Tuesday

9/11 Finding Love on September 11

Just as with countless others, I still find this to be a difficult day. My own life and my family’s were profoundly affected on September 11. Those events brought into sharp focus the realisation of what we should always hold dearest and most precious.

As the spectre of death was imminent, many people who had access to phones telephoned their spouses, parents, children, friends and family members to say not goodbye, but ‘I love you.’

During those brief seconds, all those lives focused on what really matters; love. Positions, job titles, possessions- they were now insignificant. In just a few fleeting seconds, the true essence of living, of life, of all our existence, was stripped to its rawest form.

The women and men; the clerks, directors, flight attendants, managers, cleaners, cooks, waiters, pilots, waitresses, firemen, medics, any one of them, whether at the World Trade Centre, Pentagon or aboard the four doomed aircraft, any one of them would have traded everything they had for life. Everything!

When death was falling upon Jesus, He looked down from the cross and saw His mother and his dear friend, the disciple John. ‘Woman, here is your son,’ He said. And to John, ‘Here is your mother.’
(John 19:26-27). These are the words echoed by those who phoned their loved ones: ‘I love you, take care of each other, be a family.’ They are also the words of the Church: love, compassion, and forgiveness.

People hunger for this message. We want to know what is important in life, what it takes to make a difference; is my faith enough, and what about the things I have done wrong, will I find forgiveness? The Christian message speaks of the worth of every individual, of forgiveness and of life not overcome by death.

Jesus is constantly transforming us, moving us to the centre of our being, where His image is most beautiful and precious. It is from this spiritual centre, that God is sending us to the outer limits of our capacity to love.

The World Trade Centre stood as a beacon to people all over the world. It reflected both the rising and setting of the sun and countless memories of happier times, whether it was falling in love at Windows on the World, or a child’s holiday trip to one of the world’s tallest buildings.


In the aftermath of its collapse, it reflected anxiety, fear and sadness. But it also reflected the heroic efforts that continue to reveal the absolute goodness of God inherent in every individual.

One of the most important roles of our Christian lives is to see within the fractured existence of humanity, the image of God waiting to be released. It is to see within division and animosity the seeds of reconciliation.

My greatest prayer during these uncertain times is that we maintain a spirit of reconciliation, a posture of openness and a respect towards one another.

Whether it is America, Britain, or any country where the freedom of democracy reigns, we must be nations where people who hold different opinions can express our thoughts and feelings without fear of ridicule, or rejection.

None of us possesses absolute truth, however, all of us need to listen and speak across passionately held beliefs. This is not a call to agreement, but to respectful listening. In the past we have not done this very well.

In a world beset by religious and ethnic strife, the Christian must take the risk of following Christ into the heart of saint and sinner alike, of friend and stranger, of the beloved and the enemy.

In his first letter, John reminds us, ‘Whoever says, I am in the light; while hating a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light.’
(John 2:9-10)


Together, we must live into this teaching, or together we shall shrink into the dark shadows of further racial, religious and ethnic divisions.

We continue to pray for the souls lost in this tragedy and we pray for their families. We pray for those who bear the responsibility of governmental power, that they use that power wisely. We pray that the rule of law protects us from those who abuse their position of authority or leadership, who may lead us towards war. We pray for all who have suffered because of aggression.

We pray for all those whose lives have been affected by conflict and aggression.

And we pray Lord, that You guide each of us to find peace.
.Loving and life giving Lord, we pray for all those who lost their lives on the morning of September 11. We pray that Your love touches the families and all who suffered as a result of this tragic event. We pray too, Lord, for those who sought to use evil to impose their own misguided values. We pray that all who seek to commit crimes of violence and aggression are intervened by Your love and tenderness towards all Your children, that they may use their lives for goodness instead. Amen

Monday

We All Fail Sometimes

There's a tradition which says that the Apostle Peter was in Rome when the Emperor Nero started a savage persecution of the Christian Church in 64 AD. Rome was on fire, and Peter started walking away from the burning ruins. He set out along the Appian Way, an old man now, weary from all his journeying, when Jesus met him, going back in the direction of the city.

