Monthly Message from the Rector

The Reverend Ralph Lawrence, Rector of All Saints Church, Ashover

Monthly Message from the Rector

Here are some of the recent letters that the Rector has written for the magazine Amber News.

August 2018

Dear Friends,

There are moments in ministry when I feel out of my depth. But I take heart when I read the scriptures because they contain stories about ordinary people who regularly felt the same way. Moses is a good example. He killed a man, an Egyptian slave driver whom he caught abusing one of his countrymen. In a fit of indignation he slew the Egyptian tyrant only to find days later that the very people he tried to rescue were accusing him of over-reaching his authority. Moses panicked and fled into the wilderness where in obscurity he settled down to what he thought was going to be a quiet life.

Moses may have believed he was out of the reach of Egypt’s Pharaoh but he soon discovered that he wasn’t outside the realm of God. Startled by the strange phenomenon of the unconsumed burning bush he went to investigate. It was then that God, having gained his attention, directed Moses back to Egypt to begin the Exodus of the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt – from slavery to freedom after centuries of captivity.

Moses instantly felt out of his depth. He reminded God that he wasn’t a natural public speaker and that the Lord of all creation must have made a mistake. God hadn’t. And so began Moses’ career as a leader. It was a role that was characterised by humility. And humility is a vital feature of good leadership.

Many years later and we meet another confused would-be leader in the form of Saul of Tarsus. He was a tent maker by trade, also a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish ruling elite and a Roman citizen by birth. Saul had it all as we would say today, power, wealth, prestige and a soaring intellect which helped him to make sense of it all. And then one day he was turned around by a vision of the risen Jesus while he was on his way to Damascus with the intention of destroying the infant Christian church. In a flash he was brought to his knees and in the years that followed he changed from being a murdering envoy to a passionate ambassador for Christ. His ministry was long suffering and marked with humility.

The careers of Moses and Saul were not flawless. Like every human they made their mistakes, and had to deal with the consequences of their errors. But, nevertheless their standing in the histories and relevance of the Judaeo–Christian faiths is colossal. I think part of their greatness was their humility. And I also think that the growth of their humility was due in part to their readiness to respond to God’s adventure. Humility is one of those words which we sometimes hear glibly spoken – its meaning lost and unabsorbed; deflected by a titter or amusement when said in jest when we never have any intention of allowing it to have any real impact upon us.

But on the occasions when we are truly humbled we sense not a loss of status but a sense of value and worth. Being humbled is not a loss of standing. It is more a state of receiving, and with that exhilaration comes a willingness to accept the loss of self. By this I mean that momentarily we recognise that we are no longer the most important person occupying an egotistical little world.

True humility is not really a state before other people but the state which is appropriate to have before God. But it can only really be ours when we acknowledge our worth before God who has bestowed upon us the status of dearly loved children. Humility grows when the fear of losing self is gradually replaced by the fullness of Christ – “when perfect love casts out fear.” When we no longer have to pretend but learn to trust in the inexhaustible riches of God’s love.

Yours sincerely, Ralph

July 2018

Dear Friends,

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to be someone else? If you have then perhaps it is only because of the things you admire in that person. But what if you knew everything about a person, would you still want to be them?

Imagine if everyone could put their life into a bucket for all to see and then exchange their bucket for a different one. At first glance another person’s bucket may seem very attractive. It may be the bucket of a rich man, or a talented singer. It may belong to a sporting celebrity or be the bucket of a genius. The possibilities are endless. But how many people would exchange their bucket for one belonging to a poor person or a refugee? But what if on closer inspection you discover that the talents of a gifted singer disguise a tragedy, or the wealth in another is merely the result of ill gotten gain. Hypothetical as this scenario is the chances of us returning home with our own bucket may, after closer inspection of the alternatives, be infinitely preferable than we had previously imagined. The message is clear – don’t envy others, for the bucket of their life may contain more than we bargain for.

In the Old Testament there is a man called Ezekiel. He was considered mad by some, a reputation that that even now is slow to fade. Despite his awkwardness it appears that God called him to be his spokesman. Ezekiel’s job was to prophesy to the Israelites and tell them to expect life to be tough for a while, to grin and bear it, to face up to it rather than trying to avoid it. It was a hard message to give and one the people of God found difficult to accept. Patience and obedience are never easy to learn, but they can bring rich rewards in time. From the outset Ezekiel appeared to have it good. He came from a privileged background and he was gifted both practically and intellectually. On the surface he had it all. But then he experienced a bucket of woes. In his professional life he suffered rejection and at a personal level he felt the pain of losing his wife. On closer inspection no-one would have wanted to exchange their bucket for his.

We never know what is going on in a person’s life unless they decide to confide in us. If they do it can be one of the most rewarding experiences. It can also be totally tactless too.

But what seems to come through the pages of scripture is that God sees into the buckets of our lives, nothing is hidden from him. This may seem scary but it is not intended to frighten. St. Paul, like Ezekiel many generations before him, was also a privileged person. He too had it all but he also knew what it was like to bear a cross. His bucket was full of struggles. But alongside his struggles he had some very comforting words to say to fellow strugglers: “God’s grace is sufficient for you”. It is as if he is saying God peers into the buckets of lives and then pours into them his strength and peace, his compassion and his love. He sees what we carry. He also knows what he has placed in them himself! /p>

For St. Paul this was a “thorn in the flesh” given to him in order that he might remain humble having been shown the glory of heaven. For alongside St. Paul’s natural talents and enormous intellectual ability God had ‘given’ him a weakness so that he might rely upon God’s grace.

