St Kevin and the Blackbird

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Currently the churches and schools across the parish are in the midst of the Harvest season, so I thought that I would share with you the tale of St Kevin and the blackbird which I have been using for school collective worship during this time.

St Kevin was an Irish Saint said to be born around 492 AD, he used to go to a tiny stone chapel to pray which was so small it was difficult to pray in it. That’s because in those days, in Ireland, when a monk prayed, he didn’t clasp his hands together. Instead, he held them stretched out at his sides, to make the shape of the cross.

In fact, the chapel was so small that Kevin couldn’t even stretch out his arms, so he knocked a hole in two walls. Whenever he prayed, he stuck his arms out through the holes!

One day, Kevin was busy praying, with his arms poking out through the holes in the walls, when a blackbird came and landed on one of his hands. Kevin didn’t mind and he continued praying. Six hours later, when he stopped praying, he realized that not only was the blackbird still there, but it had started to build a nest.

What was he going to do? Should he pull in his arm and scatter the twigs of the nest? Or should he leave his arms sticking out?

What would you do? Kevin decided to leave his arms where they were.

Imagine what Kevin must have felt like as the hours passed . . . and the days. It takes about two weeks for the greenish-blue eggs of the blackbird to hatch. After that, it takes about another two weeks for the chicks to grow, develop wings and leave the nest. So Kevin would have had to stay like that for about a month!

Kevin didn’t flinch, even though his whole body must have been in agony. He stayed in the same position until the tiny blackbirds had hatched and left the nest.

There are lots of stories about St Kevin in which he is kind to the natural world around him. In one story, he even refuses God’s offer to flatten some mountains so that a monastery could be built because, as he said, ‘all the wild creatures on these mountains are my house mates, gentle and familiar with me, and they would be sad’ at the loss of their home.

During the Harvest season traditionally we give thanks to God for the harvest and all the wonderful gifts of creation he has provided for us, but it is also a time when we should ask for God’s help to enable us to take good care of his creation and St Kevin is an example of someone who did not just take from God’s Earth as he tried to help the Earth and support it, even when it cost him greatly. Maybe we ought to follow his example and do all we can to take good care of our world, not just for us today but also for those who will come after us.

Harvest is a time to celebrate. Psalm 104 is a song of praise to God for all the beautiful things that he has given to us on Earth. It is a long psalm, because there are lots of things to thank God for, so here are just a few verses 10-18. As you read these verses imagine all the things that are described and how we need to be wise stewards of God’s creation not just during this Harvest season but throughout the year.

10 He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
    it flows between the mountains.
11 They give water to all the beasts of the field;
    the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 The birds of the sky nest by the waters;
    they sing among the branches.
13 He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
    the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
14 He makes grass grow for the cattle,
    and plants for people to cultivate—
    bringing forth food from the earth:
15 wine that gladdens human hearts,
    oil to make their faces shine,
    and bread that sustains their hearts.
16 The trees of the Lord are well watered,
    the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 There the birds make their nests;
    the stork has its home in the junipers.
18 The high mountains belong to the wild goats;
    the crags are a refuge for the hyrax.

Services on Sunday 17th October

Please join us:-

9.15                    Holy Communion at Holy Trinity Church Lane End – Revd Philip Smith

This service is live streamed
Meeting ID: 344 875 1858
Passcode: clare

9.30                    Holy Communion at St Peter and St Paul, Stokenchurch – Revd Mark Ackford

10.30                  Harvest Walk starting at St Mary le Moor, Cadmore End

18.00    Harvest festival at St Mary le Moor, Cadmore End followed by supper in the village hall. Harvest gifts will be donated to Community Matters.

We can’t save Christmas, it saves US

Apparently, Christmas might need saving again this year.

I’m not sure what it may need saving from, possibly ourselves.

I love Christmas and I don’t mind preparing for it from around March 25th because when we get the news we’re going to have a baby, best get ready as soon as we can.

Last Christmas I gave you my heart, sorry got side-tracked. Last Christmas was a bit different for all of us as plans were rightly scuppered. This too brought tragedy for many families in the New Year who will be grieving this year. Christmas often brings to mind the sadness that may have occurred in the past around this time of year. Some churches have services in the Christmas season to acknowledge this. Not everyone is full of Christmas cheer and it’s gentle and compassionate to recognise this somehow.

I asked the songwriter Maldwyn Pope’s permission to reprint his lyrics to his song. ‘Christmas in my heart’.

