Materialism – The opiate of the people

You say; I am rich, I have prospered and I need nothing, not realising that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. REV 3:17

We live in a society where we are bombarded every moment of the day with subtle often unnoticed inducements to buy stuff. Our every whim and desire can be purchased with a few key strokes of our computers without us even venturing from our armchairs. Our lives are spent earning enough money to buy everything we feel we need.

 

Our idols are our possessions and our pride in them; also, our need for endless connections on social media.

 

The question we must ask ourselves is where is our first love? Do we spend more time in front of a screen than we do in prayer, worship and bible study?

 

Recently we have been studying the letters to the churches in the book of Revelation.

 

Each letter highlights the good points and the often-hidden problem areas which characterises each church, I think the largely unrecognised problem in the Western church is our reliance on wealth and not on the faithfulness of God.

 

What we forget is that any idol is of no use in eternity, Jeremiah wonderfully lampoons idols when he describes them as worthless as scarecrows in a cucumber field.

 

Jesus underlines this problem on the sermon on the mount when he tells us that we can either serve God or money. Matthew 6 19-24

 

The sad reality is that we no longer just own our possessions but they actually own us. For example, two lovers sitting across a candle-lit table and staring into their mobile phones instead of each other’s eyes.

 

Remember the story of the rich young man who wants to follow Jesus, only to go away sorrowful unable to fulfil Jesus’ request to sell all that he had and give to the poor. Jesus commentary on the story is another wonderful hyperbole. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven. Luke 18:18-30

 

So how do we avoid the traps of materialism which are very powerful always waiting to ensnare us?  For us it seems nigh impossible but as Jesus says with God everything is possible.

 

It can only be done through the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives to help us to focus on the love of Jesus. All our desires have to be on Him, as the old hymn says,

 

” Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”

 

As many of us have found a trip to a third world country helps us to realise that money does not buy the wonderful blessings of a loving community and helps us to have compassion for the poor, and the evils of hoarding wealth for ourselves when so much could be done with our money to bring real benefits to the poor. Love of money will be replaced by compassion for the poor, as Scrooge discovered in the well-known Dickens tale.

 

So as Jesus says, let us store up treasures in heaven.

Prayer

Last month as part of Thy Kingdom Come and the Diocesan Year of Prayer we were praying in our new prayer room at The TRINITY Centre, 24 hours a day for 4 days. It was wonderful to take the time out to seek God for those we love, for the town we love, and the world we love.

 

Then a chance conversation about prayer reminded me that prayer is so many different things to different people. Some time ago I was seeking God to help me write a preach on the theme of prayer and I was struggling to pull it all together so I just sat down and waited on God. These are the words that came.

 

Prayer

 

Prayer is a conversation.
not one way, but feels a lot like that sometimes.

 

Prayer is having Gods undivided attention. Not engaged, not on hold, not the 27th person in the queue, prayer is getting straight through when the line doesn’t even ring.

 

Prayer is solid, dependable, words on a page, liturgical, lyrical, it’s rhythmic, routine.

 

It’s out of kilter, out of line, stand up on the restaurant table and shout at the top of your voice.

 

Prayer is a weapon, a fighting tool… 
a comfort blanket, a hot water bottle, 

 

It’s rough and ready, its harsh, it’s loud angry shouting, 
it’s quiet and soft, whispering in the ear of a loved one, it’s gentle singing, it’s worshipping the most amazing wonderful person that one could ever even begin to imagine.

 

Prayer is being tucked up under the duvet, needing a fix to even move one toe out into the cold harsh world.

 

Prayer is a longing, a desire, an unquenchable fire burning within and unable to get out.

 

 

Prayer is in the mud, in the dirt, getting covered from head to toe, in the grime, in the gutter, a desperate plea, just a few words uttered,

 

help me.

 

Prayer is stepping out of those grubby clothes, in a warm bath, bubbles, rose petals, it’s soothing, it’s gentle, soaking. 

 

Prayer is the beautiful tune of a lover singing to their beloved.  
It’s the most intimate thoughts that we share with no one. It’s the things that shame us, the things that define us, the things that no other living soul knows.