'Quo vadis, Domine?' ('Where are you going, Lord?') Peter asked Jesus. 'I go to Rome to die for you,' came the reply. Peter, we're told, stopped and turned round slowly, and this time he didn't fail: he went back to Rome and death. Indeed when they came to crucify him, he asked to be executed upside down because he felt unworthy to die in the same position as his Lord.

God's call - it's worth reflecting on the character of the disciple whom Jesus called to be the founder of His Church.

Peter wasn't one of those superhuman perfect beings who make you feel inferior as you contemplate their holiness and upright behaviour. In fact, Peter didn't make a very good Christian, and the Bible doesn't try to pretend otherwise. All through his life he was constantly failing, making a mess of things, letting down those he loved. Yet so often he picked himself up and carried on.

There are times when we all go through times of frustration and disillusionment. I think it's during those times in particular, I thank God for Peter, the one who despite his failures, never gave up the struggle.


Lord God, give us the persistence of Peter, that we may be brought daily nearer You, and fitted as may best be for the life of Heaven. Amen.

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Tuesday

We Lift One Another

It was almost exactly one year ago when I had returned from a trip to Moldova. The trip had been particularly challenging. I had been stunned beyond words, when a prison officer opened a cell door for me, to find babies locked inside. Certainly, I’ve seen worse than this, but nevertheless, it stunned me and it made me feel so very helpless.


My ministry serves not only to raise corporate and personal awareness of the needs of communities and individuals, but to promote personal and corporate responsibility. It could easily be described as making ‘cold calls.’ You ‘knock’ on a lot of doors and you get an incredible amount of them shut in your face and an amazing amount of ‘suggestions’ as to who we should see, or where we might go for help. But you plod on and thankfully, occasionally; someone will take the time to listen and actually do something!


Each of us holds a personal responsibility, not only to ourselves but to our fellow man as well. Likewise, any public business holds a corporate responsibility: to its shareholders, its employees and to the community in which it is based. But I believe businesses, especially international ones, also hold a ‘social responsibility.’ Accordingly, I try to get businesses involved–to help them create projects that effectively change lives for the better.


Just as I am doing during this period of Lent, last year I was reflecting on what I had accomplished as well as failed to accomplish and the idea of sins had come to mind; sins against humanity, sins against the children, the sins of ignoring the plight of others, especially when the message is screaming so loudly at us.


And my thoughts had caused me to type the words ‘corporate sin’ into one of the search engines. I had never used the term before and I don’t think I ever would have thought of it, except for the gnawing feeling of sadness I had over what I had seen and felt. During that same month I had listened to an overabundance of ‘promises’ of what someone was going to do to help. But I instinctively knew that all the promises were nothing but bravado and attempts at self–affirmation.


God reaches out to us in ways we can never imagine. There it was, another priest in America had validated the very same thoughts and reflections I was being so pensive about–the very same things that Lent calls us to reflect upon:


Our sins, not just the sins we commit individually, but the sins we commit as members of groups, or societies, or institutions–here is where the term ‘corporate sin’ applies. It could be those sins where ‘the company’ disregards the good of the people, or disregards the needs of its community. This is why our confessions begin with the word ‘We.’ We confess…


Then there is the sin of omission. Those things which we ought to have done but have found a million excuses to justify our failure to do so. That is our sin of omission.


But what about the sin we commit when we have the power to do things and we simply choose not to? All the good we could do in this world, in our communities, in our businesses and homes simply isn’t done. And there is no reason. Why do we do this?


Lent serves as a time for us to examine ourselves and to ask ourselves:


  • Am I connected with God? What is my relationship with Him and with my spiritual community? And am I doing it humbly and not merely for show?

  • Am I investing in the world around me? Am I joyfully sharing what I have with others, especially strangers?

  • Am I able to easily forgive and turn the other cheek? And do I demonstrate this to others.

  • Am I finding ways to celebrate life, rather than condemning it?

  • Am I nurturing others–family, friends, my community and church?

  • Am I leading rather than following? I am I standing up for others, protecting those who need protecting and defending those who cannot defend themselves?

  • And finally, when our day is finished, am I able to look back and see that all has been good and give thanks to God for all we have.


