Robert's Ruminations

The thoughts of Revd. Robert, Minister for Emmanuel, Ilfracombe
For information on Robert and Emmanuel, follow this link

Showing Gratitude

As the story goes, the English writer Somerset Maughan had a problem. He had earned a good sum of money from his Spanish royalties on his novels, but the law forbade him to take any of the money out of the country. Maughan decided to use the money to pay for a luxury holiday. He chose one of the best hotels and dined extravagantly every evening. Nothing was too costly. When he felt satisfied that he had spent most of the money that was due to him, he told the manager that he would be leaving the following day. He asked for the bill.

Instead of going off to get the bill, the manager stood where he was and beamed at his distinguished guest. Maughan was confused. The manager said to him: "It has been an honour having you in our hotel. You have brought much publicity to us while you have been here. We would like to show our gratitude. Therefore, there is no bill."

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Vision of the future

The leader of a certain Indian tribe was dying. For many generations his people had been encamped at the base of a large mountain. The chief summoned his three sons and said: "I am dying; before my death I must choose one of you to succeed me as the head of our tribe. I have the same task for each of you. I want you to climb our holy mountain and bring me back something beautiful. The one whose gift is the most outstanding will be the one who will succeed me."

The following morning the sons set out on their search, each taking a different path to the top of the holy mountain. After several days the three sons returned. The first brought his father a flower which grew near the summit of the mountain; it was extremely rare and beautiful. The second son brought his father a valuable stone, round and colourful, which had been polished by rain and sandy winds. When the third son approached his father, everyone saw that his hands were empty.

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United under Christ

One Sunday an advertisement appears in the newspapers. It was headed by pictures of a doctor, a lawyer, a musician and an army officer. Underneath was written in bold:

"A vocation. What if you don't have one?"

The advert continued:

"It was the first time I felt envious about anything," a young man told us recently. "I looked around the dining hall and realised with some pain that there were two sorts of people here: those who had vocations, and the rest of us who did not. The first group knew exactly where they wanted to go and how to get there. Their lives, I naively imagined, would be unswerving and purposeful, rich with certainty and fulfilment. "By contrast I felt muddled and irresolute. I found myself mentally trying on different jobs but, like second-hand clothes, none seemed to fit."

The advertisement was for recruitment to the army and it tries to kill off the idea that a young man who is uncertain has no place in the army. Uncertainty, it argues, is not feeble mindedness. After all, how can you commit yourself to something you know nothing about? The army, so the argument goes, will give this unsure young man time to make up his mind about the future. He will have time to discover if he really has what the recruiting officer calls "a vocation for the Army."

When Matthew writes of the call of the first disciples, there is no suggestion of any hesitation on the part of the four fishermen. Matthew does not tell us why they follow Jesus. His story is simple: Jesus calls them and they follow him. There is no hint about where they are going; there is no detailing of what discipleship will involve. Nothing is promised; nothing is signed. Matthew is clearly not interested in these questions; he is more concerned to show that the disciples are called by Jesus and how their discipleship requires the leaving of everything that occupied them until that moment.

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Overlooking Sin

We all have our own images of God. Sometimes people imagine God as the great accountant who keeps exact records of everyone of our wrongdoings. This God preserves the details of our failings on computer – nothing escapes his attention, nothing is overlooked. Given what he sees, he regards the handiwork of his creation with some disapproval. He waits until the last day when he can confront us with the punishing record of our sin.

But this depiction of God is a world away from the image given in the book of Wisdom:

“You are merciful to all, because you can do all things and overlook men’s sins so that they can repent.
You love all that exists ... You spare all things
because all things are yours, Lord, lover of life”

 

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Measuring up!

Anyone who has been on a team building course may well recall that one of the exercises that always seems to be on the agenda is when the group is asked to stand on a suspended plank and organise themselves in order of height.  The tallest and shortest stand out straight away but its funny how everyone jostles for position and how someone always thinks of themselves as being taller than the next person!  Whether we like it or not, from a young age we care a lot about how we measure up.  That’s why we always take off our shoes before we get on the weighing scales, or always try to stretch our backs when our height is measured.  We seem to spend a lot of our time wishing we were taller, shorter, slimmer or broader.

 It’s also true that God is just as concerned on how we measure up - not our physical size and shape, but how we measure up spiritually.  To him, it’s not how we look but it’s about how we live our lives that’s important.

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Choices, choices!

