You may be thinking – whoops, I’ve made a mistake in the title of this piece.
But, years ago, when my daughter was little, she did a picture in Junior Church that she brought home and showed me. It was a picture of Jesus, she said, with the ten leopards. And there he was in the centre of the page surrounded by spotty cats. ‘And only one leopard said thank you for getting rid of his spots,’ she said.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it was ten lepers not leopards. After all, did it really matter whether it was lepers or leopards? My daughter had got the main point. That only one in ten said thank you.
It’s quite shocking when you think about it. The lepers had been completely ostracised from society because of their skin disease - which not only made them shunned because of the risk of contagion but also made them ritually impure and untouchable. And yet only one leper said thank you when Jesus healed them all.
No one says ‘Thank you’ to Jesus
More shocking still is that no one in the Gospels seems to say thank you to Jesus. We hear a lot of ‘Heal me,’ ‘Help me,’ ‘Save me.’ And Jesus does heal and help and save many, many people. But no one says thank you.
It’s shocking because ‘thank you’ is one of the most important things we need to say to each other to maintain friendship and connection. We all know how it feels when we help someone and they omit to say thank you. We feel unvalued and taken for granted.
But Jesus never complains at the ungratefulness of the people around him. He just says rather sadly to the only leper who thanks him, ‘Were not ten made clean?’
Fortunately, St Paul sees the importance of saying thank you to Christ. In his letter to the Philippians he tells his Church, ‘Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to the Lord.’
The greatest gift I have ever received in my life is my gift of faith in Jesus. My faith that Jesus has the power to bring healing and new life – to everyone who comes to him. As he has done in my own life.
Remembering this makes me hugely grateful. So it’s good and right to say thank you.
Don’t take Jesus for granted. Don’t take your faith for granted. Don’t take all your blessings for granted and focus only on what’s wrong in life.
Be like the tenth leper – or leopard – and actually say it. ‘Thank you!’
As Christians, as human beings, we want to help those who suffer. We want to see healing in our world. We want to bring peace to those who are distressed and anxious.
You might think you need to be a doctor to do this. Or a life coach. Or that you need to develop trust with someone over many years before you can help them.
But here is how a friend of mine helped someone, a complete stranger, in a very simple way.
My friend’s name is Amber – although that’s not her real name. And Amber is a bookkeeper – again, not her real profession, but that doesn’t matter. And I’ve changed the names of the other person in the story.
But everything else is true.
So my friend Amber is at a networking meeting in Chiswick and she gets chatting to someone about her business. And the person says that she knows someone, a woman called Sarah, who really needs help with bookkeeping.
Contact details are exchanged and a week or so later Amber meets up for coffee with this Sarah - to talk about bookkeeping.
They have coffee in a café and it soon becomes clear to Amber that Sarah does not just have problems with bookkeeping. She has many other problems. She keeps taking calls from her teenage daughter with whom she is having serious difficulties; she speaks of caring issues for her mother and many other things. She seems overwhelmed and anxious.
And after the meeting she goes away thinking more about Sarah’s anxiety than about her potential need for bookkeeping services.
As Amber makes her way home, she hears God say to her, ‘This is the one.’
‘What?’ she says. ‘What do you mean?’
And God says, ‘This is the one. This is the one I want you to invite to Church.’
Amber has only been going regularly to Church a short time, maybe a year or two. And she resists God’s suggestion.
‘Surely not?’ she says. ‘I mean, I have lots of friends – I could easily invite someone I’ve known for a long time.’
But God reminds Amber that Church is a place for the sick, for those who are suffering. It’s a place to find healing and peace. Which is exactly what this woman, Sarah, wants and needs.
So, when Amber gets home, she picks up the phone and says, ‘Sarah, I’ve been thinking. I think that you need peace in your life. And I think I know where you can find that.’
Sarah says yes, she does need peace in her life.
So Amber tells Sarah to come to the next Sunday service and she gives her the details. She says that she herself has found peace in the Church.
The next Sunday arrives and Amber receives a text. It’s from Sarah. She says, Sorry. I went to bed very late last night. Got up late and won’t be able tomake it in time for Church.
Amber checks the time. It’s 10am. She replies, Service starts at 11. It’s only 10 now. You have plenty of time!
There’s no reply.
