Saturday, December 29, 2007

Pipe dreams

We popped over somewhere yesterday and happened to drop into the SPCK so, as a mystery shopper on behalf of those interested in the situation facing this chain I had nose around. There was a section that looked like it could have been a really welcoming area where you could sit and peruse a book or could listen to any CD (the sales assistant working there said we could try any CD out which we were interested in) . Unfortunately the shelves were pretty much totally empty of books upstairs and there were hardly any CDs. We were told this was because the new owners don't want them buying any more CDs except the huge stack of approved CDs which apparently had been ordered for them - they didn't seem to have control over what was going to be in stock (hence the vast empty spaces, I guess) - and worse still they're not going to be able to PLAY any Christian music in the shop soon except that which is going to be piped in from a central source by the new owners.

I did manage to see quite a few useful books - our Bishop John's excellent book on the priesthood was there for example! - and I bought a book by John Bell and another on worship by Stuart Townend which I'd not noticed before but there didn't seem to be much in the way of youthwork books. I'm not sure if this is a policy thing or my inability to find them!

In cheeky mode I enquired if they had a Dave Walker Cartoon Church calendar and... they DID. However they only had one left and they weren't going to have them next year!! Mention of Dave (my friend, I said - check me knowing someone famous ;oP ) produced a smile from the sales assistant who said it was very pleasing that someone had given a voice to their concerns. Go Dave!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

For every time there is a season

It's been a slightly different Christmas season this year as, alongside some lovely presents from my darling husband and time with our niece, our church has experienced the most sad loss of such a wonderfully generous and caring woman whom I've known for some 15 years. She was also the mother of young people whom I work with and so I'm concerned for them and feeling that uselessness we often feel when trying to find words in such situations.

Fortunately there are those out there with good words. Local to us is the Child Bereavement Trust with advice for professionals and also advice specifically for families, young people and even some stuff about dealing with Christmas.

These times can be those that test our faith, strengthen it, or break it. All I know is God's calling to presence, availability and flexibility for those I'm youth minister to. The words, "I'm here" may not seem much but I know, in my darkest times, those two words whispered in the silence by God or by someone else can be a light in the darkness.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Give and Take

We wanted to use a splendid song by John Bell for a service at All Saints' but it was one of those pieces which is designed for singing several times and they never seem to work very well so instead of singing the same verse a few times, I penned a few extra verses.

So for all those people I have yet again failed to send a card or anything... Merry Christmas!

Take, O take me as I am.
Summon out what I shall be;
set your seal upon my heart
and live in me.

Call, O call me as I am.
Show the way that I should go.
Be the light upon my path
and lead me through.

Meet, O meet me where I am.
See me in your light of love.
Show me all that holds me back
and set me free.

Hear, O hear us as we call.
Search us out and know our hearts.
Help us shine out in the dark
and show your light.

John Bell (with additional verses 2-4 by Sarah Brush)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Carrying the sky

This morning I carried the sky down to church and this afternoon I have been creating the stars. o I've not got ideas above my station! I've been getting ready for our scratch nativity. We've invited ALL the congregation to come along dressed up for the nativity if they want to (I know there are some who DO want to and equally those who REALLY don't!). I'm going to be a shepherd. I've got a sheep and everything! Wel actually I'm still working on my crook - having not plucked up the courage to ask the bishop if he had a spare one!!

The stars are for part of our intercessions. We're asking people to write their prayers on the back of a star and then we're going to hang them in front of the blue background as a sign of our faith, as St Paul describes it, "shining as stars in the darkness of this world."

I may manage a picture of it for you tomorrow!

If I don't get back on here though...


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Confused Dreamer

This morning, I was sure that, as my eyes were still bleary, I heard the news that Thabo Mbeki had been re-elected as leader of the ANC. I was so convinced of this that I prayed thanksgiving for continuing stability in South Africa. Yet it seems I must have dreamed it as it was SO not the case. In fact the news of the results only came out this evening and was completely the opposite.

Instead of the relatovely more moderate, temperate Thabo Mbeki (who has admittedly exhibited some odd views about AIDS), it is Jacob Zuma, tried for rape, facing corruption charges and still likely to become President of South Africa.

I understand that Thabo Mbeki could not be president for a third term and so, the ANC members may well have felt it more sensible to elect a president to the congress who COULD yet the heightened passions surrounding the election have me worried. Archbishop Desmond Tutu doesn't endorse either man. It wouldbe interesting to hear what his opinion of the new deputy leader of the congress is as apparently it would be the deputy who would become the country's president if Zuma was stripped of office after corruption charges. Not too much hope there though as Kgalema Motlanthe was closley linked to Zuma in defending him against the accusations of corruption.

