Sunday, 15 September 2019

Ability Sunday 2019

Here is the sermon I wrote for today's Ability Sunday service at St Nicolas Earley.  At the bottom of this post you can click the link to sound cloud to listen to the recording if you prefer that.

Thanks go to Rev Katie Tupling, Diocesan Disability Advisor and Bishop Steven Croft for their materials and reflections which inspired my sermon.

Ability Sunday sermon

Psalm 139:14-17

14 I praise you because you made me in such a wonderful way.  I know how amazing that was!

15 You could see my bones grow as my body took shape, hidden in my mother’s womb.

16 You watched my body grow there.  In your book you wrote about all the days planned for me before any of them had happened.

17 Your thoughts are beyond my understanding.  They cannot be measured!

Hear the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke

Luke 14:15-24 (NIV) 
The Parable of the Great Banquet

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me."
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 

24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

This is the gospel of the Lord.


May I speak in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit.

Today we are celebrating Ability Sunday; a day to be reminded how each and every one of us, both disabled and non-disabled, is fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God, who knew us in our mother’s womb and formed the way we think and feel. It allows us time to reflect on and celebrate everyone’s unique gifts as wonderfully made by God and how we all enrich the church community.

We heard this message through two Bible readings this morning; psalm 139 and Luke 14. I'm going to reflect in depth on the psalm, but first let's think about what Luke is telling us.

The parable of the great banquet in Luke 14 tells us that we should be open to the community and inviting the poor, the homeless, the refugees, the downtrodden, the neglected into our church and into our homes. 

In fact it says "compel them to come in, so that my house will be full" which tells us to do so much more than just invite!  It tells us to meet with people and do all we can to make them want to come and accept our hospitality.

That's a challenge and a half isn't it.

Luke tells us that we should be more concerned about welcoming those who rarely get invited, than waiting for those who know they can always join the party. 

He is reminding us of the importance of radical inclusiveness, making sure no one ever questions if they are invited because they know we welcome all.  That we will adapt and go out of our way to enfold everyone into our church community.

My question then becomes; what does that actually look like?  How do we include everyone in our church? How do we actually celebrate and make use of everyone's God given gifts.  

To answer that question I'm going to reflect on psalm 139 …. 

But first, a brief Introduction to the Psalms. The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 poems, prayers, hymns and meditations. There are five collections of Psalms (1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-150) which have been gathered together at different times. All the psalms are addressed to God, whether they are giving thanks or asking for help.  

Psalm 139 is a song, a hymn, a symphony of praise in four movements.

(This psalm is a favourite of many people, Pat included; and is the basis of many hymns and the inspiration for art.)

Psalm 139 is relevant for all, for people of every kind of ability -  disabled people, autistic people, sick people, depressed people; those who are grieving, those who are stressed; people of every race and tribe, from every corner of the world. 

It is a psalm that includes all, values all; telling everyone that God knows each of us and loves each of us.

This is a psalm which shows us what it means to throw a great banquet; to value every person we meet just as God values them; and never close a door or restrict an opportunity for anyone because God wants everyone included.

So what do the four movements of this psalm tell us?

Movement 1. You know me! (1-6)

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 

Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.   You are behind and before me, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

You know me inside out, upside down and back to front. You know every thought, every word, every action, every journey, and every resting place.

You know me God. 

God knows me and you; every one of Us. 
He loves me and loves each of you. 
How wonderful is that!
It's a reminder of how blessed we are every single day. 

And of course there may be moments or days or weeks when we don't feel very lovable.  Perhaps when we make mistakes, or when our health is failing, or our memory is struggling, or our stamina reducing.   But we must remember that God has made every one of us; unique, special and to be loved by him and by each other every day of our lives.  No one is excluded.

God you know us and you love us, never let us doubt this.  Let us love each other in the same generous way.

Movement 2. You’re everywhere! (7-12)

Where can I go from your Spirit? 
Where can I flee from your presence? 
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.   If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

You are not only in me.  
You are everywhere.  
You are not a private God. 
You are the God of the entire universe. 
You are in every place and therefore in every person. 

This second movement reminds us that God is with everyone, including those who might not feel worthy of His love.  We are called as Christians to come alongside these people and show them God's love, to bring light to their darkness.

It also reminds us that God is in those places where it is hardest to find him, where we feel scared or alone.

It is easy to find God in the heavens or in familiar places or in the morning light.   But God is even in the places we wish we could avoid. The sea is the symbol of chaos and danger. Darkness is the place of fear and ignorance. God is even here. 