So Amber sets off to Church not expecting to see Sarah there.
But she is!
And Amber tells me there was an incredible surge in her heart when she saw Sarah in the Church. Not because she’d been successful in her invitation. But because she knew Sarah was in a place where she knew she might find peace and hope and love.
Sarah became part of our Church family that day. And receiving love and support from God and the community is bringing her healing and new life.
If Amber can make a difference in this very simple and straightforward way, maybe the rest of us can too?
Rabbi Akiva was a great first-century Jewish teacher and spiritual leader. He spent a lot of time in prayer - both in community and in private.
The Talmud in Berachot 31a (the central text of Rabbinic Judaism) says, “When Rabbi was with the congregation, he would pray quickly so as not to be a burden on those praying with him [who would respectfully wait for him to finish.] But when he prayed alone, one could leave him in one corner and afterwards find him in another corner, due to his many bows and prostrations.”
Two levels of prayer
From this account, we see that Rabbi Akiva prayed in two very different ways.
In public he aligned himself with the level of prayer of the congregation – focussing on the meaning of the words.
But, when he was alone, he allowed himself to pray at a higher level – really letting himself go, in body, mind and spirit, as he sought to come into the presence of God. Often this meant he started praying in one part of a room and, quite obliviously, would find himself somewhere else by the end of his prayer. You could say that he allowed the Holy Spirit to pray within him.
The Shulchan AruchI (a legal code in Judaism) describes this state, saying ‘Devout and pious individuals would seclude themselves. They would direct their thoughts in prayer until they succeeded in divesting themselves from their physicality and expanding their state of consciousness. Then they would attain a level close to that of prophecy.’
All prayer has value
I believe that God hears every prayer – whether we simply focus on the words or allow the Holy Spirit to pray within us.
We couldn’t all pray in the Spirit – at this ‘higher’ level - in a church service without creating disorder and probably discomfort in some members of the congregation. So, out of respect and courtesy to others, we constrain our prayers.
But when we are in private we can allow the Holy Spirit to pray within us. And, when we do this, we might find ourselves kneeling or prostrating ourselves, lifting up our hands, maybe dancing, maybe speaking in tongues. If no one is watching (except God) then who cares?
When Rabbi Akiva prayed by himself, his prayer was not the reserved, dignified prayer of the community. It was an intense and ecstatic service of God.
So this Lent, try drawing closer to God through prayer. In prayer at church and with others. But also in the privacy of your room, as Rabbi Akivah did, and see how uplifting and exciting prayer can be.
The Bible is not clear on all things. But it’s absolutely clear on our need to forgive people when they hurt us.
We must forgive
In Matthew’s gospel, the disciple Peter comes to Jesus and says ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ And Jesus says to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’ Jesus is telling us that we need to forgive and forgive and go on forgiving until we can no longer count how many times we have forgiven.
Paul says in his letter to the Colossians, ‘Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.’ And, in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul also says, ‘Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
But why do we need to forgive others?
I was talking about all this in Church recently and how we must forgive others.
But why, you might ask. Why is it so important to forgive?
Well, I would say that it’s important because that is the good and right thing to do, what Jesus tells us to do. But also, because not forgiving is a form of self harm.
Not forgiving is a form of self harm.
And because God loves us, he does not want us to harm ourselves. He doesn’t want the poisonous seeds of anger and indignation to take root in our hearts and grow into bitterness, resentment and hatred.
So we are told to be quick to forgive - as soon as someone hurts us. Before those seeds can get in and grow and be much harder to uproot.
What does this tell us about God?
But what does all this tell us about God?
Of course, there are lots of verses in the Bible that speak of God’s mercy and his willingness to forgive us, come what may.
But then there are also verses about God’s anger. And sometimes about both.
The prophet Micah says,
‘Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over the transgression…?
He does not retain his anger for ever,
because he delights in showing clemency.
He will again have compassion upon us;
he will tread our iniquities under foot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.’
It seems that God is capable of anger – when he sees injustice and how we hurt each other and creation. But he is quick to forgive.
And I wonder whether this is not only because that’s the good and right thing to do. But, perhaps, also to protect himself from that anger getting lodged in his own heart and taking root there.
In Isaiah 43.25-26 God says ‘I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.’
Do you notice how God says in this verse that He forgives for His own sake? Not just our own sakes.