So, just a note to a distant friend: it's a year on and I have not forgotten you, Canon Rechter. I wish you every success in your ministry. And in my prayers today, I give thanks to God for the words of comfort I found through another one of His children.


.Compassionate God, we acknowledge our sins, weaknesses, omissions, and failures. When our failures discourage us, may Your compassion embrace us and hope lead us through this season of repentance to the joy of Easter. We pray this, in Your name. Amen

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Shrove Tuesday, Why a Pancake?

OK, I’m rummaging through the fridge: eggs- yep, butter – absolutely! Now the cabinets: Flour –plenty, and yes…there it is – I’ve been saving it – a large bottle of pure Canadian maple syrup! Shrove Tuesday here we go!

It reminds me of children with their modern Advent calendars; chocolates, candies and other assorted surprises hiding behind each door. But sadly, there appears no mention of what the Advent calendar is about or its symbolism; just as with Shrove Tuesday; it is no longer Shrove Tuesday – it’s now Pancake Day!

Originally it was the day that people would confess their sins and receive absolution. Shriving - that act of forgiveness, where the individual is released from their suffering, pain and guilt, was in preparation for the season of Lent. During this time people would empty their larders, freeing their homes from foods such as: meats, eggs, fatty foods, fish and milk items. This prepared the home for the period of Lent – that time for reflection, renewal, and forgiveness. It's the last day before the period of penitence known as Lent, which commences on the 1st of March - Ash Wednesday.

Today so many people are becoming more health-conscious. Many of us are recognising the importance of cleansing our bodies through detoxification, fasting, and exercise. 
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Shrove Tuesday is quite similar. It’s a celebration, as well as an act of penitence, in preparation of cleansing the soul. And Mardi Gras, the French translation for ‘Fat Tuesday’ is the celebration of that act.

How wonderful! We have cleaned out our fridges, and now we cleanse our souls. Indeed, it is a time to celebrate.


Compassionate and Loving God: Mercifully hear our prayers and spare all who confess their sins unto You. By Your merciful pardon may all be absolved; Through Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, one God, now and forever. Amen






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Friday

Welcome Home Emily

Today I celebrated the passing of a life. Emily Hanwell, age 95, died, alone, in her home. She had lived through two world wars, the sinking of the Titanic, the advent of television, and four monarchs. She was survived by two sons - both no longer living in the area. Emily died in her bed. The coroner listed her cause of death, as ‘suspected natural causes.’ It was the best the coroner could offer. Emily had been dead for several weeks before her body was discovered. Nature had followed God’s mandate and there was little of her mortal remains left.

I spoke with one of her sons. He had already been made aware of her death. He told me that he was too busy to attend her funeral, but he was sure that his other brother would ‘try to do something.’ He said his mother had become difficult to deal with and it was a ‘blessing’ that it was all over. I asked him when it was that he had last spoken with her. He said he had spoken to her on Christmas Day ‘when she had called him.’

When I arrived at the funeral directors, I discovered there were no flowers. There had been no calls about Emily. Her coffin was of the ‘particulate variety,’ a euphemism for cheap board, with colourless plastic handles, which was all the government would pay for.

And so we headed to the chapel at the crematory. In Britain the pallbearers are the professional staff of the funeral director. There was no one there to receive Emily. And it was impossible not to have tears well in my own eyes to see this pitiful coffin lifted up and placed upon the catafalque, with no one there to mourn her loss or celebrate her passing. And I had to wonder what the last days of her life were like.

One of the greatest fears that a human being can experience is the fear of being abandoned by family and friends and being left to live one’s life all alone. Prison guards know this when they place recalcitrant inmates in solitary confinement and torturers know it too when they need their victims to confess to fictitious crimes.

To be cut off from human contact is immensely painful, but it pales when compared to being cut off from God. And yet that is the daily experience of too many of God’s children, wandering about this earth with no sense of any larger purpose or destiny and no vision beyond the blank wall of death. What a tragedy, and how unnecessary it is!

Jesus long ago spoke for us all when He said, ‘I can never be alone; the Father is with Me.’ He is with us, within us, always — healing, comforting, strengthening, enlightening, encouraging, and guiding. He is with us always, and we’ll never be alone — not in the deepest cell or on the darkest night.