When we are in those places, when life is challenging or difficult, when we meet prejudice or cruelty or exclusion, God is with us to bring strength and comfort and order and peace. There is nowhere where God is not.

Where are the places where you feel out of touch with God? God is there.

Where can you bring light to someones darkness? Bring God to that person so they need never feel alone.  

Movement 3. You made me! (13-18)

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 

How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.

You made me! 
You made me! 
You made me

These words are for everyone. 
Not just for those who seem fit, well and strong, but everyone.

These words relate to the words in Genesis 1: “God saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good”. 

You and I are part of God’s creation.
We are made perfect in God's creation.

No matter what our abilities, we all have varying abilities and strengths and weaknesses; we are part of God’s great creation. 

Each of us is made to be loved. 
Each of us has important gifts to share . 
All of us draw love from one another. 
All of us point to the grace of God individually and together. 

What are the parts of you which you find most difficult to accept as wonderfully made?

What are the parts of other people which you find difficult to accept as wonderfully made?

God's creation is designed perfectly, with variation in each of us so that we can draw together as one.  We are not designed to be independent beings, but to be community supporting each other and lifting each other up.

We all have inbuilt prejudices, but Jesus taught us to see everyone's goodness.  

God you made us, wonderfully just as you need us; never let us feel imperfect or make anyone else feel imperfect. 

Movement 4. Lead me Lord! (19-24)

All is not well in this world you have made. There is cruelty and hatred, violence and despair. 

This despair and cruelty is felt disproportionately more by those with disabilities.  Surveys show higher levels of loneliness, fear and depression among the disabled, elderly and sick.

What an awful situation this is in our society.  An often hidden situation which we are called to put right by Jesus.  So how can we ask God to lead us?
Help us to pray your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

These are powerful words of action to improve the world.  And what better place to start than in our own church community.   

I am so blessed that I have been supported and loved, encouraged and challenged by you all as I have come to terms with my disability.  In fact it's been those of you with disabilities of your own that have supported and encouraged me the most, reminding me that God is in all of my life and calling me endlessly.  

But we can not rest as a church just because we have a number of people of varying abilities in our leadership and congregation.  

We still have work to do.

We need to keep on reflecting on our accessibility, improving our welcome, actively reaching out to all and encouraging everyone to use their gifts for the glory of God.

In this way we can build a truly christ-like church community.  In every decision, every event and every prayer, let us be truly inclusive.

How else can we ask God to lead us?

Help us to use our gifts to build a better world.

Every one of us here will know a family member, friend, colleague or neighbour who is sick or weak, depressed or disabled, confused or chronically ill.  

My challenge to us all this week is to make the time to contact that person; to share a coffee or a prayer; offer them a meal or a trip out; or invite them to church.  Throw your own banquets.

Let each of us go into our daily lives and live out the reality of loving ourselves and our individual gifts, loving one another in our differences and celebrating each others' God given uniqueness in a great banquet for all.

Search my heart, O God, and lead me in your way, every day.

Listen to Ability Sunday 2019.wav by StNicsSermons on #SoundCloud

Sunday, 8 September 2019

The insiders

The real outsiders
Are the insiders
The ones who can't get out
Who vanish from the world
Whatever the cause
Physical disability
Mental insecurity
Extreme anxiety
When you're stuck inside
And can't get out
You're forgotten about
A real outsider

Outside the mind

I'm not sure when I wrote this, but it is worth sharing...

I bet you've never heard
Of this thing called FND
A disruption in the brain
On that everyone agrees
The wirings gone awry
Though no one's quite sure why

Neuro signals crazy
Some stop, others stay on
My eyes see, but brain is blind
Nerves don't feel, but brain feels pain
Legs can move, but brain just won't
Intellect is there, but brain is slain

A few therapy's exist
But I'd tried every on the list
And all of them agreed
Nowt to do, I was dismissed
A search began online
How do I live, not just cope?

There are Thousands
Just like me
Suffering each day
Most invisibly
Determined to improve
How life will be

Now I know the key
I must balance energy
Enjoy all that I can be
Must try to think positively
And keep remembering
I'm still me!

Retired from life

This is another poem I don't even remember writing, but it was clearly an out flowing of feeling so I'm sharing it now in case it helps someone else.

Every day full
Loads to get done
People to see
Not enough time
Always in demand
An endless to do list
Goals to fulfill
Just chasing a dream

That was the life
I longed to escape from
But now I'm here
I don't feel I belong

Who would have thought
When you finally stop
You'd miss all the stress
Meetings and actions
I longed to retire
For my life to start
But never thought
It would be a stop

Who am I now;
What is my purpose?
What can I do;
To fill these days?

