March 2019

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.


Charles Dickens was once asked what the best short story was. His reply, apparently, was, “The Prodigal Son.”

Today we may or may not agree with his opinion, but we will certainly know the story he was referring to. It is possible that we would disagree, along the lines of, “For me it’s the Good Samaritan.” Both stories have passed into the popular consciousness and have an appeal across cultures, and across the centuries. Jesus told both stories yet, surprisingly, they can be found in only one of the four gospels. (More about which one below.)

The Christian season of Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, which falls on the 6th of March this year. No doubt some of us have decided what we might “give up” this year, and there are no prizes for guessing what might top that list. There is also the idea of “taking up” something or other. If we take a cue from the returning prodigal, we might decide to take on more regular contact with someone in the family. More challengingly, we might attempt to do what we can to repair a broken relationship, if that is at all possible.

If our cue is from “the Good Samaritan,” we might seek for ways to offer practical help to someone in need. If we are unable to do that ourselves (and we have the means), then we could consider a special donation to a good cause. Taking up a volunteering opportunity is also something to consider.

My final suggestion is to take up the challenge of reading through Luke’s gospel during Lent. If this appeals, a different approach would be to start with chapter 15. That is about the “lost and found”: the sheep, the coin, and the younger son. Then read chapters 3 and 4, then chapter 10, which contains the other famous story told in response to the question “And who is my neighbour?” Then read chapters 5 and 6, followed by chapter 14, then chapters 7-9, then chapter 1, then chapters 11-13, then chapter 2, and then, finally, chapters 16-24. This order could help us see this gospel in a fresh light.

All good stories have a punch line: “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

Lots for us to ponder on in those words, and in the Lenten season.

With Christian love,

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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February 2019

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

What is it that we have lots of, but never enough of?

One answer would be time.

Sometimes we think, “I’ve all the time in the world.” We feel that we can relax and enjoy ourselves, only to discover that “time is running out!”

We also know that some things that we “spend” time on are seen by others as “a waste of time,” and vice-versa. We also attempt to “save time,” as if we could.

Christians spend or waste (depending on your point of view) some of their time in worship. As it happens, I have not been able to go to church for the last two weeks before “finding the time” to start writing this. What, if anything, did I miss?

Firstly, the people – meeting friends, exchanging news and pleasantries.

Next, being challenged in some way or other and reminded of the world beyond my own narrow horizons. I would have hoped to have thought, “I enjoyed that!” as I departed.

The modern word “worship” in English is derived from an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning to acknowledge someone’s “worth”. “Worship” and “worth” are related, and it certainly seems worthwhile to me “spend” time giving thanks and praise to the one we believe is our Creator.

I am reminded at this point that years ago someone said that worship is a transaction, that something is supposed to happen. “The simplest analysis of the worship transaction is to say that humans worship God and God blesses humans.”

Sitting here on a Monday morning writing this it seems a tremendous cheek to advocate an activity such as Christian worship when you know full well that only about 10% of the population “go to church.” Yet it has been said that everyone worships somehow or other anyway. The question then becomes, “Is it worth it? Is it time well spent?”

The invitation in one of the psalms is to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34 v8)

Thank you for taking the time to read this. May my sign-off of “God  bless” take on a fresh meaning in your life as you venture further into 2019.

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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December 2018 – January 2019

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

I wonder what you are afraid of? What do we fear?

When we were young we might have been afraid of the dark. A common fear as we grow up is the fear of failure. Then, as we grow older it could be the fear of losing our independence…

We all have fears and anxieties as we go through life.

It is wise to be afraid of some things and some situations, such as, for example, coming face to face with a rattlesnake, or being thrown into a den of lions.

Some religious people think that we should be afraid of God – just think of that threat, “I’ll put the fear of God into them!” – but we generally steer well clear of that which threatens, including God!

The Christmas story has, at its heart, the birth of a baby. Think of the first time you held a baby, how careful you were, how protective you felt. If you were still a child yourself, think of how proud you were because this “scrap of life” had been entrusted, however briefly, into your care. It is almost certain that on first holding a baby we are indeed afraid – not of the baby itself, but of dropping her or him.

Here is one way of looking afresh at the familiar story: God entrusts his son into the care of an ordinary couple, Mary and Joseph. “He was little, weak and helpless, tears and smiles like us he knew.” Simple yet not simplistic, because they were the couple who protected Jesus by taking him to Egypt, the parents who nurtured Jesus and anxiously searched for him when he was 12 years old.