 

Prayer is the most dramatic, fantastic, all consuming, loving welcome: come on in, this house is your house, kick back, enjoy…

 

 

Prayer is a child curled up on their dads lap, arms encircling, loving, blessing, soothing, warming.

 

Prayer is crying out together in defiance. in pain, in love, in desperation. It’s standing alongside each other, battling, warriors, in unison in our pain.

 

Prayer is angry, ‘what do you want from me’, where are you?, why have you forsaken me? 

 

Prayer is sobbing, streaming, making a scene, it’s unattractive.

 

Prayer is laughter, hysterical, screaming, uncontrollable, giggling.

 

It’s wailing, longing, seeking, needing, begging…

 

Prayer is indulgent, it’s selfish, self seeking, self-serving, 
It’s soaking, enjoying, drowning in love, like a depth of love you have never known

 

Prayer is burning desire, unquenchable, out of control.

 

It’s like breathing, like water, it’s daily bread.

 

Prayer is being at one. being at peace.  

 

Prayer is: encountering God.

 

Consider The Lilies

In April I went to visit Ravenna, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, in company with some of my art history friends.

We had been studying the art of mosaics, their history and how they were made, and we wanted to see the most famous examples in their original sites. Made from tiny pieces of coloured stone, they adorned church buildings, basilicas, baptisteries and mausoleums. They have survived, as bright as new, since the fifth and sixth centuries in Ravenna, which was once the western capital of the Empire of Roman Catholic Church under Theodoric, then taken over by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and his wife the Empress Theodora, both Christian rulers, in the sixth century. They built a wonderful basilica church, San Vitale, dedicated to the glory of God, and adorned it with mosaics on walls , arches and apse, showing Christ in majesty and processions coming to worship.

 

The images are breathtaking, their colours vivid, and perhaps the most striking thing of all is how the natural world appears everywhere in the mosaic pictures. These early Christians wanted to show the glory of God’s creation- everywhere there are flowers, fruits, birds and animals, all integrated into the worship of the Creator God. Everywhere there are biblical references- the fruit of the vine (“I am the vine, you are thebranches”), doves of the Holy Spirit drink from the fountain, the source of eternal life, and I was told there are 52 different birds shown in these mosaics!

 

In those days the ordinary people could not read and did not have books, so the mosaic pictures told the stories found in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, as did fresco paintings in churches in other places, and even some remain here in Sussex. You may find similar references to the natural world in stained glass windows in many of our English churches, often with local scenes celebrating the riches of Gods creation with flowers, animals and birds found locally.

 

One of my favourite verses from the Bible is:

 

“Consider the lilies of the field, they toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I tell you, Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these”.

 

It was lovely to see reminders of these verses portrayed in stone and to think of the continuity of the biblical teaching from so may hundreds of years ago.

 

We also visited two other basilicas dedicated to the local sixth century bishop and saint, Apollinare. There, the processions of martyrs and saints coming to worship Christ in Majesty are also accompanied by palm fronds, flowers and birds. At Saint Apollinare in Classe, just outside the town at the ancient Roman port of Classis, Christ is shown as shepherd of the sheep, with his disciples in the form of sheep, in a heavenly meadow. Saint Apollinare’s robe is covered in bees, symbolic of his role as leader of a monastic order- monks were workers in cells like the bees! I am told there is an old custom of telling the bees if someone dies, as they will fly straight up to God to announce the passing of a loved one from life on earth to that in heaven.

 

Sermons in stones still have relevance to us today as we care for God’s beautiful creation around us.

 

Shirley Darlington
Creation Care Team

24/4 Prayer: Time to listen, time to adore

Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. Luke 6:12

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.  Mark 1:35

From Wednesday 16th May to Pentecost Sunday, Trinity will be hosting a time of continuous prayer. As a community we will be following Jesus’ example of spending significant time in prayer. Jesus never did anything that was not totally in the will of His Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

What a privilege to be able to enter the very throne room of God! Jesus has done everything to give us free access by His death and resurrection. We are cleansed and adopted as children of God.