I fear for Christmas when November comes,
When the shops play carols and sell children’s guns.
I fear for Christmas when they turn the lights on,
When the poor on the streets look so embarrassing.
I fear for Christmas when I close my door,
When I look in the fridge and just turn up the fire.
I fear for Christmas when I turn the sound down,
When they show starving children in a war torn town.
I don’t want Christmas in our shops,
In our cafes and restaurants,
I just want Christmas where it should be, in my Heart

I fear for Christmas when the brass band plays,
Those lovely carols from the bye gone days.
I get sentimental but the change is spare,
And in my wallet nestles the lion’s share.
I don’t want Christmas in the fairy lights,
In the tinsel and the wrapping all those sugary sights.
I just want Christmas where it should be, in my Heart.

I fear for Christmas when January’s here,
When the presents you bought are now not half so dear.
And the shops are full of all the summer clothes,
And the poor and the needy return to their pigeon holes.
I don’t want Christmas in the winter time,
Confined to some manufacturers assembly line.
I just want Christmas where it should be, in my heart.

Christmas won’t need saving this year or any year, because it’s about a Saviour who comes to us.

And if a blog about Christmas in October brings you out in a cold sweat, apologies but there’s not too much time before that baby arrives and we still have to paint the nursery!

We can’t save Christmas, IT SAVES US!

My hibiscus plant

Hibiscus plant

It’s hard not to smile when I see my hibiscus plant in full bloom! These spectacular large-flowered beauties, colourful and showy, apricot with a deep red centre, are opening up, giving wave after wave of beautiful blooms this month. The stamens are fascinating works of art, yellow and orange. I was given this plant as a small cutting about 10 years ago, and now it has grown into a magnificent bushy specimen. Very thirsty, it needs water most days and plant feed regularly, and with a little care, brings me great joy.

Some hibiscus plants have been pruned at a nursery to form large flower-filled heads on top of a 3 or 4 foot-tall trunk. Sometimes, these trunks are braided to provide even more interest and you can use tree -form hibiscus to surround a doorway, brighten a porch, or create a living focal point in the centre of a bed or border. They are very versatile.

Interestingly, though, each flower blooms only for a day , and then begins to wither and after a couple of days drops off the plant. But that in no way detracts from its beauty and the enjoyment it gives – any more than a wonderful sunrise or sunset blessing us, always transient, but none the less a lovely experience at the time, and one that can be captured on a camera for further enjoyment.  

I pruned this plant back to bare twigs at the start of spring in March, and wondered if I had killed it off, but happily the flowers started coming in September and there are still many buds to bloom in October. This week there’s been one flower that is a different colour to all the rest and instead of the apricot- coloured petals, just one is a deep salmon colour. I don’t know why (does any of you readers know why one flower is a different colour?)

This hibiscus illustrates many things to me.

It reminds me of the kind friend who originally gave me the plant. When she comes to mind I can thank God for her.

Then I think of the hard pruning I gave it – it seemed very harsh and I wondered if the plant would survive, and yet now there is a beautiful harvest of blossoms. I am reminded of the ‘pruning’ God sometimes allows in our lives – the harsh things that happen, the difficult circumstances we face, and how they can help us to grow beautiful characteristics in our lives such as patience, kindness, an empathy and understanding of others going through hard times.

The plant is a sign of God’s wonderful creation, which we think about especially at this time of harvest – so much beauty in a single plant, just growing quietly to the glory of God.

And that flower which is a different colour- different, and standing out from the rest, but absolutely as beautiful, as valued, as the other blooms. Indeed, it stands in contrast and contributes something all its own to the plant. So, too, with people we meet who are different from us – different but equally valued in God’s loving eyes, and therefore too in ours. We can celebrate that difference in one another.

None of the blooms last long, but can be fully enjoyed for what they are, and similarly with people who may be a part of our life just for a season; or maybe we feel a loved one’s life was too short – but it was none the less of value, worth and enjoyment.

The versatility-I think of how the hibiscus can be grown indoors or outdoors, for various purposes, and so too God can use us in different ways. As with the plant, He is the one who nurtures us and cares for us and gives us life.  Life in all its fulness and beauty.

My understanding is that the hibiscus and the Rose of Sharon are considered to be the same plant and in the Bible, the rose of Sharon symbolizes love, beauty, and healing to both Jews and Christians, although their exact interpretations may differ. Some consider it a symbol for Christ.

So, there are many reasons why I love this plant and all it stands for to me as I see it each day in my living room. I am off to water it now..

Come down Zacchaeus!