Must God always forgive?
But does God always forgive?
Well, if we believe the contrary - that God doesn’t always forgive, then are we willing to concede, therefore, that there must be pockets of bitterness and resentment in God’s heart, even hatred?
This seems completely unimaginable if we believe in God as the person we see in Jesus – the person who gives His life on the cross for sinners. And who cries out for God to forgive even the unrepentant religious leaders and Roman soldiers who are nailing him to the cross.
If we truly believe that God is all loving then it seems to me impossible that He is not all forgiving too.
We’d all like to think that we would be willing to stick up for what we believe to be true, come what may. I certainly do.
But reading Kathryn Schulz’s fascinating book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, I am not so certain that, in truth, I would do.
Schulz describes studies that show how very fearful we are of standing out from the crowd – even on the most trivial of issues.
The power of groupthink
Take, for example, this experiment from the 1950s. Social psychologist Solomon Asch showed people two flashcards at the same time—one with a single vertical line on it, the other with three vertical lines: one the same length, one much shorter and one much longer. He then asked the people to tell him, one at a time and out loud, which line on the second card was the same length as the line on the first card.
This should not have been a challenging task. But the people in the room had – all bar one - been planted by Asch and, as per his instructions, after the first few flashcards, they all began to give the same wrong answer.
The consequences for the lone authentic subject were striking. When the experiment was repeated and the data assimilated, Asch found that three-quarters of the lone authentic subjects gave the wrong answer at least once, and one-quarter gave the wrong answer for half or more of the flashcards. On average, the subjects’ error rate rose from under 1 percent when acting independently to almost 37 percent when influenced by the group.
This is truly shocking.
As I’ve said, none of us like to think that we are unduly influenced by peer pressure, and all of us want to believe that we call things as we see them, regardless of what those around us say. So it is disturbing to imagine that we so readily forsake the evidence of our own senses just to go along with a group.
And this kind of ‘groupthink’ is not a new thing.
Groupthink is nothing new
Schulz says, if we look at the Talmud, the rabbinical text – written over two thousand years ago - that serves as a commentary on the Torah and which is the basis of the Jewish faith, we find – even then - an interesting guard against groupthink. According to the Talmud, if there is a unanimous guilty verdict in a death penalty case, the defendant must be allowed to go free—a provision intended to ensure that, in matters so serious that someone’s life is on the line, at least one person has prevented groupthink by providing a dissenting opinion.
So why are we so terrified of standing out from the crowd?
What happens when we disagree with the ‘group’?
Well, the consequences of standing out from the crowd are severe. We risk anything from being mocked, to being sneered at, to being ostracised or even persecuted.
Schulz tells an extreme story of this. In 1990, she says, an Afghan man named Abdul Rahman converted to Christianity.
Such conversions are, of course, extremely rare in Islamic Afghanistan but Rahman had been working for a Catholic charity that provided medical assistance to refugees, and he came to believe in the religion of his colleagues.
In the aftermath of his conversion, Rahman’s life, as he had known it, collapsed around him. His wife, who remained a devout Muslim, divorced him on the grounds that he was an infidel. He lost the ensuing custody battle over his two daughters for the same reason. His parents disowned him, stating that, “Because he has converted from Islam to another religion we don’t want him in our house.”
All that was bad enough. But then, in 2006, Rahman was arrested by the Afghan police on charges of apostasy and imprisoned. In accordance with the Hanafi school of sharia law, the prosecutors asked for the death penalty. One of them, Abdul Wasi, said that Rahman “should be cut off and removed from the rest of Muslim society and should be killed.” The Afghan attorney general seconded that opinion, urging that the prisoner be hanged. Only after tremendous international pressure was brought to bear on the case was Rahman released from prison. Under threat of extrajudicial (if not judicial) death, he was granted asylum by Italy and fled his native country.
For Rahman, therefore, standing out from the crowd resulted in him being banished from his home, losing his family, risking execution and ultimately being sent into exile.
Jesus stood out from the crowd
Of course, this is an extreme example.
But it is also what Christ experienced when he stood out from the crowd and challenged the beliefs of his time. And this did lead, for him, to execution. On the cross.
As disciples of Christ, we too are called to take up our cross and risk standing out from the crowd. Hopefully without such dreadful consequences.
