smelt the incense and heard the soaring soprano, my spirit sensed God’s glory and holiness. As the priest made the sign of the cross on my forehead with the words ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.‘, I was reminded of my mortality and weakness. I am frail. 

Being welcomed and embraced by God doesn’t depend on my strengths, skills, achievements or performance.

He loves me because he loves me because he loves me because he loves me. 

And he loves you too.

Christian

Grace makes beauty out of ugly things

Grace makes beauty out of ugly things (U2 – Grace)

One of my favourite Christmas tree decorations is this wooden star. It was made two years ago by New Hope’s Community Market Garden team for the St Mary’s Church Christmas Tree Festival.

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Created out of some discarded damaged wood, I bought it after the festival to hang on our tree at home for Small Boy to enjoy. He was almost one then and enjoyed saying ‘dar’ whenever he saw a star. This unwanted and imperfect piece of wood became something beautiful to us as the three of us celebrated Christmas together.

To me the star became a symbol both of the work of New Hope and of my own life. I often torment myself with thoughts of hurtful or shameful things I’ve said and done or decisions I’ve made that I regret. Sometimes I look back over my life and wish it had been different but then I hear God say ‘you are a trophy of grace’.

‘A trophy of grace’: all that I am now, all that I have is due to God’s grace.

Soli Deo Gloria.