Wednesday, 1 December 2021

What a mess!

December 2021

Dear Friends

Sometimes a bit of advice is all we need when we mostly know what we’re doing.  However, when we’re really stuck, mere advice is the last thing we need. 

“You should have removed the widget first.”
“Yes, I can see that, but it’s too late because now I’ve broken the whole thing!”

“You need to take a firm control of this situation.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to do all along!  Do you think I messed this up deliberately?”

When we’re really making a mess of something then we don’t just need someone to tell us what to do, we need someone to get down into the mess we’ve made, to come alongside us to help us, or perhaps to fix the problem for us.

That’s what Jesus was doing when he came to us.  We had God’s instructions, but we didn’t and couldn’t keep them.  We already had a good idea what wise living would look like, but we were incapable of breaking out of our foolishness.  We knew what kind of behaviour threatened the peace of our family, village and  nation but we had no power to change.

And so Jesus, God’s eternal Son, came to us in our mess.  If you don’t accept that Jesus is God’s Son let me gently ask whether you have read one of the Gospel eye-witness accounts recently?  How else do you account for Jesus’ extraordinary life and the unparalleled influence he has across the world?

Jesus did not come to show us up (though it’s true that our self-absorbed ways don’t  look good against his selflessness).  Jesus did not come merely to instruct us (although there would be much to learn from him if we were able to take it in).  Jesus became one of  us – he shared in our weakness, he submitted himself to the treachery of his own people and the cruelty of Roman execution – to save us from a messy end.

He joined us in our mess, not to tell us to sort it out but to generously do that for us.  Now he calls us to simply trust him as he invites us to join his mess-free family with Jesus as our brother, his Father as our father and his Spirit to live in us.

That’s Christmas Joy!

Graham Burrows

Monday, 1 November 2021

A problem shared ...

November 2021, to the people of Holme

Dear Friends

You will have received with this Parish Newsletter a Tower Appeal leaflet which explains the extensive repair work that needs to be done at Holy Trinity church.  Stonework needs repointing to keep the rain out and rotten floors must be replaced throughout the full height of the tower.  The leaflet gives much more detail on all that needs to be done.

Some people have been working hard for over 18 months to reach this point.  Thorough investigations have taken place to find the cause of the pervasive damp in the tower and to discover the extent of damage to wooden joists and floorboards.  We have worked with historic building and church clock specialists, our church architect and a structural engineer to draw up a specification for the work that needs to be done and we have obtained the necessary permission for the restoration to take place.  Contractors have been invited to tender for the work and by the time this goes to print we should know who we intend to appoint to carry out the project.  The congregation have been invited to give towards the repairs (and a few others have become aware of the need) and I am pleased to say that more than £18,000 has already been given or pledged.  That is amazing – thank you!

But now it is time to ask everyone in the village and others with links to Holme to consider supporting this work if you can.  Holme Church, like all churches, is not funded from government taxes or central Church of England finances but primarily by the generous giving of local people.  The giving of the congregation pays the day-to-day bills and the costs of ministry and for routine maintenance but a large project like this is beyond our means.  And yet we know that many who live here value the presence of this building built in the heart of the village for the public worship of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Many want it to be safeguarded for the future and kept in good repair.  If you can help in any way we would be very grateful.

You can find more information on the repair work and how you can give:

·         In the Church Tower Appeal leaflet

·         At our Open Afternoon on Sunday 21st November

·         On our church website at www.burtonandholmechurches.org/tower-repairs

·         On the Burton and Holme Churches YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/R-jzuQil3DE

With many thanks,

Graham Burrows

Rafters and Rainwater

November 2021, to the people of Burton

Dear Friends

Thank you to everyone who came to our Autumn Fair.  I think we’ve really missed such events of late!  Thank you too for your generosity, £1003.95 was raised from takings and donations and will go towards the repairs needed to keep St James Church open for the public worship of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Here's an update on the work that is in progress or planned:  

In April 2021, as we were investigating rainwater leaks into the Atkinson Room (south-east corner of the church), we discovered significant problems with the 16th Century oak beam roof structure which required urgent attention.  The Atkinson Room is used for children’s work, group meetings and for serving refreshments.  We quickly installed scaffolding to support the roof and to give access for investigation and expert advice.  Seven months later we are drawing to the close of a project to replace rotten oak purlins and rafters before replastering sections of the ceiling with traditional lath and plaster.  This work has cost thousands and leaves the church with very little money in the bank for future building works. 