But let’s all take a little more courage and be willing to risk standing out from the crowd - being proud to say we go to Church, that we are Christian, that we have founded our lives on the Christian faith.
If Jesus had not been willing to do this – and the early disciples too – we would not have received the gift of a faith that has brought such blessing to our own lives and to the lives of others for over two thousand years.
Let’s not allow the groupthink of our culture to silence us. Let’s stick up for what we believe and hope is true, come what may.
There’s a famous passage in one of St Paul’s letters – the one he writes to the church in Rome - where he says, ‘For I do not do what I want but do the thing I very hate…I do not do the good I want but the evil I do not want I do.’
It’s a cry of frustration from the depths of Paul’s being. And it’s a cry we easily empathise with.
We do not do the things we want to do
For, very often, we feel exactly the same way. We do not do the things we want to do. On the contrary, we find ourselves doing the things we don’t want to do.
Take exercise, for example. I very much want to get up early and work out but I find myself tapping the snooze button and staying in bed.
Take diet, as another example. I do not want to eat crisps or cranberry and almond cookies but I walk straight past the fruit bowl to the cupboard that contains them.
Take work in the community. I want very much to visit the sick and lonely in hospital but I find myself staying home and watching a football match on TV.
We so often fail to live up to the life we want to live, the life we believe God calls us to live and enjoy. We so often end up doing things or not doing things and feeling dissatisfied with ourselves.
How community makes a difference
And this is where community comes in and can make all the difference.
If I look at the things I do - not on my own but with others – then I see how much easier it is to be self-disciplined.
If I agree to go on a long walk with my daughter, then I’ll get up early, if necessary, to do this. If I agree to cook supper to eat with my husband, I’ll resist snacking in the afternoon so I don’t spoil my appetite. If I join a group of people volunteering in the community – like our night shelter project – then I will meet and connect with new people who may need my friendship and support.
When I think about it - even the things I do and love doing, such as reading my Bible, praying and painting, I would do far less of, if I did not do these things in community. Morning Prayer at 9am on midweek mornings with a few neighbours, Wednesday morning painting group with half a dozen local artists, Wednesday evening bible study with five or six friends and Sunday morning church with a large number of local people.
Don’t do things alone, do things with others
So think about the things you want to do but don’t do. And ask whether trying to do these things with others might be a help.
Don’t do things alone, do things with others – and see the difference this makes. Not just to your self-discipline. But to your self-enrichment too.
Robert Louis Stevenson – the author of Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – suffered throughout his life from a weak chest and died young, at the age of 44. In 1894.
Stevenson eschews religion
Stevenson is said to have eschewed religion from his youth but he continued to pray daily throughout his life. And, about ten years after his death, his wife published a small volume of prayers that he wrote and which I find both powerful and moving. Whatever he believed, as he wrote these words and as he read them at household prayer meetings, I don’t know. But it’s hard to think that Stevenson did not have a deep and genuine spirituality, if not a conventional one.
In fact it’s a puzzle that anyone could write and practise such prayers without a true faith within.
Introduction to Stevenson’s Prayers
In the book there is a beautiful Introduction written by Mrs Stevenson which gives an insight into how Stevenson and his family, who lived in Samoa at the time, kept the faithful life of their community by closing each day by gather for prayer and worship.
In every Samoan household the day is closed with prayer and the singing of hymns. The omission of this sacred duty would indicate, not only a lack of religious training in the house chief, but a shameless disregard of all that is reputable in Samoan social life. No doubt, to many, the evening service is no more than a duty fulfilled. The child who says his prayer at his mother’s knee can have no real conception of the meaning of the words he lisps so readily, yet he goes to his little bed with a sense of heavenly protection that he would miss were the prayer forgotten... With my husband, prayer, the direct appeal, was a necessity. When he was happy he felt impelled to offer thanks for that undeserved joy; when in sorrow, or pain, to call for strength to bear what must be borne…
After all work and meals were finished, the ‘pu,’ or war conch, was sounded from the back veranda and the front, so that it might be heard by all. I don’t think it ever occurred to us that there was any incongruity in the use of the war conch for the peaceful invitation to prayer…
The service began by my son reading a chapter from the Samoan Bible, Tusitala [this is Stevenson - his Samoan name was Tusitala, which means ‘Teller of tales’] following with a prayer in English, sometimes impromptu, but more often from the notes in this little book, interpolating or changing with the circumstance of the day. Then came the singing of one or more hymns in the native tongue, and the recitation in concert of the Lord’s Prayer, also in Samoan…
Stevenson’s Prayer ‘For success’
Here is one of Stevenson’s prayers from that book called ‘For success.’ It’s a prayer he would have said many times at one of those prayer meetings that he held at the end of every day in Samoa:
Lord, behold our family here assembled.
