#AdventBook2016 – Week 1: Wednesday

The Coming of the Son of Man – Matthew 24.29-35

“Often in the Bible there are passages in which several things have come rushing together… But in order to understand them, we have to take them apart and allow them to be heard one after the other.” I find Wright’s observations about Biblical timescales, and especially prophetic timescales, and interesting one for Advent.

Advent works on several timescales at once:

It is the “getting ready for Christmas” sort of waiting – when we count down a measurable length of time until we celebrate once more the coming of the Christ child.

If is the “once upon a time” sort of waiting – when we recall those patriarch, matriarchs and prophets who waited so long in expectation of the coming Messiah.

It is the “now and not yet” sort of waiting – when we who celebrate the first coming of Jesus look ahead to his coming in glory, when we will see the fulfillment of God’s plan for the universe, which now we see only in brief glimpses.

All these timescales and more are reflected in the readings and liturgy of the season. What do we mean when we say “Come, Lord Jesus”? There are so many layers of time and meaning, longing and waiting, in those few simple words.

#AdventBook2016 -Week 1: Tuesday

The Beginnings of the Birth Pangs – Matthew 24.1-14

Wars and rumours of wars… famine and earthquakes… torture… false prophets… lawlessness.

What a world we live in. What turbulent times.

Is it reassuring – or perhaps not? – to hear Jesus speak of these things, not as signs that it’s all gone wrong, but as somehow part of the plan.

Is it reassuring – or perhaps not? – to think of the generations of Christians before us who have seen things very like these – and things very different – before us, and have struggled to reconcile them with these same passages of scripture.

How do bring all this – the catastrophic, the cataclysmic (whether on a personal or a global scale) – back to God?

‘When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say: “Blessed be the name of the Lord”.’

 

 

#AdventBook2016 – Advent Sunday

The Unexpected Visit – Matthew 24.36-44

Are you ready?

“Are you ready? Ready? Here comes the train! Here comes Thomas!”

“Are you ready? Everything set up? Great, we’ll open the doors.”

“Are you ready? Have you got everything you need?”

“Are you ready? Put your pen down and look this way so I can see who’s ready.”

“Are you ready? Then I’ll begin.”

I seem to use the phrase “Are you ready?” rather a lot. But, ready for what? And what does readiness look like?

As someone who works with children, I’m used to the sort of readiness that involves a lot of resources. Photocopying done? Check. Chairs and tables laid our? Check. Pens and pencils? Check. Inflatable globe? Check. Risk assessment done, registers prepared, photo permission forms signed? Check. Ok, we’re ready.

But when the work you do is worship, that sort of readiness is never enough. I learned long ago that however ready I think I am, God still takes me by surprise.

Got a great youth group session planned, resourced, and ready to go? Great. But am I ready for the curved ball of a question in the first five minutes which sends us off on a completely different tangent?

I might be well prepared (sometimes) but am I prepared to set aside all my plans because God has a different plan in mind?

“You know not the day nor the hour.” You never know what God is going to do next. True readiness lies not in knowing exactly what is coming next, but in being ready to watch, listen and respond to whatever and whoever comes.

Are you ready?

Advent Prayer Calendar

This year my youth group will be making their own advent calendars….. with a difference: Advent Prayer Calendars.

advent-prayer-calendar-2016

In each box, they will write a brief prayer intention – a person, a place, a situation, a group of people… whatever they choose.

The idea is that they take the Advent Prayer Calendar home, put it next to their chocolate advent calendar (if they have one – and most of them do) and pray while they eat their chocolate each day.

We will also be producing a joint Advent Prayer Calendar, combining ideas from everyone’s individual calendars, to share with our whole church… and beyond.

The template for this year’s Advent Prayer Calendar is available to download here: advent-prayer-calendar-2016

UPDATE: Here is the calendar created by members of Engage (aged 10-13) to be used by the congregation of All Saints, High Wycombe….. and anyone else who wants to join in!

If you are praying along, please let us know how you get on. We hope this resource will be a blessing to you this Advent.

advent-prayer-calendar-joint-2016

You can also download our Advent Prayer Calendar as a PDF here: advent-prayer-calendar-joint-2016

We will be posting daily on Facebook and Twitter using #EncounterAdvent.

“It’s not the end of the world” – praying with young people in times of crisis

In times of crisis, significant change or upheaval – personal, national or international – it can be hard to know how to give young people space to explore their feelings and reactions in the context of knowing God’s unchanging love. This is especially hard if we ourselves are struggling to make sense of events.

I originally wrote this session to use with a group of young people who had suffered several recent bereavements. I have since used it with young people in the context of local and national tragedies, and political events which they have found scary or overwhelming. Most recently I used it the day after the Brexit vote. I offer it now in case it is of use to those responding to young people in the wake of the US election, or more generally. 

As ever, feel free to use, share and adapt in whatever ways are helpful. 


 

Prayer:

Open in prayer. Always. Something brief: “Thank you God that we can bring everything before you. Help us to listen to one another and to you.”

You might like to light a candle as a sign of God’s presence.


Discussion:

Make sure everyone knows about the thing that has happened. They probably will, but if not, give the facts (and only the facts) as briefly as possible, without making anyone feel singled out for not knowing already.