Something I was reading recently made reference to Zacchaeus and the sycamore tree and I thought it might be a good idea to read this well-known bible story again.  The sycamore trees that we are familiar with in this country have the fruit which we used to call flying saucers as children, but as a tree they look pretty difficult to climb.  I then looked on Google and saw that in Jericho where the story took place, the Sycamore tree or as it seems to have been renamed, the Zacchaeus Tree has low thick branches as it rises up with dense foliage so it would be easy to climb and ideal if you didn’t want to be seen.

Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was diminutive in size and of course he was a hated tax collector.  He wouldn’t have had much chance of seeing Jesus if he had been in the crowd, and, apart from his size, he would probably have been elbowed back by those he had cheated.  Grown men did not climb trees but something so strong compelled Zacchaeus to do just that. I wonder what was going through his mind as he waited for Jesus to pass by. Was he just curious having heard what people were saying about this teacher who healed and spoke of forgiveness and hope.  Or perhaps he felt he might be rejected by Jesus because of his lifestyle of dishonesty.

 The tree gave him protection and safety from others, its branches supporting him and allowing him to watch from a distance for Jesus.  Can we become trees for the seekers of Jesus? Are we willing to be climbed upon and used so that another can get a glimpse of Jesus? Sometimes it seems that we are being used and stepped upon or taken for granted  and it is hard, particularly when another appears to have little consideration for our feelings.  Often when we are open to be made usable by God, we are also asked to be resilient to the way in which others respond to our kindness and love and our need for prayer to remain steadfast in bringing the knowledge of God’s presence and grace in the world is ever present.

Jesus sees Zacchaeus and tells him to come down from the tree because he wants to dine with him in his house that very day. This would not have been what the crowd would have expected and there was indignation and grumbling going on among them and possibly this may have included Jesus’ own disciples. At this point it is the crowd that become small, small in heart, small in mind and small in charity. Zacchaeus would I’m sure have been amazed and overjoyed that Jesus has found and chosen him to dine with and makes no mention of his misdoings. Zacchaeus immediately responds to this by declaring he will give away half of his income to the poor and if he is caught cheating, then he will pay four times as much in damages,  repentance indeed!  Jesus then proclaims Zacchaeus as a son of Abraham which restores him to his status among the people. The end of this story in Luke tells us that Jesus then said “The Son of Man came to find and restore the lost” and in saying this, he has a wonderful example in the salvation of Zacchaeus.  However, God’s amazing love is there for every single one of us and his wonderful forgiveness remains even for those who have done dreadful things, if forgiveness is truly sought, God will not refuse. 

I wonder if any of those who saw what happened in Jericho that day recognised this new amazing promise of forgiveness? Jesus never hesitated to demonstrate God’s love to others especially to the most marginalised of society but in doing so he would have also been stirring up those who felt threatened by Jesus’ popularity and healing and would eventually plot his death. 

When wrongs are righted, may we always celebrate with joy without recriminations and stand and support those who may at last be catching a glimpse of God in their lives.

A Paradox

Jesus, Cross, Floor Cross, Christ

Yesterday was Holy Cross Day, a day when the Church celebrates a paradox: that an instrument of torture and death became the symbol of triumphant new life. The custom began in the 4th Century when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, visited the Holy Land with Helena, his mother. Helena believed that the “True Cross” of Christ was still in existence and she was determined to find it. The feast became associated with the dedication on Sept. 14, 335, of a complex of buildings built by the Emperor Constantine in Jerusalem on the sites of the crucifixion and Christ’s tomb. This shrine included a large basilica and a circular church. Helena supervised the construction of the shrine, and a relic believed to be the cross was discovered during the work of excavation. However it’s not the substance of the relic that matters; it’s what it stands for.

The Cross means more things than we can express in words. It can evoke sacrifice and death or hope and love. However, St Paul wrote, ‘we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness’. It was a stumbling block to the Jews because their scriptures stated: ‘Cursed is he who hangs on the tree’, it was a dishonourable death. To the Greeks, the crucifixion was foolishness, they couldn’t believe in a vulnerable god who could suffer and die.

Nevertheless, St Paul continued, ‘To those who were called to be Christians, both Jews and Greeks, Christ shows the power of God, and the wisdom of God; because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men’; and so, the Cross of Christ was glorified.

But despite all the powerful symbolism we mustn’t forget the reality of the True Cross. Jesus wasn’t crucified neatly on an altar between two candles. He was nailed to a rough and splintery cross between two thieves, on the city rubbish dump. Jesus had known how much he would have to suffer but did nothing to avoid it. He accepted it as the climax of his earthly ministry. His last word before he gave up the ghost was a cry of triumph: ‘It is accomplished!’ So we glory in the Cross of Jesus, because he is our salvation, our life and our hope, and reigns now as Our Lord.