One of the great messages of Christmas is, “Do not be afraid,” a message passed on by angels from God to every human being. That includes not being afraid of God who enters into human life as a baby.

This newsletter covers January as well as December, so “Happy New Year!” in advance. The coming year, 2019, will offer opportunities. Do not be scared to follow them up. There will be challenges to face, too, but do not be afraid. Remember to carry the Christmas message forward: “Fear not,” for God is among us and for us.

It was great to see such a good turnout for the Remembrance service, and it will have been great to have welcomed people to the Christmas services. You are all warmly invited to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service at 10.30 am on Sunday 20th January in St George’s.

Every blessing,

Robert Draycott

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November 2018

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.

Pip, Squeak & Wilfred strip cartoon

I was showing these venerable strip cartoon characters to the congregation as part of my talk on Remembrance Sunday in 2014. Afterwards, a lady who had been born in 1918 told me that was the popular name for the three basic medals given to those who had served in the war. As I write this I am looking at them in their small frame.

WW1 Medals

The central one is the war medal, with the head of King George V on the front. To the right is a gold medal inscribed, “The Great War for Civilisation 1914-1919”.

The final one on the left is the poignant one. It is star-shaped, with 1914-15 on the front. On the back is the name of my great uncle, who “died of wounds” in Gallipoli.

These three medals were given to his parents after the war. I wonder how they felt? How long did they keep them on display? I imagine they were given to my father because he was named after his uncle. Now I ponder over them 103 years after this unknown relative’s death.

Three medals…

Better than nothing? A constant reminder? Pride in a son’s sacrifice? A badge of honour for the family – “We lost someone as well”?

Three medals on the mantelpiece…

Questions with no answers.

What intrigues me now, however, is that someone, sometime, placed a red tissue poppy leaf in the display case. The poppy for remembrance, perhaps a more powerful and enduring symbol than “Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred.”

In many ways Christianity took a hammering in WW1. Two self- styled Christian nations both with clerics claiming that God was on their side!

Yet there were Christians who could make a connection between the mud and the blood and three crosses on a hill outside Jerusalem around 1900 years previously. Three medals with the poppy leaf for remembrance, medals commemorating sacrifice and death. Three crosses ‘outside a city wall’ with a dying thief’s words imagined by Sydney Carter as, “It’s God they ought to crucify instead of you and me, I said to the carpenter hanging on the tree.”

Remembrance of sacrifice – with thanksgiving and gratitude.

With Christian love,

Robert Draycott

 

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October 2018

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

“If they ask us, we won’t tell.”

I came across this phrase recently as something said by soldiers who survived the horrors of the First World War. Their intention was surely to protect people who had not experienced the horrors of the trenches. They also wanted to protect themselves as far as was possible from their traumatic memories of friends they had lost, things they had seen, and sounds that threatened to haunt them.

“If they ask us, we won’t tell.”

That phrase rang a bell because that was the gist of the answer my grandfather gave when asked about the war.

“Boy, you don’t want to know.”

That was about 50 years after the war had ended, but he still felt the desire to protect, and the need to leave memories unstirred.

Yet there were those who did tell, because they felt they had to. Letters home from the front were censored, because the truth would have been unbearable. But there was poetry, somehow less direct, and yet so powerful both in helping soldiers unburden themselves (at least in part) and in conveying something of what war meant. Novels came to be written, and plays, some of which were turned into films.

Some wrote accounts of their experiences and, eventually, in old age, some of the dwindling numbers of survivors began to speak directly at last, “Lest we forget.”

They spoke with emotion, remembering their fallen comrades, yet they still protected their hearers from the worst of what they had seen and heard. Protection of home and loved ones, that was one of the motives that kept those in the front line going, it was their duty.

As we approach this centenary, most of us feel that we have a duty to “Remember them.”

If we ask “Why?”, we can be grateful for that motive of protecting home and loved ones from the threat posed by the enemy. If we ask “How?”, then we can grasp the obvious (but easily overlooked) fact that men were fighting for peace.

One of the Beatitudes is apposite. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

WW1 was meant to be the “war that ended all war.” Sadly, it wasn’t, but it is no contradiction, nor a dishonouring of those who served in both world wars, to remind ourselves of that motive of protection and the overall desire for peace.