We thank Thee for this place in which we dwell;
for the love that unites us;
for the peace accorded us this day;
for the hope with which we expect the morrow;
for the health, the work, the food, and the bright skies, that make our lives delightful;
for our friends in all parts of the earth,
and our friendly helpers in this foreign isle.
Let peace abound in our small company.
Purge out of every heart the lurking grudge.
Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere. Offenders, give us the grace to accept and to forgive offenders.
Forgetful ourselves, help us to bear cheerfully the forgetfulness of others.
Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind.
Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies.
Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavours.
If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune, and, down to the gates of death, loyal and loving one to another.
As the clay to the potter,
as the windmill to the wind,
as children of their sire,
we beseech of Thee this help and mercy
for Christ’s sake. Amen
It’s a prayer full of thankfulness, full of humility and full of hope.
An inspiration for us
What a difference it would make if we all concluded our days, as Stevenson did, with a prayer like this.
In Paul’s earliest letter to the church at Galatia he says that people are no longer slaves, who are forced to keep God’s law. They are children – precious and unconditionally loved by God. And, therefore, they are not bound by God’s law. But, because God loves them so deeply and they know this, they will find that they naturally want to do God’s will.
There’s clearly a huge difference between being someone’s slave and being someone’s child.
We were thinking about this recently at a Church Holy ‘Away Morning’ on the Holy Spirit.
When we receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, things change in our lives. And one of the most wonderful changes we experience is in our understanding of our identity.
We are no longer slaves
We are no longer, as Paul puts it, ‘enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world,’ we are free. And, more than that, we ‘receive adoption as children’ of God. Paul goes on. He says, ‘because you are children, God has sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child and, if a child, then also an heir.’
As we reflected on this together – that we are all sons and daughters of God, all heirs to his kingdom - it occurred to me that this also means we are brothers and sisters.
I looked around at the dozen or so people with me in the room and thought of them truly as my brothers and my sisters. And recognised the difference it makes when we do this.
At some churches, members of the congregation address each other as ‘Brother John’ or ‘Sister Florence’ and I think this is a really good thing to do – whether we say the brother/sister part out loud or just in our heads.
We are members of the same family
We are one family in Christ, we are all children of the same heavenly Father, so let’s start to act that way.
Treat your neighbour, treat the person next to you at church, as you would treat your biological brother or sister. Know their name, find out about their lives. Care about their lives, listen.
When we do this, we start to see the people around us as God sees them – as precious and worthy of our unconditional love.
And, as we do this, we are drawn closer together and experience, as St Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, ‘the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’
Bringing healing and peace to our world starts here. It starts with recognising that we are all, every one of us, children of God and members of the same, and one and only, family.
If you had to sum up the Christian faith with one occasion, what would you choose? Maybe a Sunday communion service or a baptism? Maybe a Winter night shelter scheme? Or a session at the Foodbank?
All these ideas sound good. But what about a wedding?
Weddings can be small and intimate; they can be big and lavish. But they are almost always centred around ‘what the bride and groom want for their special day’ and so they can sometimes feel a bit a self-focused.
So why does the evangelist John choose a wedding to paint the opening picture in his gospel of who Jesus is?
The wedding at Cana, at which Jesus turns water into wine, is a well known story. But what does it really mean?
We all know that John’s gospel is loaded with symbolism. So why this story? And why a wedding?
Well, the answer in truth is ‘Who knows?’
But here are seven thoughts that may help in our understanding. And set the scene for a clearer, richer and surprising picture of who Jesus, who God, truly is.
1. The source of life is love
The essential ingredient of a wedding is love – the love of the happy couple, the love of family and friends wishing them well and the love of God who blesses a new family in the making.
The Bible tells us that ‘God is love’ and so it is love that underpins both creation and our very existence.
