Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Magazine Article for April 2018

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reminded how a lot of days of celebration have sad associations for some people. Christmas is well-known for being a time which people can find difficult, particularly for people who have been bereaved, or have experienced the breakdown of a relationship. If this is ignored, it can leave people excluded, and the celebrations can be very insensitive.

More recently, we acknowledged similar issues in our worship on Mothering Sunday. It can be a mix of emotions for people who have no children, have a difficult relationship with their mother (or with their children) or whose mother has died. By moving the focus back to Mothering Sunday, rather than ‘Mothers Day’, we concentrated on how the church community can share in the love of God together, regardless of our human circumstances.

However, as we look forward to Holy Week and Easter, we may be conscious of situations of suffering around our world. Over the last few months we have witnessed conflict in Syria and other locations, natural disasters, and the ongoing struggle to feed people in parts of the world affected by drought or conflict. Many might ask where is God, and what can we celebrate in such circumstances?

When Christians observe Good Friday, they are entering into another tragic story, which has affected millions of people. As people think and pray about Jesus' death, they often have a strong sense of identifying with the pain Jesus knew. But a much greater identification is taking place. Good Friday tells us that God is not watching the events of this world like a news broadcast from a far away place. In Jesus he shows us that he is involved - present with us. The mystery of human suffering is that we are not cushioned from all harm; we can hurt each other and we can hurt ourselves. The promise of Good Friday is that our God is one who is with us, who knows our experiences first hand, and can be the inspiration by which lives can be healed and rebuilt.

Of course, Easter brings its joy and celebration of death defeated and suffering overcome. But what goes before is neither forgotten, nor is it there to spoil the party; it is all part of a bigger picture. Through Jesus, God shares our sorrows and our joys, and depending on our recent experiences, different parts of that story will make their connections with us. The important thing is that whatever you are feeling, you are not excluded.

Mike Peatman

Monday, 26 March 2018

Meditation for Palm Sunday 2018

Matthew 21:1-17 

"I Was Only A Child"

He was good with children.

It’s a few years ago now, but I remember him as vividly as if it was yesterday.

The first time I saw him was early on – everyone seemed to be talking about him. It was very exciting. Then, one day, my parents took me to see Jesus. I had been ill as a young child, apparently, and they wanted Jesus to bless me. I guess they thought it might protect me from any further problems. We got quite close. There was a little group of us who were kids, and I expect we were making a little bit of noise. He looked at us, and there was a delight in his eyes to see us, and I trusted him completely. We were so happy, we were laughing and giggling, but a few of his followers told us to be quiet and go away. “The teacher isn’t here for children”, they said.

That’s when I first heard his voice. It was strong and clear, but with a kindness I can’t quite describe. “No!” he said in a loud voice that made everyone jump. “Let the children come to me, and don’t you dare stop them. My father’s kingdom belongs to people who follow me and trust me like children do. Learn from them”. After that, I’m sure he took an extra amount of time to talk to each of us and bless us. His disciples looked really shamefaced.

When we heard that Jesus was coming in to Jerusalem just before the Passover Festival, we had to be there. My dad took me early in the day to the road into the city, quite near the gate. And we waited with great anticipation – I think my dad was as excited as I was.

You could hear the crowd coming a mile off. “Hosanna! Hosanna!”, people were shouting. They had cut down palm leaves and had put branches and even their cloaks on the road. People were singing and dancing and celebrating, and we all got carried away with the atmosphere. My dad and I managed to slip in to the procession just a little bit behind Jesus and we followed him up into the city. It was as if Jesus was my hero – I felt like I would have done anything for him at that moment.

The first thing Jesus did was head up to the Temple, and the next thing we knew all these people were rushing out – carrying bags of money and cages of birds. “They’re all crooks”, said my dad “about time they were taught a lesson.” Jesus was looking angry – a bit like he did when he told off his disciples about the children. “This should be a place for prayer, but you’ve turned it into a place to steal from people who are seeking my Father”, he shouted. But I wasn’t scared, because I trusted him. In fact, I thought he was brilliant.