 

The children of a king can always run up to Him and sit on His knee. Prayer gives us intimate access to the very presence of the triune God.  Although coming into the presence of the living God, (as John experienced on the isle of Patmos), we may fall in awe before the wonder and beauty of the risen and resurrected Christ and stay prostrate until he says “Fear not – get up “.    If you have ever been in love, you will know that you want to spend as much time as possible with your beloved, to be alone, experiencing the intimate nearness of the beloved. If you love Jesus a little and want to love Him more, then go into your quiet space, shut the door and pray:

 

“Heaven is not heaven without Christ. It is better to be in any place with Christ than to be in heaven itself without him.”

 

Do not be daunted by having to spend one or two hours alone in silence. The time will go very quickly; once we appreciate the presence of Jesus, we will want to spend time just listening and entering into wonder and adoration. The psalms and Song of Solomon are good resources for intimacy in prayer. For example ,“Youhave captured my heart, my treasure, my bride…your love delights me, my treasure, my bride.Your love is better than wine.”

 

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is full of wonderful prayers. Through prayer we can understand how wide, long, high and deep the love of Jesus is, even for us! Although it is too wonderful to be fully known.

 

Once we have spent some time in adoration and praise, we will experience a closeness to Christ where it is easy to come with prayers and intercessions. Jesus gives the perfect template for prayer in the Lord’s prayer, slowly praying through and hanging all our prayers on each paragraph.

 

Every time we worship and pray, we are being transformed into the image of the Lord Jesus. We are given power to fulfil our mission as Trinity, to see lives transformed by the love of Christ and our mission is to build wholehearted disciples of Jesus. We will be a people who will bring Christ’s Kingdom in on earth here in Lewes as it is in heaven. Do sign up for an hour or more of prayer.

 

 

Ian Hempshall
englishpoughboythykingdomcome.blogspot.co.uk

Creation Care in Nicaragua

For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. Isaiah 51:3 NRSV

In February a small contingent from Trinity went with a group from  Amos Trust to Nicaragua, led by Katie Hagley a former worshiper at Southover.

 

We visited a charity called CEPAD – a relief organisation started by protestant ministers after an earthquake that destroyed most of Managua the capital. It now works by committing to a poor community for five years and working to help develop that community. They work with the local churches, which are mainly Mennonite, training the pastors. They help to develop the community with training in leadership skills and forming co-operatives, and teaching craft-making skills.

 

The most impressive part of the work is the way they develop the health and nutrition of the villagers by teaching them organic methods of growing food, and by providing water harvesting and simple water filtration, using a biofilter made with local materials, aggregates from the river and charcoal from the fire, which people can make and maintain for themselves.

 

Villagers have to commit to working with CEPAD, only using the organic methods they would be trained in. At first many people are reluctant to join as they feel they have to have chemical fertilisers and insecticides, but as soon as they see the miraculous change in the gardens of people using the new methods, they are very keen to join. The soil in Teusteppe where we were working is volcanic, very arid, and the area mountainous. Our job was to provide simple water harvesting ponds for which we had fundraised. CEPAD provided seeds which are germinated in seed beds and newspaper pots, which are then planted into the soil, using home-made composts and natural plant insecticides.

 

Fruit trees are grown and planted out; this solves the problem of soil erosion and provides shade for the smaller crops. The fruit provides vitamins and varied nutrition as well as a surplus to sell at market. By the end of the five years each participant should have 19 different varieties of fruit tree and vegetable in their garden, also they should have taught another to use the CEPAD method.

 

In one community we worked in a garden attached to the school, this was enormous fun as we worked with the school children and the local community who all came out to help. Some of the group helped cook a delicious meal for the whole workforce using the locally grown organic vegetables. The local pastor was always much in view, always in the midst of the hardest work, providing love and encouragement to his little flock. The church in Nicaragua is very focused on helping the poor and being an integral part of poor communities. After we had finished our work for the day, it was very natural for us to all troop into the little shanty church for a session of joyful hymn singing, the pastor and various locals passing round a guitar. Our team is now fundraising to provide waterfilters .

 

Ian Hempsall
https://englishpoughboythykingdomcome.blogspot.co.uk

 

Holy Week Reflections

Holy Saturday – in the Grave

Read: Luke 23:50-56

  • What, if anything, stands out to you?