In contrast we had the result of the Liberal Democrat leader election and Jeremy Paxman challenging Nick Clegg to tell the audience 3 interesting things about him. I thought he did pretty well in his speech. It was empassioned, dynamic and sounding like a man who REALLY is serious about getting into office.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The gift of music

Some of you may remember the singing horses of dear departed memory which I used to have on the site. Well 'me colleague' at Youth for Christ pointed me to a link on the schoolswork page which had a set of "noisy games". They're nearly as good as the singing horses but not quite. Nonetheless they're certainly worth a look and a little play whether its punk, blues or even singing in the shower that you enjoy. I'm sure you'll find something out of this world!

Thursday, December 13, 2007


There is so much out this year about keeping to the spirit of Christmas and reducing the emphasis on BUYING STUFF and GIVING STUFF.

Apparently we're also being urged to emphasise the HOPE that we as churches/Christians can offer and this ties in with what I've been watching today. It is my Christmas tradition to watch the Muppet Christmas Carol. Yes not the highest level of culture ever achieved some might argue BUT I would say that it does exactly what we need to be doing wiht our Christian message. It presents DICKENS which can be rather dry and old fashioned in a fresh and engaging way without changing the central core of the story or the heart of the message. It even encourages viewers to read the book at the end!

For me there is a tiny additional tradition which is crying at one particular point (not the soppy lovey dovey bit - to be honest that often gets fast forwarded!!). No, for me, the moment when Scrooge receives his first Christmas gift is THE MOMENT. Beaker & Dr. Bunsen Honeydew as the people looking for charitable donations had met Scrooge before when he refused them a donation and he finds them and pledges a vast donation to make up for all those missed in the past. These are the first people to really see the transformation and Beaker's response humbly offers him a gift - the scarf from around his own neck and the warmth that no doubt went with it. This man who has been transformed demonstrates such great humility in receiving the gift. The scarf is the sacrament if you like. He has been transformed by the visit of the spirits and then, in wearing the bright red scarf around his neck, that transformation is shown to the world.

How many hard hearts could we soften if we demonstrated this kind of transformative generosity?

It Feels Like Christmas

Take joy in the moment and allow yourself to be changed by it.

Seasons Sneezings

Ian started something, even though he probably feels incapable of starting ANYTHING at the mo (Big hug, mate!) by describing his lack of energy as FOOEY (Fatigued order of ordinarily energetic youth workers) and so recruiting many to his cause. He catches me in just the right week for it as I've been struck down with lurgy including a fascinatingly variable voice (a la Kevin and Perry style) ranging from lower than our ex RAF bandsman curate's voice to helium powered squeakery. Of course I've been struck down by this partly due to overworking last week. I'm not very good at listening to it but my body was telling me to rest sometime around Friday morning but I didn't stop until Sunday and have been paying the price since. I'm feeling much better now but still taking it easy while I still can!

So how do we get better when we're struck down with fooey? (Hong Kong strain or otherwise!) Well I think there are two paths: fun and feeding. We need to take ourselves out of ourselves either by having fun or by comfort from without. So here's a bit of the REAL Hong Kong Fooey and also, in contrast, some wisdom from Br Roger of Taizé. Whichever is the better medicine for you. The Dr recommends you take this, sit down with your feet up and drink plenty of fluids.

"The Holy Spirit, poured out on every human being, gives freedom and spontaneity. The Spirit restores a zest for life to those who had lost it, and comes to deliver us from discouragement. Neither doubts nor the impression that God is silent can take his Holy Spirit away from us."
Update: Taking a lead from Ben, my feet up time before heading to our joint CUs meeting after school today is Muppet Christmas Carol - a must for me in the Christmas season (though guarenteed to having my husband beating a retreat to a room filled with Radio 4!). Just for you I'll see if I can find a bit on youtube!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

John the Baptist 2007

So the fourth John the Baptist sermon in my time in one church...

Isaiah’s vision sets out a technicolour, surround sound image of God’s Kingdom:

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

This is nothing short of the Kingdom of God – note not in heaven but on earth. And how does that kingdom start? From a small shoot form the stump of the tree. [prop?]

A new branch bearing fruit from the old root as a conference put it this summer – The wisdom of the old with the passion of the young
The church’s history and all that’s gone before us but with new life and growth

Jesus talked of this small beginning when he described the kingdom as a mustard seed.

So how is that shoot doing in our branch of the tree of Jesse? Well we don’t think of it so much as a tree of Jesse nowadays. We have other kinds of trees on our minds I suppose. [PROP CHRISTMAS TREE]

What have we got hanging on it? Well, it’s shaped a bit like the mountain and we’ve got all those gifts which Isaiah describes this NEW BRANCH as having.

We’ve got:
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord

Chocolate coins/candy canes:
Some delights here too – Isaiah tells us Jesus’ delight in the fear of the Lord.