Emily, I know that today, as God opened His arms to receive you, the angels danced.
Our Heavenly Father, we know that every life is precious. Help us to see the value in everyone we meet. We pray for Your guidance and we pray for Your Blessings to lead us to those who are alone, or frightened, or lonely, so that we may share the message of Your love. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen
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Wednesday

Shout Away The Darkness

At Christmas time many years ago, during the war, an old priest was visiting the wounded at a local hospital. He came upon a very young soldier whose spine had been shattered by a bullet. He was lying face down in a canvas cradle. A round hole had been cut into the bottom of the cradle for his face. But all he could see was the floor. Thousands of miles from home and fearing he'd never walk again, the teenager felt utterly alone, cut off from all the world as he stared at that floor hour after hour.

He spoke with the priest in hushed tones and then after awhile, the boy asked softly, "Father, could I see your face? I feel so alone. It would help me a lot, if I could just see your face a little while."


And so, carefully, with creaking joints, the old priest got down on his knees, then over onto his back, and ever so slowly he inched his way under the cradle until at last the boy could see him - face to face - and know for a little while that he wasn't alone.

That's what we've always longed for as we stumble through the cold and the dark, trying to find our way in life. We long to see our Father face-to-face and to know for sure we're not alone. We long for His warmth, His light, and His strength. And now on this holy night, our deepest longing is fulfilled and our dream has come true. For as we look upon that tiny face in the manger, we know at last what God is really like: He's the one who loves us with a love beyond all telling, and He holds nothing back.

As we see this child and as we know the man He'll become, we know in our hearts we'll never be alone or cold or afraid again. For God's son Jesus, our brother Jesus, has come to light our darkness, to warm our coldness, and to show us the way home! And on this Christmas feast we celebrate and we sing with the angels: Glory to God! Glory to God in the highest!

I invite all of us to light a candle this Christmas, not just shouting away the darkness of what is, or stuck in the longing for what might have been, but lighting our own candle of generosity, witness, forgiveness, and kindness.

In sharing my wishes for you to have a very happy Christmas, I pray that happiness will bring peace into our hearts, making us peacemakers in our homes, our communities, and making us, in small but real ways, makers of peace in our world.
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Loving God, You brought Your Son into this world that we may forever walk in light. We pray tonight for those who are in distant lands, defending democracy and human rights. Wherever they may be, may they find the embrace of love in their hearts, from their families and loved ones. We pray for those who are frightened about finances, the possibility of losing their jobs and homes, and who are suffering from stress. We pray for those who are struggling to maintain relationships due to the weight of financial worries. Bring peace and understanding into their hearts, that they may support one another. We pray for the countless children who suffer at the hands of adults who exploit, hurt, and intimidate them. Guide those children to people who can protect and help them. And we pray for our world leaders; that they may act with wisdom and compassion in all they do. We pray this in the name of Your living Son, Christ Jesus. Amen
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Tuesday

Advent, Moving From Darkness to Light

December 3rd marked the beginning of the season of Advent, in our preparation for the coming of the Lord Jesus. The word 'Adventus,' in Latin, means a coming. Our faith is all about Christ and therefore we begin with His birth, His entrance into the world.

In many ways Advent is a time for renewal or a new beginning. We begin a new liturgical year, and begin once again, our never-ending quest to find our Lord Jesus Christ within our hearts.

Advent is also a time of watchfulness and waiting. We watch and wait for Him to come, that we might pass from our life of darkness into the life of light. The symbol of light is reflective of this Advent and Christmas season. This concept of light, being strongly associated with this time of the year, is not a Christian invention.

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The choice to celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th was made as early as the year 273. This was the date for the pagan (Roman) celebration of "natalis solis invicti," the birth of the unconquered sun. The celebration of Christmas on the same date "Christianised" the ancient Roman feast of light.

During the darkest days of the year, where the days are short and cold, we long for the warmth of Spring, where life renews and once again becomes vibrant.

Advent is also a time for self-examination and asking for forgiveness, as we prepare for Christ’s Second Coming, even as we prepare for Christmas. This is why the colour of the season is purple (or sometimes blue), which is used for marking Lent, the season of self-examination preceding Easter.