I'm on the outside
Of life as I knew it
Not connected
To all I held real
Life was work
But I never knew that
Now I guess
I'm retired from life

On the outside

I was looking through some of my saved files today and found this, and several other, poems I wrote several years ago. I wasn't going to post it because it's not how I feel now, but it was how I felt and it comes from the heart so here it is.

Every day 
In any old doorway
I sit alone 
Invisible to you.
You focus ahead 
Caught up in your day
Trying not to look 
You don't try to see me.
I bet you think
It couldn't happen to you
You would cope
With all that life throws.
I thought that
When I was where you are
Yet here I am now
It happened to me!
So quickly
From job and house
It turned into
Nothing! Nothing!
No home
No work
No love
No life.
On the outside
Of society
On the outside

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Be More Mary. A sermon on Luke 10:38-42

Our intercessions were prayers of thanks and inspiration for our ability to BEe.

The Gospel according to Luke    10th Chapter: 38-42

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home.       

39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord's feet, listening to what he taught.       

40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said,    "Lord, doesn't it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to   
come and help me."       

41 But the Lord said to her,    "My    dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details!       

42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about.    Mary has    discovered it, and    it will not be taken    away from her."


Most of us have heard this text many many times and we all know that poor Martha gets a bad rap for worrying about the stuff that needs doing rather than just spending time with Jesus like Mary did.  

We know we should be more Mary
We know we should worry less
We know we should be less distracted by all the things life throws at us
We know we should take more time to be with Jesus

But then life gets in the way
The reality of life and it's stresses and worries and chores and endless to do lists

And so I wonder ...... 
how would each of us respond if Jesus came to dinner. 
How would you respond?
How would I respond if Jesus came to dinner???

In fact let's not wonder, let's have a quick survey to see how we have actually responded when we had a surprise visitor for dinner.....


Who can remember a time when they had a visitor say they were coming to visit with very little notice? Maybe not for dinner, perhaps for a coffee or a playdate?

Who had a sudden panic about the state of the house/ their bedroom?  Or had their parent panic?

Who decided they needed to rush out and get food or milk ? Or bake a cake?  

Who ran a vacuum cleaner round the house?

Who tidied up the pile of paper and random stuff that accumulates on the kitchen table?

Who mowed the lawn and dead headed the flowers and weeded the borders and made sure the garden looked it's best?

Quite a lot of Martha behaviour there.
A lot of perfectly normal behaviour making sure we're being good hosts and making our homes the best they can be 

Anyone just happy to be as they are when a surprise visitor comes round?
Any Marys?


The visitor now arrives. 
Hi, it's great to see you, come on in.

Who just brings their visitor into their home, sits down and starts chatting?  No fussing, no worrying; no offering; just chatting and listening?
Any Marys?

Who is busy getting the meal perfect and has half an eye on that whilst trying to chat to their visitor?

Who starts offering drinks and biscuits or cake or snacks? Who worries that their guest is made to feel welcome?

That may not seem the same order of busyness that Martha is showing in the gospel, but she's only doing what would be normal for a woman of her culture when a visitor comes along - the same as making a cup of tea and offering biscuits is today.

I think we can all agree we'd be very Martha.  

In fact we'd probably feel quite guilty at the idea of a Mary reaction -  just sitting down with our guest. It would seem rude not to offer a drink at least.

Anyone still think they'd be a Mary if Jesus came to dinner?

I'm not sure many of us would be able to totally relax and just be with Jesus. 


When I read that this Bible reading was allocated for today's service I felt a push by God to share my experience about BEING and DOING. 

To share the way God has blessed me by helping me move from being a Martha to being a bit more Mary…..

Those of you who know me well from years gone by know that I'm a busy person.  I'm a doer. I like my to do lists.  

 I've reminded myself hundreds of times over the years that I should be more Mary, but ....  
There's always a but isn't there…

there are so many things that need DOING, especially in a church with loads going on like at St Nicolas or in our busy lives with all our responsibilities.

I was a busy busy woman; at church and school and community..  

I took on projects galore and I enjoyed seeing God at work in the projects and the people involved. 

I rarely stopped and I was energised doing lots of different things.  

I was all about the doing.  

Don't get me wrong, I spent time in prayer and time with God, but that was squeezed into my schedule rather than being the number one priority.