Let everyone express their opinion. Try not to cut people off, but don’t let anyone dominate the conversation too much. Use whatever active listening skills you have. Remind the group of the importance of listening well to each other, and model that.

Gently challenge any ‘othering’ or de-humanising comments eg. “people who vote for X are all stupid”. Don’t directly contradict (“No they’re not.”). Nor is it necessarily a good idea to try to get people to see the other person’s point of view straight away (“Can you think why they might have voted that way?”) though that might be helpful later. Try an open question, such as “How do you think God sees X?” “What do you think Jesus would want to say to those people? And to us?”

Get people to think beyond the current situation: “Can you think of a time in the bible when people might have felt like this? Or in history?” If there is a time when you have felt like this before (eg. past elections/political events) briefly tell the young people about it. Remember, they don’t have that framework of experience to help them make sense of their current feelings.

Give space for people to express their feelings if they want to, both about the general situation, and how it has affected them personally, eg. conflict/disagreement with family members or friends.


Scripture:

Use one of the psalms of lament. I used Psalm 77, but others would also work well.

If your group is not already familiar with the psalms, briefly explain that they were the worship songs of their day, and that they express the full range of human emotions – because God wants to hear about it all.

Ask the young people to get into pairs/small groups and give each pair/group an envelope containing all the verses of the psalm, on separate slips of paper. Ask them to categorise them into positive statements, negative statements, and questions.

Discuss as a whole group. Explore which statements were perceived as positive or negative and why, and whether there are some that could be both. Ask questions about why the psalmist might have included positive and negative statements. Ask what role the questions play in the psalm. Ask where hope can be found in the psalm, and where it comes from.


Response:

Either in their pairs, or a as a whole group, ask the young people to write their own psalm about how they are feeling.

Remind them to use positive and negative statements, and questions, and also to include something that gives them hope.


Prayer:

As a group, read aloud the psalm you have been working with, and the psalm(s) the young people have written.

Allow a period of silence for reflection and prayer.

Invite the young people to take part in some symbolic action – lighting a candle, sticking a heart-shaped sticker on a map of the world, etc.

Say the Lord’s Prayer together.



This is a psalm written by one of my groups during this session:

1 God, why would you

Bring sorrow into our lives?

2 Everything is going against us,

Making us feel sad and depressed.

3 You are our mighty leader

Who leads us in your way.

4 We will love you with all our heart

Because your care is never-ending.

5 We remember how you saved the Israelites

From the cruel Pharaoh in Egypt.

6 You hold us forever

In the light of love.

Love Hearts and the Kingdom of God

This week’s gospel – Luke 20.27-38 – is a ‘challenging’ passage, to say the least! Here’s my take on it, for our All Age Eucharist (with the help of some classic confectionery…).

Today’s gospel reading is a curious one, with the Saducees trying to catch Jesus out with a tricky question about the details of eternal life. But Jesus is not caught out – he holds fast to his vision of the eternal life of God’s perfect kingdom.

The question the Saducees ask, about a woman who has had seven husbands, is an interesting one. It seems to be a question about relationships, perhaps about love. There are, and have been through the ages, all sorts of different ideas about love and relationships we could consider.

Today we’re going to have a quick look at a snapshot of contemporary views of love… through the medium of Love Hearts sweets! [Children take it in turns to take a sweet and read out the message on it.]

So, there you have it. But of course, human relationships are far more complex that can be conveyed on a sweet. And by that I mean not only romantic relationships, but our relationships with friends, family, parents, children, colleagues, classmates, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Human relationships, in all their diversity, are beautiful, complex things.

But they are also flawed. All of us love imperfectly. All of us can be prone to be jealous, possessive, insecure, fickle….. [examples from Love Hearts messages].

But God’s love is not like that. God’s love is not flawed. God’s love for each and every one of us is perfect – more perfect than we in our human frailty can possibly imagine. I wonder what a Love Heart from God would say? How about this: [Unfold  giant paper heart and ask children to read] “God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believed in him should not die but have eternal life”.

This is the love Jesus is talking about when he talks about eternal life – a love so unimaginably great that it sweeps away the need for the human relationships we rely on here on earth and draws everyone together in the unifying, all-encompassing love of God. And so, at last, we will know in God’s kingdom that unity and peace which we can never achieve fully in this life.

But, until that time, we will go on seeing in the imperfect love humans have for one another the pale reflection of the perfect love of God for every person. In the frail beauty of humanity we glimpse the eternal beauty of God.

And that is indeed Good News. God invites us into the communion of his perfect love. Our task, our calling, is to share that Good News – to pass on the invitation, and show, by the love and care we demonstrate (however imperfect it may seem) whatever glimpses we can of God’s love to those we encounter. We are called to pray and work for God’s kingdom “on earth as in heaven” and to invite everyone to share in the communion of God’s love.

Our Leading Your Church Into Growth programme, which we begin today, is going to explore how we can better do that as a church – how we can show and tell more people that God loves them, loves us, absolutely. That is Good News and we must share it. And whenever, however, we do – however imperfectly – we give glory to God.

Amen.