Listen: Stations of the Cross by Malcolm Guite 13 and 14 click on the numbers to get the audio

 

Artwork: two choices today:

‘The Deposition’ Ugolino de Neriolook close up at the faces of Mary and Jesus 

 

or Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’ sculpture (click on the titles to see the paintings)

 

  • Both these pieces depict the raw emotion of a Mother with her dead son. Can you feel the sorrow through the artwork?

 

Prayer Points:

  • As we come to the end of the week’s reflections, why not commit yourself afresh to the Lord? You could use this prayer – The Methodist Covenant Prayer which Methodists repeat every year in committing themselves afresh to the Lord.

 

I am no longer my own but yours.

Put me to what you will,

rank me with whom you will;

put me to doing, put me to suffering;

let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,

exalted for you or brought low for you.

Let me be full, let me be empty,

let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things

to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

you are mine and I am yours.

So be it.

And the covenant made on earth,

let it be ratified in heaven.

Amen.

 

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Good Friday – The Crucifixion

Read: Mark 15:21-41 perhaps 2 or 3 times

  • What, if anything, stands out to you?
  • Imagine yourself in the text, at the foot of the cross, how does it make you feel?

Listen: Stations of the Cross by Malcolm Guite 11 and 12 click on the number to get the audio

Painting: ‘St John of the Cross’ by Salvador Dali Click on the title to see the painting

 

  • This painting was inspired by a drawing, kept in the Convent of the Incarnation in Avila, Spain, which was done by Saint John of the Cross after he had seen a vision of Christ during a powerful spiritual experience. Dali talks of the unity of the world in Christ through his own interpretation. What does it speak of to you?

 

Song: Strange way by Martyn Joseph

  • A cleverly written song on the Crucifixion, have a listen to the lyrics and see what stands out to you and think about why.

Prayer Points

  • We sometimes talk of nailing our burdens or our sin to the cross. What do you need to let go of and give to the Lord right now? Lift it to him in prayer.
  • Pray for those who are persecuted for their Christian faith around the world.
  • Pray for those you know struggling in their faith

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Maundy Thursday – The Last Supper

Read: Luke 22: 7-30 and/or John 13:1-17

  • What, if anything, stands out to you? 

Listen: Stations of the Cross by Malcolm Guite 9 and 10, click on the number to hear the audio

 

Painting: ‘Journey with Jesus’ by He Qi click on the title to see the image

 

  • There is much symbolism and many references in this picture, what stands out to you?
  • Where would you be in this picture?

 

Prayer Points:

  • Focus on the line from Luke ‘…my blood is poured out for you…’ Spend some time thanking God for the amazing sacrifice he made for you.
  • Pray for those in positions where service is key, perhaps the emergency services, medical staff or armed forces.
  • Pray for those who serve you personally. At home, work, church or in the community…

 

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Wednesday – Betrayal

Read: John 13: 18-30, perhaps 2 or 3 times.

  • What, if anything, stands out to you?
  • How do you feel about Judas? Was he purely evil? Was he deceived by the Devil? Do you think he had a choice about what he went to do?

 

Listen: Stations of the Cross by Malcolm Guite 7 and 8click on the numbers to get the audio.

 

Painting: ‘The Bound lamb (Agnus dei)’ by Francisco de Zubaran click on the title to see the picture

  • The image of Jesus as the pure and innocent lamb is very powerful, especially as depicted here tied and bound and completely helpless. Does this help you to focus on the idea of Christ as a pure sacrifice? Or on the idea of betrayal? Have you ever betrayed Jesus?

 

Prayer Points:

  • Lift up to the Lord any situations where you feel you have let him down, perhaps even betrayed him, seek his forgiveness.
  • Pray for those who are helpless in our wider world, for example those starving in the current famine in East Africa. (Tearfund has some prayer points here)
  • Pray for those close to you who feel helpless in a situation they face

 

Visit: Pop into our Easter Encounter Space at TRINITY Southover, open all day today from 10am – 10pm. Explore the Easter story through the prayer stations.

And/or Join us for worship and prayer 8-9pm at TRINITY Southover

 

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Tuesday – The Greatest Commandment

Read: Matthew 22: 34-40, perhaps 2 or 3 times.