We’ve got some lovely crystals here – they refract the light in all sorts of ways:
Isaiah tells us that this new branch shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear.

We’ve got a shepherd – Isaiah says this shoot will judge the poor with righteousness, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth

We’ve got a King – he will rule - he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked

We’ve got these lovely garlands like belts around the tree according to Isaiah Jesus would have a belt of Righteousness around his waist, and a belt of faithfulness around his loins.

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea or in an alternative translation the earth will be filled with people who know the lord as the waters cover the sea. (garland)

In our Epistle we hear:

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus,

This passage is calling us, not literally to be decorated like this tree. To be like Christ bearing good fruits
so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You don’t find many Christmas trees that look exactly the same and it’s the same with Christmas. We bear our fruits in different ways but Christ accepts each one of us so we should as St Paul says:
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

[There is only one you. There is no one else like you and there will never ever be anyone else like you. You have a gift to offer that can touch the world in a way that no other person's gift can do. It is not the gift but it is you. The whole world would be denied experience of that gift without you. No one else can take the place that God has purposed for you to express the uniqueness and beauty of you. God never create extras or substitutes. Every person is significant in their contribution no matter what it is.] – Enoch Tan

We may each be unique but we show that unique quality through our gifts and the fruits of those gifts.

Quite characteristically for a man who went around dressed in camel hair, eating locusts, John the Baptist puts it in a more challenging and stark way:
“Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Strong stuff eh?
Well we do have another part of a tree we sometimes have this time of year. [PROP-log]
A yule log. The yule log was a pagan custom continued by some Christians – they would bring in a log and endeavour to keep it burning for the 12 days of Christmas.
This is the stump without the shoot. It’s not bearing much fruit, not growing much is it?

That shoot which Isaiah talks about comes out from the stump, from something that seemed unlikely to produce new growth. There is no such thing as a person unable of growing. Where does God want you to grow? What gifts does God want you to use? What fruits are you bearing?

Trees come in different shapes and sizes. Some don’t produce much fruit and some produce much more. But those that produce NO FRUIT well that’s clear

John the Baptist gives us a stark choice. To be trees bearing fruit and showing growth or to be destined for the fire. It’s not often we get such a clear cut passage that calls us to decide but this is one of them.

be trees bearing fruit and showing growth or to be destined for the fire

Which do you plan on being?

My daemon... no laughing!!

Michaels daemon... apparently... mine to follow

Thursday, December 06, 2007

John the Baptist sermon

This sermon is focussed on the Epistle for this Sunday for anyone not wanting a wholly John the Baptist kind of a theme!


Isaiah 11:1-10 Romans 15:4-13 Matthew 3:1-12

Sermon text:
"Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."

So Paul writes to the early Christians in Rome in the letter we heard read today. These people had only recently learned of this Messiah and Paul tells them that history is there to teach them and indeed us.

As someone who has studied history, I am well aware of the need to look to the past in order to understand the present and from there look to the future.

Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us,
so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

These words are even more relevant for today as it is Bible Sunday.

These words of Paul talk of us using the scriptures in a process, involving endurance and encouragement and finally hope.

Surely this is what the time of Advent should be for us. A time of learning through the scriptures, and seeking for the hope of Christ’s coming at Christmas.

It is a curious thing that in many ways the Church’s year condenses all that came before Jesus into these four weeks. So much happened in preparation for Christ’s coming and yet we devote just these four weeks to it.

This morning’s selection of readings truly spans the centuries.

The passage from Isaiah was probably written some time in the 8th century BC and the words John the Baptist quotes from later in Isaiah may well come from the 6th Century BC. Paul was writing some time in the 50s AD and Matthew’s Gospel, though much debated was probably written some time around the end of the first or the beginning of the second century AD.

Many centuries intervene between the words of Isaiah and the time when both John and Paul looked back to them. Yet like that tree of Jesse, the Old Testament is the root out of which the, branch, the New Testament springs.

Because of this connection, We cannot make sense of the New Testament without reference to the old. To the Hebrew Scriptures

Paul knew this well.

Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Imagine that early church which had none of the Gospels we now have, Paul’s letters and the stories passed on to them were all they had of a New Testament. For them the Old Testament was what taught them about Jesus.

The Old Testament reading and the Gospel this morning both refer quite clearly to the coming of Jesus and Paul’s letter confirms that these and other sources were correct in foretelling Jesus birth and ministry.

The book of Isaiah was one that certainly appealed to readers of many periods. Its original message was calling its readers to turn aside from earthly allegiances to Assyria or Jerusalem and to turn instead to God. Isaiah clearly portrays God as the Saviour and Redeemer and this great high priest and king who is to come is a symbol of that Salvation.

John speaks very clearly about the one who is to come after him. The one whose sandals he is not worthy to untie.