Every day we face making choices.  Should we take the main road or go the pretty way through the lanes?  Should I go to the gym or the coffee shop?  Most of our decisions don’t require a lot of thought.  Even the important decisions do not seem permanent.  If we don’t like where we live, we move.  If we don’t like our job we can seek a new one.  But all too often it’s easy to forget that when we make choices there may be consequences.

We face a world of decisions every day.  Choice is built into the essence of our existence.  As much as we wish we could, we can’t have it all.  From the moment we are born it is clear that there is more to do than we can ever hope to achieve!

Every time we choose a path we miss countless others.  Every decision we take is the death of a myriad of alternatives.  It is difficult for us to admit that some directions we take are irreversible.  We find it hard to say to ourselves, “I will do this one thing”.  We so often stand at junctions where two roads diverge and try to go down both.  It’s so painful for us to decide to do “this” when we know that it means we will never be able to do “that”.  Sometimes we try to convince ourselves that in the end, all the different paths will converge into one, but this is not true of our experience.  Some decisions that are made build permanent fences that we can never hope to scale.

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Christmas Approaches!

As I write this piece for the churches, it is incredible to think that we are once again approaching Christmas.  The year seems to roll by at an unrelenting pace in today’s modern world.  Everything has to be done ‘now’ or so it appears.  Instant messaging, Facebook and Twitter, Skype to all corners of the world are just some of the modern day technologies that have ensured that the world in which we live has somehow become smaller.  Although the physical distances between places and people haven’t changed, the ability to communicate with each other has been reduced quite dramatically.  On the one hand this is undoubtedly a good thing.  Parents and grandparents can now be involved in the lives of their children and grandchildren who may be on the other side of the world, whereas before, letters and phone calls just didn’t enable them to see how they were growing up as the years passed by.  But the problem with this new technology is that sometimes we respond to the e-mail or text without really thinking about it - sometimes causing hurt and distress to those receive them.  We are able to see the latest news stories unfolding before our eyes and this brings with it a new responsibility - we can no longer say ‘we didn’t know!!’

 

Christmas is a time when we all seek to be with family and friends, but we are reminded that the first Christmas saw Mary and Joseph miles from home in a strange place with very little in the way of comfort in which their baby was to be born.

 

How times have changed - but have they - really?  There will be many thousands of people displaced from homes and families this Christmas.  We see them on our TVs every day and we are told that the situation is not going to improve very much in the foreseeable future.  This places a real responsibility on us as we live out our lives where we are. 

 

Each Christmas we send cards to family and friends and very often the sentiment is all about ‘Peace on earth and goodwill to all people’.  Are we really prepared to live up to that hope?

 

As Christmas moves into a New Year, let our resolution be to help do our bit to make the world a better place for all people.  No matter who we are, we can all do something if we really want to!!

 

Christmas is a busy time for all of us and our churches have a plethora of activities planned for over the Advent and Christmas period and you are all warmly invited to come and share with us.

 

Have a most wonderful Christmas and a Blessed New Year.

 

Every Blessing to you all,

 

Amanda & Robert.

 

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Waiting for Jesus

A woman stands at the end of a pier, her eyes scanning the horizon as she waits for her husband’s ship to come home to port.  A father climbs a hill to the lookout in the hope of catching a glimpse of his eldest son returning home.  Young parents-to-be wait with a growing sense of expectation for the birth of their new child.  An old man sits in a nursing home still waiting for the day when his family will come to visit him.  All of them wait, and their waiting tests the quality of their hope.  They are powerless to bring about what they hope for; all they can do is wait.

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The Seed That Struggles To Grow

From time to time, we come up against the truth about ourselves – that there is a gap between what we say and what we do; what we profess to be and how we actually behave.  Often we are quick to notice this flaw in others but not so quick or not so willing to see that we ourselves are flawed in a similar way.  One of life’s greatest disappointments is to come across a friend who will promise you anything without holding themselves accountable for what they say.  Their word is worthless and we can become disillusioned in that friendship.  But sometimes our words are no real bargains either – we lie, we draw back, we decorate the truth and embellish the story such that it becomes unrecognisable.

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Showing Love

In the gospel stories about Jesus, you will find that he is never far away from a dinner table.  This is not because Jesus is always hungry for food, but because he is always hungry for fellowship.  Throughout his ministry Jesus uses the social occasion of sharing a meal as a great opportunity to challenge some people with his teaching and to comfort others with his healing.  Jesus always shares more than just food when he sits down at table with friends and strangers alike.  He shares himself!  And in sharing himself he becomes the source of conflict for some and good news for others.

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