We sneaked in, and there were some more children there, and we soon made up a song and sang it about Jesus. The grown-ups in the Temple were a bit like the other ones – they complained about us. But Jesus spoke up for us again. “These children are singing the truth”, he said. “Sometimes children can hear God much more clearly than you who think you know so much. Silence them and the stones will sing!"

While he was saying this, he caught my eye for a moment. I saw the kindness I had known before, even a little of the delight, but I was shocked to see something else. There was a sadness in his eyes too - a pained look that meant I knew something was wrong. Something bad was going to happen. It was the look people have when they say goodbye to go on a long journey, not knowing if – or when - they will return. I had no idea then what would lie ahead – how could I? I was just a child. But I could see what he was feeling, and for the first and only time it made me a little bit scared. Not of him, but for him.

He needed his friends more than ever, but despite all the people round him, he seemed lonelier than I had ever seen him. He was starting something only he could do, and all I could do was treasure the memories I had and watch and wait to see what would happen.

“Come on”, said Dad, “we’ve a Passover to prepare”. It would be one I would never forget.

- Mike Peatman

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Video from Jono Peatman's visit on 21 Jan 2018

When Jono came on Jan 21 to speak to us about his work with the new CAP debt centre for Lancaster and Morecambe, he shared a video with us at the end to use to reflect and pray. It was to help us to think about how each of us helping one person can make all the difference to our world.
We said we'd post a link to it, so here it is at last.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Magazine Article for February 2018: Lent

Have you ever stopped to think why you do things the way you do? Why do you shop on that particular day, or set the table in a specific way? Why do you drive that route, when you're going to the shops? Why is your morning or evening routine the way it is?

There will be good and carefully thought-out answers for these questions in some cases, but for most of us, the habits we have fallen into have just happened by accident - or we have inherited them from someone else. Of course, there are times in life when our patterns and habits get challenged - going to college, getting married and so on. But often, we just carry on, because that's what we have always done.

But I have to say that some of the most positive and creative experiences I have had is when people have challenged the norms I lapse into, by asking questions or suggesting alternative ways of doing things. It's not always comfortable, but it can be very life-giving if you're brave enough to listen.

For those of us with faith, we have a whole different set of habits and norms, which can be very deeply embedded in our being. The church we go to, the time of the service we attend, the pew we sit in, as well as the roles we fill or the activities we attend. If those are ever challenged by someone else, it can feel a very personal intrusion and we can find ourselves being very defensive.

However, if Lent means anything, then it is a time to question, to review and probably to change. It might be a simple change - allocating a little more time to prayer, Bible study or serving God in some way. It may raise bigger questions for some of us about our priorities, our values and our commitments. It may even ask us if we are in the right place or job.

But we don't have to do that work alone - I value having someone who is a spiritual director who I meet every few weeks for that sort of review conversation. If that would be helpful for you, have a word with me, Anne Cunliffe, or Sue Kiernan.

That may not be for all of us, but if we're paying attention to Lent, we can't go through it without any questions being raised, or without being prompted to think again about our lives. Just remember: it's not a reason to fear. It might just be the exciting start of something new.

Treasure the questions

Mike Peatman

Sermon for Candlemas, 28 January 2018.




Being fortunate enough to have a car and 2 good legs, I’m not often dependant on buses. But last week I didn’t have time to walk from Galgate to Lancaster while my car was being serviced. I might have been warmer if I had – the bus was 50 mins late.

Many thoughts went through my head while I waited; gratitude for having a car; sympathy for folk who wait for buses every day and less charitable thoughts about the bus company! But also how difficult I find waiting; how impatient and crabby I get!

Life is full of waiting isn’t it?