I was all Martha.
I was busy doing for God.

More than that…
 I was often caught up in the worries and distractions of a busy life, even though it was all focused on God.

I stressed that I wasn't doing everything well enough, 
that I wasn't doing enough
that I should probably do more.
I was doing a Martha.

Does this sound familiar to any of you? 


I knew in my heart that God loved me for who I WAS even more than what I DID, but the DOING seemed more important.  

Even though I absolutely valued others for who they were rather than what they did, I somehow couldn't do the same for myself.
And then, suddenly, I couldn't DO any more.  

Suddenly I couldn't see enough to read or drive or even leave the house on my own.  

I couldn't walk enough to get from the car to the church safely and I couldn't stand to have a conversation, let alone chase around after the kids or grab someone for a conversation.  

My ability to DO was almost entirely gone.  
I was a Martha who couldn't Martha.

A servant who couldn't serve.
A minister who couldn't minister.
I was a mum who couldn't mother.
A doer who couldn't do.


It was hard, a huge adjustment for me, my family and friends and for many of you here who walked with me.   It was painful and frustrating and incredibly difficult to cope with.

More than the sight loss or the mobility issues or the pain or fatigue; it was the way I couldn't DO all the things I had once DONE that hurt.

But now I look back on that time
Now that I've adjusted and found new ways of living and being...
Now.  I am so thankful for all that God has done for me and in me.  

With lots of support, love, encouragement and prayer I'm now able to do just as much as I ever could.   But through the experience of learning to appreciate BEING rather than just DOING I've held onto the importance of being more Mary.  

To put BEING with God top of the list above DOING for God 

To value BEING who I AM for God, more than what I am ABLE to DO for Him. 


So let's get practical.
What does this actually look like?

How can we BE more Mary?

Nature connection
Well for me it means being in the natural world where I find God so easily.  That's wheelwalks in the nature reserve or being in the garden or just listening to the birds in the trees and being thankful for God's blessings on us 

I'm sure I'm not alone in that, who else loves to go into their garden or out for a walk to find peace?

It's one of the reasons this garden we're in today is such a blessing for our community - it is a place of peace and nature connection where people can come and be with God

What else can help us be more Mary…..

For me it's about having friends round for a chat even though the carpet is filthy.

Not worrying that there's no cake in the house but inviting people in anyway

It means allowing others to make their own tea when they come to see me and not feel useless because I'm not doing it.  


But more than that..
It means.... Resting with God
For me I need to rest when I'm tired.
It sounds obvious doesn't it, bur how many of us keep going even when we're exhausted?  
How many of us fight bedtime?

God doesn't want us to be worn down and exhausted.   
It's important to rest.  

And to rest with God, allowing Him to restore our energy.  

So reading the Bible, prayer, singing hymns, listening to music, mindfulness…. Whatever way you rest well with God 

And it means giving my stress and worries to God instead of holding them tight and trying to fix them myself.  It means sitting at Jesus' feet like Mary and asking for his peace.

And that time with God gives me the energy to be in ministry and to be active here and in the community.  I am still DOING. I'm back being a lot more Martha now that I've adjusted to my new normal.  

And that's important; it's about balance 
 Jesus wasn't telling Mary and Martha to stop being welcoming or caring for their neighbours

Jesus isn't telling us to withdraw from the way we help our families, friends, community or church.

Instead Jesus is telling us to WORRY LESS AND FOCUS ON HIM MORE.  To spend time BEING with God amidst all the DOING for God.

I no longer beat myself up for saying no when I need to;  I say no so that I can spend the necessary time to be with God.  

I remind myself of Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”


And when I think of others, of you lovely lot, I value your hearts and your spirits and the way you are alongside people in your lives.  

I appreciate the wonder that is who you each ARE just as much as the amazing things you all DO.  

I see and love your inner Marys just as much as your Marthas.

And so...
My prayer for you today is that you value everything you ARE, just as God values you. 

That you are able to find time to BE with God amidst all the things you do.  

Perhaps come to this garden one day and just BE here with God in the same way we hope the community will find God when they come here.


In a minute we're going to pray, another wonderful chance to BE with God. 

Then we'll be receiving communion together with God.  We'll be sharing the best meal with God, just as the disciples shared a meal with Jesus.  An amazing time to BE with God knowing that He chooses to BE with us just as we are.  

But before that I'm just going to leave a few minutes for us to BE.  A few minutes to meet with God in this garden, in His creation, in the peace of nature surrounded by the love of each other and the prayers of our church.