I have been impressed by the thought and imaginative planning that has gone into the marking of this centenary in King’s Stanley. Do take the opportunity to be part of what has been organised. We are the beneficiaries of those who risked and gave their lives in past conflicts, so it behoves us to remember with gratitude.

(To be continued next month).

Meanwhile, as always, a warm welcome awaits you at our Sunday services in the village hall.

Yours,

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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September 2018

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

A gardener was leaning on a fence, having a breather.

A passer-by paused and admired the beautiful garden in all its glory. Almost lost for words, she said, “Isn’t it wonderful what you and God have achieved together?”

The gardener gave a snort and replied, “But you shouldha’ seen it when ‘e ‘ad it to ‘isself.”

The passer-by could be said to be dealing in certainty. What then do we make of the gardener’s reply?

With September we move into autumn with its glorious colours and the opportunity to celebrate another year’s harvest. We tend to think that, if we went back 200 years or so, it was all simple and obvious; thanksgiving was offered to ‘God in his heaven’ and to the local farmers and their labourers who had worked the land. Everybody agreed on what harvest meant and where appreciation should be directed.

Nowadays it is surely very different. Produce is shipped in from all over the world and we are no longer limited to what happens to be in season wherever we live. We are also much more aware of the other world religions than people were 200 years ago. The concept of harvest thanksgiving appears more problematic, especially if we are people who want to live with certainty.

What do we make of the gardener’s reply? Is it dismissive of God altogether? Possibly so, or simply pointing out that co-operation is a key idea of harvest time. Modern life, with foods transported from all round the globe, with so many people involved in the supply chain, means that on the human level co-operation is something to be celebrated. We are indebted to people whom we will never meet and whom we can never thank for our daily food. That is a certainty that can be generally agreed upon.

The other point we could take from the opening scenario is that God welcomes and invites co-operation from human beings. Nothing is simply handed on a plate to people whether they seek to follow God or not. There is always an element of mystery involved, and of hard work. Harvest is something obvious which is universally appreciated. It is also an invitation to consider afresh the mystery that is God, and to do our bit towards making the world a better place.

Every blessing,

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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August 2018

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

Last month I risked writing about the World Cup and about “putting my faith in the team, despite past failures.” Well, we now know “they did us proud” and Gareth Southgate, the England manager, has been widely praised for his ability to instil confidence and give clarity and direction.

Among various things that stood out during the competition, one really caught my attention. It was something that Gareth Southgate said, the man who missed a penalty in Euro 96.

I’ve learnt a million things from that day and the years that have followed it. The biggest thing being that when something goes wrong in your life, it doesn’t finish you.

Failure, defeat, losing, making mistakes, getting it wrong, messing things up – these are experiences every single human being has. Sometimes it is “our fault.” More often, it’s “six of one and half a dozen of the other,” and at other times sheer bad luck. Things go wrong. The secret is not to let whatever it is finish you. Believe in yourself, allow others to help you, and remember there are the rich resources of faith at hand. Some have prayed in desperation and have found strength from God. Others have opened a bible and found a verse that seems to speak to their need. Others have gone to a church and been drawn in by the welcome and sense of peace.

Belief, confidence, clarity, and direction. Belief instilled into a football team; belief offered to each one of us. Confidence because every human being is of immense worth as a creature of God. Clarity in that we try to live as Jesus wants us to. Direction because we follow Jesus, believing that he has “prepared a place” for his followers.

Once more we extend a welcome to all to our services, to join with a group in the adventure of taking the risk of faith.

Every blessing,

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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July 2018

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

It was a beautiful day: blue skies and a hot sun.

I had just refuelled the car and, having paid, I was just about to drive off when the attendant tied a green and gold streamer on the aerial. I had the sense to wait until I got home before replacing it with a red and white streamer. That evening I was delighted to watch Gary Lineker’s hat trick against Poland.

A week or so later we drove into Rio de Janeiro for the first time. It was a Saturday afternoon but there was hardly any traffic. Everybody was watching Brazil play France.

That was in 1986. We were living in Brazil, and experiencing how a country can really come to a stop when its team is playing, and how the mood turns from anticipation to palpable gloom as it did that night in Rio after Brazil lost.

(Never mind, England.We’re still in!)

We didn’t watch the game on the Sunday as we went up Corcovado to see the Christ statue, but I’ve seen that infamous ‘hand of God’ clip many a time since.