The third week in Advent is set aside as more celebratory than the others. Rose is the colour of this week rather than purple, to mark the week, which is why a rose candle is used in Advent wreaths.

Advent, then, is a time of beginning, a time of watching, a time of light. It is a time for the decorations to begin. The lights of our Christmas trees, cribs, and other decorations sign The Coming, the birth of Christ, the Light of the Father, the Light of the World. He comes to light our path, the path to peace and justice, love and happiness.

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans tells us "the night is advanced, the days are at hand. Let us throw off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light."

Yes, He is coming indeed!
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Monday

Breaking The Chains of Hatred

During one of my journeys to South Africa I visited the Robben Island penal colony, where Nelson Mandela was held captive for almost twenty years. I have visited South Africa many times, including during the Apartheid and it had always been a goal of mine to see firsthand where President Mandela wrote his journals. Of course his cell is now empty and it stands as a symbol of hope for all those who continue to suffer unjustly. 
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I too experienced the absurdities of Apartheid when I arrived Johannesburg one morning aboard a KLM flight, only to be told my visa had been cancelled and I was to return to Amsterdam on the next flight. Apparently, as best I can determine, I had been spotted on my previous trip, associating with and visiting the homes and churches of a number of black South Africans. 
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They were absolutely correct. I had, and as I stated to the immigration police, I was ‘jolly proud of it.’ Their only response to my defiant admission was to restrict me to 'airside' whilst I waited to board the same aircraft from which I had just disembarked. But their actions in the eighties only strengthened my resolve to return and join the global swell of voices protesting against this oppression of humanity.

The struggle to rise above injustice and even love those who have treated us badly is a theme, which the Bible often explores. One of its greatest character studies is Joseph, sold by his brothers into slavery, then imprisoned for 14 years on false charges made against him by his employer's wife.

Here's part of the narrative when after his release from prison and elevation to the second highest role in Egypt; Joseph explains to his family how he now understands the past.

His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. "We are your slaves," they said. But Joseph said to them, "don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."

On one occasion after Mandela's release and rise to prominence in South Africa, President Bill Clinton asked him how he felt about those prison warders who had brutalized his life or the politicians who ignored his case. "Was there ever a time," he asked, "when he had wanted revenge?"


Mandela replied "If I had held onto anger and bitterness during those dreadful days, I would have been twice in chains. Through my forgiveness they no longer had control of my spirit, even though my body was theirs."

By such remarkable determination, Mandela not only saved his own life but also built a platform for the peace and reconciliation process which is saving so many lives throughout Africa.


I've saved my old passport bearing my cancelled South African visa for years. It serves to remind me that the determination to do kindness shall always surpass evil. 



Heavenly Father, help us to love our enemies, to return evil with good and as far as is possible to live at peace with everyone. Prosper those who are working for peace and justice in the world. Amen
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Killing For Jesus

More than anyone else, Jesus understood the human heart. And as He looked into the future, He could see the troubles that His followers would have to face, sometimes because of their own blindness and sometimes because of the self-deceptions and rationalisations of others.
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‘A time will come,’ He said, ‘when anyone who puts you to death will claim to be serving God!’ What an extraordinary statement and what an accurate prediction of what has happened again and again across the centuries. In our own times we’ve heard more than once that cynical injunction to ‘kill a commie for Jesus.’ And more frighteningly, today, people are adapting the phrase for almost anything- homosexual, Muslim, Jew, black- the list is endless.
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What could be further from Jesus’ vision? He urges us unceasingly to enlarge the circle of our love and concern until there’s room for everyone inside and no one is left outside - not even those with whom we differ on the most fundamental and crucial of issues.
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Whenever you feel an attack of self-righteous indignation coming on, just remember how often in the past you have been thoroughly wrong in your judgements and entirely mistaken in your strongly held opinions. And then leave the judging and the punishing to God, who sees things ever so much more clearly.


As you begin to see yourself more clearly with the passing of time, you’ll be glad you stayed your hand.



Gracious Lord, teach me to be compassionate in all my ways; helping me to pray for others with empathy,  knowing that You care for all Your children.




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