Yet it is not only about Jesus that the passages agree but also about the kingdom that he will bring about.

Isaiah’s description of an amazingly implausible world of peace and harmony of wolf and lamb, infant and cobra is matched by Paul’s call to the early Christians to accept one another. John the Baptist talks of a leader who will not use earthly water for baptism but a Holy Spirit.

Yet the writers know that this is NOT how the world is. Isaiah is well aware that the world is not as he paints it. Paul talks of the need for endurance and encouragement.

All this could be possible in the kingdom of God and during Advent we look forward to the time when Jesus comes into the world and transforms it. As Isaiah says, all this will happen when the knowledge of God fills the earth.

How will that knowledge of God fill the earth. That knowledge is hope and through learning from the scriptures we can find that hope, as Paul says but it is also for us to spread that hope and to spread that knowledge of God in order to build that kingdom.

For in all this we are not passive observers. We are not called to listen to these words and sit back and wait. John’s message to his Jewish audience is that they mustn’t sit back on their ancestral laurels. They cannot rely purely on their heritage on their link to Abraham. They must build their relationship with God to build this promised kingdom and so must we.

What are we to do to bring about this kingdom?

John and Paul both give us answers to this question. John’s message is so clear that he shouts it out

Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near

This is not supposed to be a message to fill us with fear. Remember

Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

John does not consider repentance to be a time of woe and misery. He sees it as a necessary part, an endurance, of the process towards serving God. For after we have repented he tells us we must

Bear fruit worthy of repentance

What might that fruit be?

Paul’s message is one that follows repentance, for him the fruit is that of acceptance.

Accept one another, just as Christ accepted you.

When we have accepted ourselves and our mistakes – for such is repentance. We accept others and then, having learned from these scriptures we can find that hope and bring about what Paul calls the spirit of unity.

This is what the time of Advent is for us a time of repentance, of acceptance and of seeking for hope.

Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Dipping again

Ok... so some trawling through of the laptop has unearthed some John the Baptist thoughts from previous years and as I found them, with just the first few words, I remembered what I'd said.

The first one was tied in with the presence of our Scout troop and the whole BE PREPARED motto. It fitted rather well with John the Baptist really and featured a bit of a sketch from the Scouts and some thoughts about mottoes. The second was from three years ago and focussed on the epistle. Three years on and the same reaidngs are here again and as I was only just blogging back then, I hadn't got into the habit of popping my sermons up there so I might just throw up a three year old sermon for anyone lookng for inspiration!

Double Dipping

John the Baptist should apparently be more rightly called John the Dipper (βαπτιστὴς) and despite the fact that baptism is supposed to be a once and for all affair I'm repeating (and indeed this is true for dipping too - I remember a woman insisting some time ago that double-dipping your tortilla or crudite is a major crimes!

Though Double-dipping might be frowned upon, it seems PREACHING about John the Baptist more than once is not the same. This Sunday I will be preahcing for the THIRD time in five years on Advent 2 and for the FOURTH time on John the Baptist.

When I first saw this on the rota I remembered how much trouble I had LAST time trying to come up with something new so I was a bit disheartened. My dad said I should use 'number one' or the best of the three again and see if anyone notices. I'm not sure which would be worse - being caught repeating a sermon or no-one noticing that I was!

In fact, my solution has been to preach on a slightly different part of the text. You'll have to wait and see when I pop it up on Monday. It's one thing for someone to catch me repeating a sermon from a year back but to read it on here then have to listen to it on Sunday would be a bit much!

I had a great plan to blog the different John the Baptist sermons. Unfortunately... I can't find them!! Not a great loss I suppose as I really don't tend to re-use sermons. I prefer to say somehting aimed rather specifically at who I'm preaching to but then, I've been in the same place for five years and I suppose this might change when I move on. You never know!

Interesting reflection on whole John the Dipper (βαπτιστὴς) thing. John says he will dip/dunk us in water but the one who comes after will do so with the spirit. Drenching/dunking/dipping someone with the spirit does just have more power as an image than the wordy baptising in the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sales to the wind

As the stars in the sky
Originally uploaded by Sarah Brush
I've not updated you on the whole selling my paintings thing. Sorry but life has been pretty busy this week and still is. I was really pleased with how the paintings went down and some friends gave a few some homes. In displayng them I realised there were a few I've not put up on Flickr so here's one. If you're interested you can pop over and have a look at the other new pics.

Making an exhibition of yourself

funny sign
Originally uploaded by Sarah Brush
I've spent the day out with a group from our church - mostly the older members of the community so a bit of a day off really for a youth worker! We went to Bradford on Avon then the Christmas market in Bath then the American Museum nearby. At one of these places I saw this sign and it made me laugh so I thought I'd share it with you all!