You may have seen that we have been digging shallow trenches in the churchyard.  We have been finding out where the blocked storm-water drains go to – the answer … nowhere!  Over time this will undermine the foundations of the church so as soon as we can raise sufficient funds we plan to lay new pipes from all the gullies to proper soakaways within the churchyard.

We have been working towards the next major project – to repair the vestry, which was built in 1872 on the north side of the church.  This small but important room is used to prepare for services, to store church records and to house our lovely 1850 pipe organ.  Falling internal plaster has been a sure sign of rain-water ingress which has now been thoroughly investigated.  The repair and restoration work – outside and inside – has been costed at £55,000. Thank you very much to all those who have already given money towards this project – as I write £25,837 has already been given, nearly half of the total.  Thank you very much!

More information on the repair work is available:

·         At our Open Afternoon on 31st October

·         On our church website at www.burtonandholmechurches.org/vestryrepairs

·         On the Burton and Holme Churches YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/TC8OIVaZLyo

With many thanks,

Graham Burrows

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Fruit and Veg

October 2021

Dear Friends

Why would people bring apples, beans, tinned meat, potatoes, or packets of noodles into church, of all places?  Not to feed the vicar.  And certainly not to feed God who needs nothing from us – he is the one who has generously given us food, life and everything else.  People in our village have done this for years and years, piling up produce on windowsills and along pews and steps as a tangible thank-you to God for his kindness.  We have food to eat because God keeps his promise to maintain the seasons and because the risen Lord Jesus continues to sustain everything, every moment of every day, by his powerful command. (Genesis 8:22, Hebrews 1:3)  And so every year we have Harvest Thanksgiving.

Fruit and veg also remind us, Jesus says, that who we are, deep down, will determine what grows in our life.  Oranges don’t grow on apple trees.  If our hearts are far from our loving Creator and we are pursuing our own agenda then that will show.  “Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers.” (Luke 6:44)

Jesus and his apostles also tell us that he has the power to so deeply transform us that, miraculously, we do begin to produce a different kind of fruit:  Now the works of the flesh are evident … But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:19-22)  What a glorious fruit-laden tree that is!!

And, finally, Jesus says that God has given us harvest time so that we never forget his judgment.  Just as every good farmer must separate wheat from weeds or good apples from bad apples, so Jesus must one day separate us from others according to our response to him.  Jesus says, “at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"  (Matthew 13:30)

Our Harvest Thanksgiving this year is on Sunday 3rd October, and you are very welcome to join us.  Produce to decorate the church can be brought to the church on Saturday 2nd October between 10am and 11am.  After Harvest we will send non-perishables to the King’s Food Bank in Kendal and we will find a good home for the fresh food.

Sincerely

Graham Burrows

Friday, 3 September 2021

The other side of the wall

 

September 2021

Dear Friends

Where is God when skies are darkening, relationships are not working, family members are not thriving, businesses are failing, illness is not retreating and help is not arriving?

Is he far away?  No.  “He is not far from each one of us.  `For in him we live and move and have our being.’”  (Acts 17:27-28)

Is he uninterested in us?  Nope.  “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” (Psalm 145:9)

Is he powerless to help us?  Na.  "I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?”  (Jeremiah 32:27)

Is he unkind or cruel?  No way. “I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth”  (Jeremiah 9:24)

So where is he then?

Some people were recently reminded that people they have never met live within a few feet of them.  They were near enough to someone the other side of the wall, in the next-door flat, with Coronavirus, for the NHS app to ‘ping’ them.  It is possible to live close to someone but not to know them at all because you are separated from them by a wall.