  • What, if anything, stands out to you?
  • How important are these commandments to you in your life? In what ways do you show the love of Christ in your daily life?

 

Listen: Stations of the Cross by Malcolm Guite 5 and 6(click on the numbers of get the audio)

Painting: ‘God Hold Me’ by Charlie Mackesy

Available here but you need to scroll down to item 74

 

 

  • Can you imagine yourself in this painting?
  • Can you think of a time when you have experienced God holding you in this way? Perhaps you might need to experience this now in a situation you face?

 

Article: Holy Week in an Unholy World

 

  • Does this article resound with you?

 

Prayer Points:

  • As above, imagine God holding you in an embrace like the painting. Can you invite him into a particular situation you are facing?
  • For situations in the world that need God’s embrace more than ever right now, for example for those grieving in Syria
  • For someone you know who needs to feel God’s embrace afresh today

 

Visit: Pop into our Easter Encounter Space at TRINITY Southover, open all day today from 10am – 10pm. Explore the Easter story through the prayer stations.

 

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Monday – Cleansing of the Temple

 Read: Mark 11: 15 – 19, perhaps 2 or 3 times.

  • What, if anything, stands out to you?
  • What are the things that make you angry? Why not spend some time thinking about a time when you were angry, frustrated or annoyed recently. Spend some time reflecting on how Jesus might have reacted to that situation?

Listen: Stations of the Cross by Malcolm Guite 3 and 4Click on the numbers to go to the audio.

Illustration: Modern interpretation of Christ driving the money changers from the temple’ by Anthony Freda/Daniel Zollinger (click on the title to see the image)

  • What is your instant reaction to this picture? What emotions does it raise in you? Do you think it is fair as a modern interpretation?

Article: Following Jesus Means Being Political and Advocating for “The Least of These”

Following Jesus Means Being Political and Advocating for “The Least of These”

  • Does this article resound with you?
  • Does following Jesus mean being political to you?

Prayer Points:

  • If you feel led to do so, pray into the situations you thought about above where you experienced anger.
  • Pray for an issue of injustice, for example those who suffer because of race, religion or sexuality.
  • For those you know who struggle with unresolved anger

 

All God’s Creatures

One of the most confusing aspects for me as a Christian is to reconcile our attitude towards animals with God’s word and purpose, which I believe is for the whole of creation. There are many reasons why Christians may be ‘spiritually blind’ concerning this subject, one of which is uncertainty in interpretation of animal behaviour.

For instance, some scientists declare we cannot know for sure whether animals, such as pigs, feel ‘happy’ or ‘sad’, unless we can prove it and explain it in terms of human emotions. Therefore it is acceptable to keep pigs in ‘unhappy’ conditions, which are inhumane.  The arrogance of this stance is responsible for animal suffering on an unimaginable scale. If we accept we are imperfect, surely we should accept our science is imperfect.

Jumping Cow
A ‘happy’ cow jumping for joy after being released from winter barn

 

 

One of many examples of our imperfect science is revealed by the commonly used idiom: ‘He has a memory like a fish’. The belief that fish only remember for 3-4 seconds has exonerated us from keeping them in confined places where they may experience frustration and stress. It seems fish have good memories, according to one Cambridge researcher who describes them as ‘‘amazing and intelligent”. http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/memory-like-a-fish

Both modern scientific understanding and our own experience demonstrate that animals are similar to us in many ways. Some create valued, life-long, exclusive relationships with other animals, they protect what is important to them, they sacrifice themselves for their young, they think and feel, they experience pleasure and pain and mourn their dead.

 

OK, maybe we cannot be absolutely sure the caged animal suffers as we would; its ‘apparent’ dejected frustrated manner could mean something else.  Surely the response to this uncertainty would be to give these creatures the benefit of the doubt and to ask oneself: ‘would I want to be treated like this? Would I let my dog be treated like this?’ Surely the answer would be ‘no’.

In fact, ‘’if one person is unkind to an animal it is considered to be cruelty, but where a lot of people are unkind to animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned and, once large sums of money are at stake, will be defended to the last by otherwise intelligent people.” (Ruth Harrison, Animal Machines)

 

Of course, in the end, we are consumers responsible for our actions. If we choose to buy intensively farmed food, knowing how it is produced, are we not insulting God?

Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si has brought the problem of animal welfare into the public domain, and the Times reported in 2013:

 

‘There may be no other single human activity that has a bigger impact on the planet than the raising of livestock’.

 

Many believe the real solution to minimising human pressure on the environment lies in agriculture and reducing consumption of animal products, which will also result in better health as well as improving the lives of the poor in underdeveloped countries.

Maybe these concerns for humanity will challenge our ‘spiritual blindness’. But I wish we were motivated for the right reasons:  that we acknowledge the cruelty and suffering we inflict on animals through our ignorance and apathy.  Maybe all we have to ask is ‘what would Jesus do?’ and our duty of care would be revealed.

 

 

Caroline Hodges
Creation Care Team

Worship

The adoration of the crucified risen and ascended Lord Jesus

Imagine a dark church at 3 o’clock in the morning, you have been woken from sleep by the church clock. You struggle into wakefulness and strike a match which shines out into the church and you light a candle that is placed before a simple wooden cross.

As the stark image of the cross seems to flow and grow, filling your field of vision, the words of Isaiah 6  ” I saw the Lord high and lifted up” come into your mind as the image of the cross sparks the imagination.

However, the image of the cross does not support a vision of God clothed in fiery royal finery, seated on a majestic throne, but of a king stripped naked and bloody with skin stripped off by flogging and hands pierced by cruel nails.

Isaiah’s vision produces holy fear and underlines our need for repentance in the face of a thrice Holy God.

However, the vision of Jesus lifted high on the cross fills our hearts with love for a God who left his throne in the heavenly places to suffer and die the most horrible and degrading death for everyone who puts their trust in Him. The glory of the cross is a very strange sort of glory. Jesus knew that he had to be lifted up, like the serpent in the wilderness, then He would draw all people to Himself.

Philippians2:6-11  is a wonderful picture of Jesus as the obedient son of God leaving the majesty of heaven and the perpetual love of the trinity of persons of which he was fully part. He laid aside all the joys and majesty of that union to become fully human, suffering everything that we suffer, including death, even death on a cross.

However, the death or Jesus was followed by His glorious resurrection and ascension. On the cross, our broken nature and our lives which end in death were totally transformed, by the power of what Jesus did on the cross. We have been transferred from the kingdom of this world of sin and death to the Kingdom of Christ and to life in a new world were Jesus reigns as God and King. The dividing wall that separated us from God has been broken down and we have free access into the throne room of grace.

Once we give our lives to Christ we are given everything that Jesus achieved, by His death on the cross.

Our lives which were once full of pride and totally obsessed with self, have become the place where love flows out to all around, helping to bring in the kingdom of Christ, until our physical death calls us to life with Him.

We can then continue in adoration, love and worship of our wonderful crucified raised and glorified Jesus Christ in His new restored creation; a unified heaven and earth.

 

 

Ian Hempshall
thykingdomcome.blogspot.co.uk

 

Trees For Life

I wonder if you, like me, feel guilty about flying to foreign parts for a holiday? I hate to think of the damage done to our environment and the ozone layer by aeroplanes. Friends of mine have taken the pledge not to fly any more, for this reason.

But I do love exploring different places, and this late summer I was drawn back to Crete, the second largest island in the Mediterranean. Not just for sun, sea and sandy beaches, you understand, but because I love the wild rugged landscape, the history, the people, their traditional ways of life, their generosity to strangers.

You can sit on a hillside looking out over olive groves towards a glimpse of sea, and hear nothing at all, except perhaps the distant tinkle of bells round the necks of foraging goats. Or spot a local Cretan gathering food from his patch of garden, fruit from the trees, or hay from the tiny fields.