- waiting for your dream job – or at least something that would be more fulfilling
- waiting for the time when you can live without money worries
- waiting for circumstances to change so that you will be free of some responsibility
- waiting for an operation or the results of a medical examination you are dreading
- waiting for God to answer a prayer

Life is full of ‘waitings’, major and trivial. Some things we wait for are just vague wishes, some we long for with all our hearts. Waiting is part of life but when it comes to waiting for God, we have some things we can learn from this passage.

Simeon and Anna were waiting for something God had promised over a long time. And they were part of what God wanted to do that day, because they’d waited. They’d learned to wait attentively, to live expectantly, and they had the great joy of seeing what they’d waited for.

1 SIMEON v 25 - 35

We don’t know if Simeon was an old man, we are only told Anna’s age. I guess we presume he is an old man because he says he’s ready to die once he’s seen the Messiah. He lived every day in expectation – will this be the day? If he was indeed an older man, maybe, as he grew more creaky and prone to illness, he might have been tempted to wonder if it really would happen in his lifetime.

And how would he know which child? So many infant boys were brought by their parents to pay the usual 5 shekels to redeem the first-born. Simeon had to be always ready, always listening to the voice of God. When the day came he was there, in the place where there would be a fulfilment of the promise, where he would hear: “this is it”.

Simeon takes the child in his arms, and he prays this prayer that we have had sung to us just now: the Nunct Dimitis. This beautiful prayer has been used at Evensong and Compline for more than 350 years. But actually “dismiss your servant in peace,” for Simeon meant dying not sleeping!

As Simeon looks down at this child in his arms, he understands that this Jesus he has waited for, would bring salvation, not just to his own race, but to everyone: Jew and Gentile. Outsiders would find the light they are groping for; insiders would see his glory in its fullest and truest sense. He recognised this wonderful revelation in a tiny baby. This was worth waiting for; now he could go in peace.

2 ANNA v36 - 38

The second person here is Anna. She had also learned to wait – probably longer than Simeon. We do know that Anna was old. 84 is a good age now, but a great age then. It says she was widowed after only 7 years of marriage, so she could have been a widow for at least 60 years.

This was no ordinary lady! She was a prophet, always in the Temple day and night worshipping, fasting and praying – no mean feat for someone 84 years old! She was also waiting, waiting for the Promise to be fulfilled, waiting expectantly.

Anna was old but hadn’t ceased to hope in the Lord. She had suffered aloneness but hadn’t grown bitter. As a result, here is someone else in the right place at the right time. She didn’t have to go far because she was always there waiting in God’s presence, and speaking about him to everyone she met in the most natural way. The waiting had made her who she was.

Anna and Simeon were probably long dead before Jesus began his ministry but they played a very important part by not losing hope, always listening, speaking the truth, waiting expectantly for the promise of the Lord.


At Bible Explorers last Tuesday we were studying this account and I asked the group what do we learn from these 2 people about waiting.

Here are some of the things they said:

- Waiting teaches us to stay with our convictions
- Waiting helps us get our priorities right – we have to push away what isn’t important
- Waiting teaches us perseverance and patience. We have to simply trust that the promise will come.
- Waiting on God like Simeon and Anna, means allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us; so we take note of the nudges – do that now; go and see that person today.

It’s great what comes out of those discussions – I love it!

One or two other observations about the waiting process:

Firstly, God is not in a hurry. 
We live in a very impatient culture that wants everything now. We hate waiting for things to happen. But this time of year in our country teaches us something very important – we can’t hurry spring. I’m longing for the daffodils and even more those long light evenings. But nature is not in a hurry – and neither is God.

Secondly, waiting is not a waste of time. 
It isn’t necessarily inactive. Years ago I read this: “When you’re waiting you are not doing nothing. You’re doing the most important something there is, you’re allowing your soul to grow up – you’re becoming what God created you to be”. (Sue Monk Kidd: When the heart waits). Waiting matures us.

