Thought for the month
“We are pilgrims on a journey. We are travellers on the road.” Words that are very familiar to us from the hymn written in 1976 by Richard Gillard from New Zealand. And words that came to mind as I was finalising the August/September issue of Contact, which contains a number of references to pilgrimage.
The main reason was that, early last month, the Fife Pilgrim Way had been officially launched, starting with a morning walk from St Margaret’s Hope to Dunfermline Abbey, where the good and the great of the land spoke about the visions of re-creating this old pilgrimage route, and a service of celebration was held. [There was good coverage of the opening of the Way in the media, and some reports are still on-line, including the Courier and the Herald]
But two quotes that stuck out for me came from an earlier article on The Times website, where Emma Yeomans posted about the growth of pilgrimage in Scotland:
“People are recognising that faith is better described not as a set of principles but as a journey. The more experience you have and more adventures in life, the more you’ll discover.” (Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Conservative MSP)“Pilgrimage helps us to step out of the routine of daily life in which we can easily become stuck, and by taking part in a physical journey our spiritual life can begin to move forward too.” (An unnamed spokeswoman for the Catholic Church)
It’s now August; the days are already getting noticeably shorter; school’s back later this month; we’re about to start again on activities that have been on hold over the summer holidays. So it’s time to start back on that journey and to continue the hymn: “We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.”
Finally, if you want to read a great sermon preached on “The Servant Song”, you can read what Douglas Donley had to say at this link.
The long season after Pentecost is associated ecclesiastically with the colour green, as I recalled when listening to Baptist minister Richard Littledale on Sunday Worship on 23 June 2019 reflecting on the colours of the created world and how they stimulate faith.
About the colour green, Richard said: “To me, green is the colour of new life and defiant nature. It is the colour of hope after despair and Spring after Winter. Many centuries ago, the prophet Isaiah was speaking at a time when God was little more than a distant memory to many of his audience. Faith had crumbled, miracles were a thing of the past, and pride was in tatters. Against such a backdrop, the prophet makes a remarkable promise:
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. (Isaiah 35: 1–2)
“‘The desert shall rejoice’ is such an evocative phrase, and the idea of things blossoming there seems like a contradiction. The prophet’s gift was to see God’s possibility, which seemed impossible to anyone else at the time. To see the wilderness rejoice or the desert bloom was to see things only visible to the naked eye of faith. It is still so.
“The particular lush green which the prophet describes is an
act of re-creation. Our faith is based not just on God as creator – but
redeemer. Right at the heart of our faith is the belief that in the harshest deserts of life he can make the living water flow and bring lush green foliage.”
Having told the tale of a dear friend who could testify that their desert rejoiced, despite suffering, Richard went on to pray: “Today, may the peace of God brush against our anxious souls, like cool green leaves brushing against our skin. We pray for all who find themselves in the desert of the soul – far from water and shade in the heat of the sun. Provide water for their souls and shade for their minds in the green oasis of your promises, we pray. Amen.”
Do listen to the whole programme at this link – it’s available until 23 July, after which you’ll only be able to read the whole script.
Long before the disciples started speaking in tongues, Pentecost was a Jewish feast, celebrating the wheat harvest and the offering to God of the fruits of that harvest. At the feast of Pentecost we read about in Acts 2 people would have come from far and wide, and there would have been an festive atmosphere with plenty of new wine. Which explains why the crowd were speaking so many different languages and why others might think the disciples were drunk.
It’s into this excited and joyful gathering that the Holy Spirit descends with vivid tongues of flame and roaring wind. The Holy Spirit has the power to change once-timid disciples, enabling them to speak in languages not their own, and filling them with joy and excitement, so that people from all over the world hear the Good News spoken in their own languages.
It might be hard for us to identify with the experience of those early disciples, and hard to imagine the crowds, the celebrations, the fire and wind, the preaching in many languages and lives changed so dramatically. It might be easier for us to identify with the disciples sitting with Jesus in a quiet room somewhere while he talks to them, a small group, about the Spirit that he promised would be sent by his Father after he had gone to be with him in heaven.
About that Spirit being an advocate – the “Spirit of truth” who will teach the disciples about the ways of God and remind them of the words Jesus spoke while he was with them. About that Spirit being the “helper”, who supports us, helps us and gives us the energy and strength we need to live in accordance with God’s will for us. About that Spirit being a “Comforter”, bringing God’s comfort and support within our very selves, so that somehow we are held through dark times.
What Jesus is saying about the Holy Spirit is that this is how he himself will remain with his present and future disciples always. This is how God will always stand alongside and within us, teaching us how to stand alongside God, living as he wants us to live. And the Pentecost story is an encouraging reminder of the promises of Jesus to those disciples, and to us, that we will not be left alone, God will not abandon us but will come to us in a new way and make his home within us for ever.
Much condensed from a post by Katharine Smith at this link.