I am writing this before England have even departed for Russia and I note, with some alarm, that if things go badly wrong they will be home before this magazine is delivered. So I am taking a risk. I am putting my faith in the team, despite past failures. I am being patriotic, just as I was when our car sported the red and white amid the sea of green and gold. That is what being a Christian has meant over the years: taking a risk, putting my faith in the team (of the Church) despite failures. I am also being patriotic in the deeper sense of supporting God’s kingdom.

What, then, of ‘the hand of God’? In terms of football, is it worth winning if you have cheated? Can we get away with cheating in life? Would Maradona’s subsequent life have been different if he had ‘come clean’? Was he unloading the blame onto God? Evading his own responsibility?

Various puzzles and conundrums.

I do not have the answers, but often in life knowing the questions and facing up to the challenges they present is how life needs to be lived. This is our approach to our Sunday services which also aim to bring us into the presence of God and his ‘hands of blessing’.

Every blessing,

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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June 2018

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

It must have been quite a dream, vivid and impressive!

The ladder had seemed so real, yet the scale had been distorted. How else could it have reached up from earth to heaven? And the angels, how did he know they were angels?

They just were.

Jacob had been running away from his brother Esau who was out for revenge. Encouraged by his mother, Jacob had lied to his blind father, Isaac, to receive the blessing due to Esau as the elder son. Cheat and a liar as he was, he recognised that he was in a special place, saying, “This is the house of God, this is the gate of Heaven.”

Jacob’s story can be found in the first book of the Bible, and on one level it says something about how people have always set aside certain locations and buildings as places of worship. On another level it offers a challenge to a very human tendency to rule that certain groups, or people with certain tendencies and lifestyles, are deemed to be unworthy or unwelcome. Jacob was far from being an exemplary character, yet he was blessed by God who promised to be with him wherever he went.

In chapter four of John’s gospel there is an account of how Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well at noon, a time when she could be pretty sure of not meeting the people who would have ignored her. Jesus asks her for a drink. That surprises her. Then Jesus say something enigmatic about being able to give her “living water.”

There are various links between these two stories. One is that of a gift being offered to a seemingly undeserving character. Another is that of worship. Jacob recognises the place of worship. The Samaritan woman encounters Jesus, who is the person through whom worship is offered. He is also the one who offers a fresh start to doubtful characters, the one who, Christians believe, offers “living water” to those who worship in “spirit and truth.”

Sunday worship offers a welcome to all, a visit to the well, to the gate of heaven, into the presence of Jesus who offers that “water of life”, an “inner spring always welling up for eternal life.” Be assured of a warm welcome at the Village Hall 10.30 am on Sunday mornings.

With best wishes,

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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May 2018

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

“People are all the same.” “Everybody is unique.”

These statements seem to be contradictory; if one is true then the other must be mistaken. If we take an “either/or” approach, then we might try to work out which statement is false. But if we take a “both/and” approach, we could appreciate the strengths of both viewpoints. The first is about what humans share and have in common while the second is about how each one of us is different from everyone else.

I had been looking forward to hearing him speak – world famous, a Nobel Laureate – at the World Youth Conference I was due to attend. But then he was assassinated on 4th April 1968. Martin Luther King had been loved by many, as a champion of human dignity in the battle against Segregation in the United States. He was hated by many others. If we pause to ask ourselves why they hated him, what answer(s) can we come up with? We can state the obvious and say, “Well, he was Black, and they were White.” In writing that, and as you read that, it doesn’t make much sense. It is an answer that doesn’t answer anything at all. It begs a whole series of further questions.

Martin Luther King held both our opening statements to be true. Humans have so much in common across barriers of race, class, gender, language, age, educational attainments, and so on. Yet each human being is unique, and as such has an intrinsic worth and dignity. Yes, there is difference when it comes to human beings, but this is to be celebrated and seen positively as an enrichment, rather than negatively as a problem to be resolved by barriers and separation.

Christian Aid week will be celebrated 13th-20th May. Poorer people have the same needs as we do for food, clean water, and shelter. This is an opportunity to give something from our plenty to help others less fortunate than ourselves. They also have an intrinsic worth and dignity which Christian Aid seeks to uphold and recognise. Meanwhile, reflecting on Martin Luther King’s legacy can challenge each of us to consider whether there are groups or categories of people whom we need to see in a different light – in an accepting and positive light. After all, as Christians, we believe that God created all humans in his image (people are all the same), and that Jesus Christ died for every single (unique) person.

God bless,

Robert Draycott (Rev)


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