On this trip we came across something extraordinary. Driving from Chania towards Omalos in the White Mountains, we saw a sign pointing to “ National Botanic Garden.” Intrigued, we followed the winding road higher and still higher, until we arrived at the entrance, and decided to visit. It was a hot sunny day, but there was a delightful cooling breeze. As we parked and entered, the first thing we saw was a huge gaunt olive tree, probably hundreds of years old, with its central trunk hollowed out, burnt away by fire. A powerful symbol, indeed. (see picture)

Burnt Olive Tree With Still living Green Shoots

We learned that the Botanical Park and Garden had been created after a disastrous forest fire which had devastated several acres of the hillsides in 2003. As the leaflet we were given says, the area was reborn from its ashes. The aim of the garden is to educate visitors about how important trees and plants are to our wellbeing.  We were offered water, sunhats and stout walking sticks to help us round a 5km trail through the forest,  which gave us shade and intense visual pleasure as we gazed at the wonderful and amazing variety of shapes and colours of trees and plants from habitats all around the world.  I thought of the lines in Andrew Marvell’s poem The Garden: “Annihilating all that’s made, to a green thought, in a green shade”.

As we wandered around in wonder, it was very interesting to observe others too, carefully reading labels on the plants, which named each one, its country of origin, and its uses. Many were medicinal plants, herbs and trees, for example the Willow, from which we obtain aspirin. Such huge variety of leaf shapes, brightly coloured flowers, tree trunk markings and scents…

Our leaflet said : “Walking around the Botanical Park and Gardens of Crete offers spiritual tranquillity and visual pleasure, while getting acquainted with flora and their compositions”. For me personally, it was a reminder of the wonder of God’s creation, and renewed my faith as I silently offered up a prayer of thanks for His goodness to us. Here was an example of spiritual teaching, without any need to preach, because I felt God’s creative presence all around me. And here also was a good example of how to follow God’s instruction to care for his Creation, and to encourage others to do likewise.

Not only spiritual needs were met, but the walk ended in a beautiful restaurant overlooking the wonderful view of the forest and mountains, where all the delicious food came from the gardens, including a fruit drink made from the fruits of trees grown there. The whole experience was very special, and I believe the Botanical Park and Gardens are unique in Europe. So if you are ever in Crete, do visit. Sharing this experience helps ease my conscience about the air flight!

 

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” Genesis 2:15

        Shapes of Trees and Leaves                    Tree Trunk Markings

    

 

 

 

Shirley Darlington
Creation Care Team

Listening to the right voice

Last term I spoke at the 6:30 and encouraged the congregation to think about who they follow (eg: a sports team, band, someone on social media) and then invited them to shout out that thing all at the same time.

The point being that you then couldn’t hear what everyone was saying, which is a bit like life – there are so many voices calling out to us, enticing us to follow them, that it can be hard to know which one to listen to. It might be advertising voices, magazines, celebrities, political voices, social media posts, all speaking to us about what we should do and who we should follow.

I continue to be challenged by this thought. In this day and age it’s getting harder and harder to suss out the right voice to follow, or which one is even telling us the truth, there is so much ‘fake news’ about now (and I shall refrain from commenting on that!).

I think if we are honest, most of us want something to follow, a path, or we want a label. We want to be loved and accepted and those paths or labels we use to help us fit in.  So when we choose to follow things we are actually just looking for, or forming our own identity. What or who we follow, reflects who we are, or who we choose to be, or how we want to be seen. And I feel that now more than ever we need to really take stock of who we are following, what voices are we listening to and taking on board.

Because the real truth is, a truth that can’t be changed, and an identity for all of us… is that God loves us. Every one of us. No matter who we are, what we’ve done or said, we are loved, just as we are. The bible tells us that Jesus gives us the right to become children of God. That can be our true identity if we listen, if we choose to follow him.

But perhaps amidst the babble that is hard to hear, I mean why on earth would anyone choose to follow Jesus’ voice in this day and age? With all that choice? Can he give us as much street cred as an iphone X? Can he get us the best seat in a restaurant ? or make us part of the in crowd?

When I preach I love to leave the listeners with a challenge and I guess that’s what this whole post is – a challenge to you to really think about how you are shaping your identity. What or who influences you? What or who do you spend most time thinking about? Where do you spend your money? Your time? Your energy?

Because most of those voices we hear have an ulterior motive – financial, political, for personal gain; but the voice of Jesus simply wants us to know how loved we are, wants to draw us closer to him and to that ultimate truth. That’s why we should listen to him over any other voice.

 

Jules Middleton
www.pickingapplesofgold.com