Thirdly, waiting is open-ended. 
As far as we understand, Simeon and Anna did not know exactly how they would recognize the Messiah when he came; they had to wait for the nudge of the Holy Spirit. Those who had got it all worked out at the time didn’t recognize him when he came, because they were too sure they knew what they were waiting for. To wait like this, open-endedly, is not an easy way to live, because we are not in control, we have to let go of our ideas.


If we want to know what direction the Lord wants us to go in and that applies to us as a church, what we should do, what he is calling us to be, we are going to have to learn to wait and listen. So let’s learn together how to wait attentively, to listen expectantly for the nudge of the Holy Spirit.

- Sue Kiernan

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Magazine article for November 2017: Poppies

Dear Friends,

Over the years, I have been in on some interesting conversations about the whys and wherefores of wearing a poppy for the remembrance season. It’s clear that everyone on TV is now placed under huge pressure to wear a poppy. We see extra-large and sometimes bejewelled ones for X-factor judges and contestants, which has the effect of making them a fashion accessory. Poppies also seem to be appearing more and more in advance of the day itself, just like Easter eggs and Christmas decorations. I can't help thinking that this is a huge exercise in missing the point.

Please don't misunderstand me - I shall wear a (basic) poppy on Remembrance Sunday. I will do so, not because other people want me to, but because I will be remembering members of my family – one lost on the Somme in March 1918, also my grandfather who lived through nearly three years of horror in the trenches, and lived but rarely told the tale of the terrible things he witnessed.

I will remember the terrible cost of World War 2 – both military and civilian. I'll also be aware of all the casualties we have seen in recent wars, such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Although much smaller in number than the “great” wars of the 20th century, we are made all the more aware by the intense media coverage of everyone whose life is lost.

On 14 Nov, I will also remember the anniversary of the bombing of Coventry in 1940. Having lived there, the experience still casts a shadow over the city, as it must in many other cities devastated by war. I still have a vivid memory of officiating at a burial in London Road cemetery, and was shocked when I saw there the memorial by the mass grave for the hundreds of casualties. The symbolism of the burned-out old cathedral next to the new one makes Coventry a very evocative place to visit. That experience has inspired people to reach out to other communities, and hence the city is twinned with Dresden in Germany.

Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day are there “lest we forget” - lest we forget the death, losses, destruction, pain and grief of war, and lest we forget the need to work for peace and reconciliation in the future to try and avoid such things ever happening again.

I believe that wearing a poppy is a matter of personal choice, and no-one should be abused for the choice they make. The important issue is what kind of a world are we working for. The external badges we wear are surely much less important than the principles we live out in our lives.

Mike Peatman

Monday, 23 October 2017

Sermon for Trinity 19 2017. Matthew 22:15-22

MATTHEW 22: 15 – 22 22 Oct 2017

Most days on the TV or Radio news you’ll hear a journalist asking a politician a question to which there is no acceptable answer. They’ve practised the art to perfection.

A couple of weeks ago, Teresa May was asked on an LBC phone in: “If we held another referendum, which way would you vote?” Poor woman; how could she answer that one? Usually if we ask a question we want an answer. Not in this case. The journalist is only interested in setting a clever trap for her.

The Pharisees in our gospel reading have found the perfect question to catch Jesus out – so they think. Whichever way he answers, they are sure he will alienate some of his followers.

The issue of paying tax to the Roman Emperor was one of the hottest topics in the Middle East in Jesus' day. Imagine how we'd like it, if people from the other end of the world, marched into our country and demanded that we pay them tax, as a reward for having stolen our land. We'd be pretty miffed. That's what the Romans had done to Palestine.

They required 10% of the grain they grew, 20% of their oil and wine harvest, 1% of any income they earned by any other means. And on top of all that the Romans imposed a poll tax, requiring a denarius, a day’s wage of every man, woman and child between the ages of 12 and 65.