Sometimes it is our weaknesses in God’s hands that become our greatest strengths. Yours sincerely,

Ralph

June 2018

Dear Friends,

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to be someone else? If you have then perhaps it is only because of the things you admire in that person. But what if you knew everything about a person, would you still want to be them?

Imagine if everyone could put their life into a bucket for all to see and then exchange their bucket for a different one. At first glance another person’s bucket may seem very attractive. It may be the bucket of a rich man, or a talented singer. It may belong to a sporting celebrity or be the bucket of a genius. The possibilities are endless. But how many people would exchange their bucket for one belonging to a poor person or a refugee? But what if on closer inspection you discover that the talents of a gifted singer disguise a tragedy, or the wealth in another is merely the result of ill gotten gain. Hypothetical as this scenario is the chances of us returning home with our own bucket may, after closer inspection of the alternatives, be infinitely preferable than we had previously imagined. The message is clear – don’t envy others, for the bucket of their life may contain more than we bargain for.

In the Old Testament there is a man called Ezekiel. He was considered mad by some, a reputation that that even now is slow to fade. Despite his awkwardness it appears that God called him to be his spokesman. Ezekiel’s job was to prophesy to the Israelites and tell them to expect life to be tough for a while, to grin and bear it, to face up to it rather than trying to avoid it. It was a hard message to give and one the people of God found difficult to accept. Patience and obedience are never easy to learn, but they can bring rich rewards in time. From the outset Ezekiel appeared to have it good. He came from a privileged background and he was gifted both practically and intellectually. On the surface he had it all. But then he experienced a bucket of woes. In his professional life he suffered rejection and at a personally level he felt the pain of losing his wife. On closer inspection no-one would have wanted to exchange their bucket for his.

We never know what is going on in a person’s life unless they decide to confide in us. If they do it can be one of the most rewarding experiences. It can also be totally tactless too.

But what seems to come through the pages of scripture is that God sees into the buckets of our lives, nothing is hidden from him. This may seem scary but it is not intended to frighten. St. Paul, like Ezekiel many generations before him, was also a privileged person. He too had it all but he also knew what it was like to bear a cross. His bucket was full of struggles. But alongside his struggles he had some very comforting words to say to fellow strugglers: “God’s grace is sufficient for you”. It is as if he is saying God peers into the buckets of lives and then pours into them his strength and peace, his compassion and his love. He sees what we carry. He also knows what he has placed in them himself!

For St. Paul this was a “thorn in the flesh” given to him in order that he might remain humble having been shown the glory of heaven. For alongside St. Paul’s natural talents and enormous intellectual ability God had ‘given’ him a weakness so that he might rely upon God’s grace.

Sometimes it is our weaknesses in God’s hands that become our greatest strengths. Yours sincerely,

Ralph

May 2018

Dear Friends,

I am struck on my travels around the parishes just how wonderful the villages are looking at this time of year and there are even glimpses of wonder too in the rectory garden with the apple blossom that heralds that the best is yet to come with its promise of a harvest to reap.

The best is yet to come is a familiar theme and one that is not confined to the world horticulture. The glimpses of the risen Christ by the followers of Jesus on the first Easter Day are a hint that not everything can be taken on face value; however helpful this approach to life is on a daily level. The sight of the finishing line for a weary marathon runner with the guarantee of rapturous applause, or safe arrival of a healthy child after an arduous labour are in their way examples that the best is yet to come - the victorious accolade for those who preserve when the going gets tough and the joy that replaces pain when a baby is born.

While a belief in the best is yet to come can inspire and encourage people to perform heroic feats like that of St. Paul who declared, that like an athlete he had engaged in the contest, finished the race, kept the faith and looked forward to God’s crowning glory; it can also be true that the hope that the best is yet to come is nothing more than a delusion, wishful thinking.

Sigmund Freud, perhaps the most influential psychoanalyst of the modern time certainly seemed to think so. He taught that life is hard, and our unconscious spins a web of fantasy – that there is a good God and a life after death – to make the here and now bearable. And of course Freud had a point. The tendency to wishful thinking is in most of us pretty strong, and therefore it is right to be on our guard.

But frankly, I find Freud’s assertion unconvincing for the simple reason that the view of life offered by the Christian faith is so wonderful. While accepting the need for honesty, because there is no point in deceiving oneself, although we probably do more of that than we probably admit, what could be more glorious and encouraging than the belief that the universe is created by loving wisdom; that this divine mind gives us freedom to build our own lives, but who shares all our struggles, pain and hopes; that he has taken the supreme step of self abandonment in uniting himself with human personality in Christ; that Christ’s presence continues with us and that this life is not all there is, but a first stage of the journey towards a final consummation of unimaginable happiness – that the best is yet to come.

Some human imaginings are of course only fantasies. But others provide inspiration, incentive, and yes, consolation.

Yours sincerely, Ralph