God is also the other side of a wall.   He is not unable or unwilling to rescue us but our rebellious disobedience towards him is a wall that makes him seem like a distant stranger: “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God”  (Isaiah 59:1-2)

That’s it.  God is not far away, but there is a wall of our own making.  This barrier was represented in the Jerusalem temple by a huge curtain (reckoned to be 60 feet high and 4 inches thick!) that kept people out of God’s presence. As Jesus died on the cross,  carrying the sin of the world, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split.”  (Matthew 27:51)  The invitation was clear: put all your trust in Jesus Christ and the wall comes down, there is a way back to the one who made you.

Sincerely

Graham Burrows

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Down, but not Out

 

July 2021

Dear Friends

I am writing this on 15 June.  Yesterday our Prime Minister postponed ‘Freedom Day’ for four weeks until 19 July.  Some think he did the right thing; others disagree.  I think the delay will do more harm than good so I am disappointed, but not devastated.  All human governments are temporary, even the unelected tyrannies that some people in our world live under, and God has promised to Jesus Christ the kingdoms of the world.  So whether I support or oppose our government I must also wait patiently for Christ’s kingdom to mature.  Our true Freedom Day is his alone to give.

Last night I phoned a couple who are due to get married in church in three weeks’ time.  Their wedding has been postponed twice already; this is another big blow.  They’re perplexed but not in despair.  They know that being married is more important than what can or can’t happen on their wedding day.  And they know that our marriages are reflections of The True Marriage that lies at the heart of history, the forming of a deep eternal bond between the perfect groom, God’s Son, and all those called together to collectively form his bride.  No lockdown can postpone That Day.

Today I buried a man who died on the day he received a vaccine injection.  No vaccine can remove our vulnerability to the last enemy, death.  But our great enemy cannot forever prevail against Jesus who broke the bonds of death and rose again.  He promises that those who trust him, even if they are struck down, will not be knocked out.  Our Resurrection Day will certainly come and no human authority can cancel it.

So what’s ahead of us now? Just a four-week delay, deeply damaging to a few but a minor inconvenience to most?  Or a new world where we continue to be so scared of illness that we keep shutting down life?  I don’t know, although I know which I hope for.

Ultimately my hope is not in anything created – in health or governments or vaccines – but in the Creator and his Son.  As Paul the apostle wrote:

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”   2 Corinthians 4:8-10

Sincerely

Graham Burrows

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Unbroken

 

June 2021

Dear Friends

“A meticulous, soaring and beautifully written account of an extraordinary life.”  That’s from the blurb on the book I’ve just been reading, ‘Unbroken’ by Laura Hillenbrand.  The book was every bit as good as the blurb suggests.  Published in 2010 (and since made into a film directed by Angelina Jolie) it tells the true story of Italian American Louie Zamperini, a runner at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, as he becomes a bombardier with the Army Air Forces during World War II.  When his plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean in 1943 he drifts on a life raft for 47 days before being captured by the Japanese.  Cruelly tortured, starved and beaten for more than 2 years until the war ends, he remains unbroken.  But when Louie finally returns home it is his constant nightmares and out-of-control anger and drinking that nearly destroys him and those he loves.

The book details the shockingly cruel treatment of Prisoners of War by many, though not all, of their Japanese captors.  By contrast the treatment of PoWs by the Americans led one Japanese veteran to refer to his experience as ‘lucky prison life’.  When this man returned home to Japan and learned what his Allied counterparts had endured in a camp in his own village, he was horrified.

What accounts for the difference in behaviour between these two peoples?  Certainly not an inherent moral distinction – what a terrible thought – but, I suggest, the fact that one culture had been deeply influenced over centuries by the account of an extraordinary man who attacked and denounced evil while longing for people to turn away from their wrong and to be made new; a man who could accept terrible suffering while praying for his tormentors, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."  (Luke 23:34)

The message of forgiveness through Christ is one that many Japanese have come to accept, not least because men like Louie Zamperini later went back to Japan to offer his own forgiveness and the forgiveness of Christ.  And, sadly, it’s a message that many Americans (and Brits) have now come to see as something alien and unnecessary.  Laura Hillenbrand has written the kind of startling book that might wake us up to what we have lost.

Sincerely

Graham Burrows