Maggie Thatcher discovered how nasty things can get when you impose a Poll Tax back in 1990. In Jesus day there were riots too, but the Romans were a tad more brutal. They left crosses around the countryside with dead and dying revolutionaries on them, as a warning that paying tax was compulsory, not optional.

So you can see what all his hearers knew lay in store if Jesus advocated withholding the tax. Actually at his trial a short time later, it was this very accusation that the Pharisees threw at Jesus: “He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar” (Luke 23: 2). That’s what they had wanted him to say.

On the other hand, if he said it was OK to pay the poll tax he would offend the majority of his fellow countrymen who hated everything about the Roman occupation.

Their aim is to make Jesus discredit himself in his own words. Whichever way Jesus answers he's in trouble. “Got him” the Pharisees think!

They could acknowledge reluctantly v 16 that he was ‘sincere’; that his ‘teaching’ rang true; that he showed no ‘partiality’ to anyone; but it rankled that he showed no deference to their authority. However, if they think that starting with flattery will lull Jesus into a false sense of security they are mistaken.
Within seconds they are the ones scrabbling for an answer, with their carefully worked out strategy destroyed. What’s more, Jesus manages to throw a spanner between two arch enemies.

The ultra orthodox Pharisees and the party of Herod, puppet of the Romans, King of Galilee, were strange bed-fellows indeed. Their differences were only forgotten in their hatred of Jesus and their desire to eliminate him.

So what's the big deal about the coin?

The reason was all down to the image on the coin. Jesus asked them: “Show me the coin used for paying the tax”.

I have a new pound coin. Whose image is on it? The Queen's of course. And what does it say around the edge? DG Reg FD  (Dei Gratia Regina = By the grace of God; “fidei defensor” = 'Defender of the Faith').

In the case of the Jews in Palestine, this denarius coin had the image of Tiberius Caesar on it. According to Jewish law they weren't allowed to put images of human faces on their coins. Around the edge of the coin proclaiming to all the world who he was, Caesar had the words that would send a shudder through any devout Jew: “Son of the Divine, High Priest”.

The Ten Commandments began with: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image.” They took that seriously. How could any Jew handle money like that? But they did. And someone brought one out of their pocket! The fact that someone possessed the coin was shameful. You can imagine the enigmatic expression on Jesus’ face!

We watch the scene unfold as they hand Jesus the coin like a dead rat: “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”  He hasn't said anything that will get him into trouble. He's turned the question round and throws it back like a hot potato! Pardon the mixed metaphors!

“It’s Caesar’s” they reply, stating the obvious, ashamed that they carry it themselves. “Well then”, says Jesus, “give to the Emperor the things that are the Emperors” It sounds as though he was saying ‘be responsible citizens’ and that is how it has been taken by most Christians ever since. But the question hangs in the air, what does it mean if that conflicts with our allegiance to God?

Then the punch line:  “give to God the things that are God’s”. His critics hadn’t mentioned God at all! Here, standing before them is the real Son of the Divine, asking “and what do you think your duty to God might be?” He has been telling parables (which we were looking at a few weeks ago), all about people who refuse to give God place in their lives and who will not recognise the Son.

Now he’s asking them why they don’t use all their supposed knowledge of God to recognise the Son, and what’s more why they prevent other people from recognising him too. “Give to God the things that are God’s.”

They had been playing games, keeping Caesar happy while only nodding at God. They were so devoted to keeping the commandments, keeping the Temple show on the road that God had been lost in it all. Just like we can be so caught up with keeping the church show on the road that we wonder where God is in it all.

The challenge of Jesus then and now is that he wants the thing that is God’s – us. He wants what belongs to him – our lives. “Give to God the things that are God’s.” Our money, our time, our attention; our futures, our pasts; our worship, our love.

Jesus would very shortly share the fate of the tax rebels but Caesar’s kingdom is long forgotten now. The Kingdom of God continues, shown in the lives of all of us who, by God’s grace have “Given to God everything that belongs to God”.

- Sue Kiernan