A wedding reminds of this. And also of our deepest desire – a desire deeper than our need to seem strong and powerful – which is the desire to love and be loved.
2. We are all invited
A wedding is a celebration and it would not be much of a celebration if it only comprised the bride, the groom, the minister and a couple of witnesses. Weddings need guests. And the Bible tells many stories about weddings and celebrations where people are invited and some come and some refuse.
The truth is that we are all invited to God’s wedding party – his union with the world through Christ – where Christ is the bridegroom and we are the bride.
No one is left out. No expense is spared.
Having recently arranged a wedding for my son and daughter-in-law, I know how difficult it is to draw up the guest list and how painful and upsetting it can be to ‘draw a line’ in order to keep down the costs.
But at the heavenly banquet there is no drawing the line. All are invited. All of us are guests of honour and precious in God’s sight.
3. Weddings are about being not doing
At weddings we switch off our phones, we set aside our work and things to do lists, and we are fully present for the occasion. We come together at a wedding not to do or produce anything but simply to be together, to celebrate our friendship.
Doing less, being more and being more together are fundamental to the message of the Christian faith.
4. The Gospel IS love
The ministry of Jesus is full of amazing wisdom and teaching. But the essential purpose of his presence among us is to reveal, strengthen and deepen love – love for God and love for one another.
John highlights this by choosing the wedding at Cana as the first public sign of Christ’s ministry.
5. The Gospel is not the drudgery of duty but the passion of love
In John’s gospel, Jesus turns water into wine, darkness into light, the Law into the sacrifice of his own body for us. John sees our faith in Christ not as the drudgery of duty but the passion of love.
6. God’s love for us is deep and rich beyond all measure
The wine Jesus produces from the water is abundant and of the highest quality. John wants us to see the wine as representing the love of God for us – a love that is unquenchable and of unsurpassable quality. God will never run out of love and the love he has for us is more wonderful than any other love imaginable.
The story speaks of Christ’s outrageous generosity in loving so much that he is even willing to give his life for us.
7. The heart of our faith is relationship
At the heart of the Christian faith is not a book or a set of Laws but a person, the person of Christ. And what our faith offers is a relationship with that person.
Come and love me, says Jesus. And let me love you.
Just what a bride and groom say to each other on their wedding day.
When we come to Christ, we say, ‘I take you, Jesus, to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish’ - but not, as in an earthly marriage, ‘until death do us part’ but forever. And Christ makes the same promise to us. He says, ‘I, Jesus, take you, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish… forever.’
So, really, it’s no wonder that John chooses a wedding to sum up all that he really understands about Jesus and our faith and trust in him.
To be a Christian is to be in relationship with Jesus. And to be at the heart of the wedding - a celebration and communion that reflects the joy and commitment of God’s love for us all.
It’s that time of year again when we start getting ready at Church to welcome fifteen homeless men to our hall for bed & breakfast and a hot supper on Saturday nights.
It’s a project we do every winter, together with other local churches, so that these men have shelter and good hot food during the coldest months of the year.
We call it part of our ‘Community Engagement’ work and it definitely is a good thing and much appreciated.
But the interesting question each year, I feel, is who receives the most through the project. Is it the men or is it the volunteers?
On the face of it, the Winter Shelter is all about doing something for the homeless, doing something to help those in need. But, at the same time, it is about the homeless doing something for the volunteers, something to help us.
When the project comes to an end each year, I often thank volunteers and I am always surprised to hear how much they say they received from the work, how much they enjoyed it and found it enriching. The volunteers find getting to know the men a real privilege and many of the conversations they have shared have been uplifting and inspiring.
In the Gospels Jesus tries to show us that life is about what we give and not what we get. And to lose our lives, to give generously from all we have and all we are, is what an abundant life is all about.
This is how our lives will be measured in the end, at our funerals. Our lives will be valued by what we gave. And the greatest will be those who give the most. Like Jesus, who gave absolutely everything he was and everything he had, to deliver this simple but challenging message.
If you live in the Hounslow borough and would like to help with the shelter scheme, do please get in touch with me. There are lots of different jobs you might help with – from setting up beds, to cooking dinner, to socialising, to caretaking overnight, to cooking breakfast and tidying up.
Do something for someone else and find out what this does for you too.