Once again the seasons are changing. The leaves are falling early this year, after the heat and drought. What will autumn and winter bring to us? Autumn is a time for shedding that which no longer is needed, as well as gathering in the harvest so that we have enough to last the winter cold and hunger. Winter is the time of resting, preparing, waiting to see what new shoots will come in Spring.
This Sunday Bishop Gavin will be with us once more in Buckland at the 1030am service, and this service will be somewhat special, for me in particular.
This summer, the Feast of St Peter and St Paul at the end of June marked the tenth anniversary of being a priest, and eleven years since I was first ordained. In a few short weeks, the Feast of St Michael and All Angels will mark seven years here as your parish priest. After a long and hard, and frankly challenging twelve months since August 2021, this is also a celebration of my return to full time ministry after several enforced breaks during the year due to ill health, stress, and learning to manage and live with PTSD. The positive aspect has been that the summer sabbatical has given me time to write a report on rural ministry which has now gone to the Diocese, and which will, hopefully, have a positive impact on how rural ministry is resourced and celebrated and acknowledged in the coming years.
In all this, God has been faithful and present, even in the darkest times. He has taken potential disaster and turned it to good – and God does this when we trust in Him, and ask His help. Romans 8.28 says “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God”.
This Sunday’s readings include one of those incredibly hard bible passages which often make us wince. Luke 14.26-27: Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Ouch! But before we turn away in despair at the impossible, we need to remember that Jesus is using Jewish 1st century idiom to make a point. It’s not literally hating anyone! After all He repeatedly in the gospels tells us to love one another, and that hate is actually a mental step along the path to violence and murder.
This is about priorities. God comes first. Loving God, following Him, obeying His call, comes first. And before that too sounds excessive, remember that Jesus calls all of us who are heavy laden to come to Him for rest, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11.28-30). When we are in dark places, He brings light. When we are burdened, He helps carry the load. But only if we ask Him. Only if we listen to Him. Only if we prioritise giving God time, so that we can hear His voice, listen to His suggestions, and notice the opportunities He is pointing out, which will bring joy and ease and positivity out of dark and despair.