Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Sing it, shout it, whisper it and live it

I bring you the most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone!*

If you have ever played the angel in a nativity play, you will have said those words, or something very  like them. Announcing, not just good news, but the greatest news ever - the birth of Jesus, the birth of the saviour.

It is wonderful to be able to give good news to people. To tell some-one that they have been accepted for a job they really wanted. To tell some-one that their calling has been affirmed. To share the news that a couple are to be married. To share the news that a child has been born.

Yesterday I was watching the trailer for the film, The Theory of Everything" which is being released in the UK in January. It is an account of the life of Stephen Hawking, the well-known theoretical-physicist who wrote the must-have book "A Brief History of Time" which decorated many coffee tables in the 1990s.

Stephen Hawking lives with ALS, a degenerative motor neurone disease. He is now almost completely paralysed.  He was diagnosed with ALS while at university and, in the film there is a brief exchange between the doctor and the young Stephen Hawking. The doctor tells him that he has ALS and what that will mean. Stephen Hawking then says, "The brain, what about the brain?" and the answer is "The brain is not affected. Your thoughts won't change, it's just no-one will know what they are." 

Stephen Hawking is still able to communicate his thoughts with the aid of advanced and expensive technology, because not to communicate his ideas would be unbearable for him and a loss for the world. Important ideas and insights are to be shared - or they die unnoticed.

And the angels said, "I bring you the most joyful news ever announced."

At Christmas we sing of tidings of great joy.
We sing of the baby born in Bethlehem.
We sing of the birth of the saviour.
We sing of good news for all people.

The news is just too good, too important to be kept to ourselves.
It is not enough to know about it, we have to share it.
We have to share it through our words, through our actions, through our very being.
We have to share it with family and friends, with neighbours and colleagues.
We have to share it with those who have never heard it before.

Thomas Herbert O'Driscoll writes these beautiful words in the final verse of his hymn "Sing of a God in majestic divinity" (Singing the Faith 13)

Sing of this God who in glory and mystery
chooses to lie in humanity's womb,
enters the prison and pain of our history,
rises triumphant and opens the tomb.
This news has to be shared.

Will you share the good news this Christmas, and throughout the year?
Will you sing it, shout it, whisper it and live it?
It is too important to let yourself be silenced.

Have a blessed and happy Christmas and share the good news!

This message can be heard here

* Luke 2:10, Living Bible

Monday, 8 December 2014

Speak out!

I've just read another document, a report from an inspirational event, in which people are quoted as saying, "Church Leaders should speak out more."
There is rarely a meeting where this phrase is not used and, as one designated a Church Leader I need to hear it and I do.

My immediate response is to think of the many times that I have spoken out, as have others, about a variety of issues. Sometimes this has been reported in the media. Sometimes I have blogged. Sometimes I have spoken at public meetings. Most often I have preached - I hope prophetically where necessary and appropriate. The same is true of other church leaders. Some are reported more often by the media - that is the way of things - but we do speak out.

However, my immediate response could be described as (and possibly is) too defensive.

The challenge is there.
"Church leaders should speak out more."
Speak out about injustice.
    Speak out about discrimination.
        Speak out about abusive behaviour.
            Speak out about war and peace.
                Speak out about love.
Speak out about God.

So I will continue to try to speak out more.

I will continue to speak out about all the issues above and others.
I will continue to speak out about them whether they are issues in the wider community or issues in the church. For, make no mistake, there are issues of injustice, discrimination, abuse, war and peace within the church as well as in wider society. The church needs to hear about God too. All of us need to be reminded of our calling as disciples.

All of us need to speak out more.

I will continue to speak out - will you?

"A voice crying in the wilderness
Prepare the way of the Lord"

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Today, remembrance

Today, remembrance.
Remembering grandfather, grandmother who lived through the distant news of desolate trenches and no-mans-land. The sepia image of loved ones going over the top and into living or dying hell.
Remembering loved ones who have served in our cleaner hells of war, no less obscene for the errant accuracy of deadly missile seen by satellite.
Remembering being there.
Remembering the expectation of going again.
Remembering schools, hospitals and safe places blown into oblivion.
Remembering the many for whom the memories are still forming in constant fear.
Remembering lives shaped by distrust, pain and loss.

Today remembrance as the blood red field of poppies speaks to our mortality and loss.

Today remembrance.
Bread boken and wine shared in remembrance of one who remembers with us.
Remembering indestructible, universal love.
Remembering the promise and the hope.
Remembering fullness of life.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Just a pack of tissues

I don't know what made me do it.
I was on the train when she walked quietly past me and put a pack of tissues on the table. A pack of tissues with a note. The note said she was a single mother without work who was struggling to pay the rent and buy food for her small daughter. A plain statement of facts. Facts followed by the request to buy the pack of tissues.
Of course, they might not have been facts. I had no evidence, no proof of her circumstances.
She was just a quiet, nonthreatening presence on the train.
Handing out packs of tissues for sale.
Price left to my discretion.
A few minutes later she passed by again. Still no words just a questioning glance as she picked up the note.
I handed over the money and she gave me the tissues, speaking the only words in the transaction, "thank you".
I have wondered since then.
Why did I buy those tissues?
I had my usual stock of balsam tissues in my bag.
I did not know her.
I could not tell if her story was true.
So why, on this occasion, did I hand over the money.
Was it her quietness and gentle approach?
Was it because of the child (real or imaginary)?
Was it because the product was useful?
Was it because she was a woman?

I don't know.

All I know was in that moment, I felt it was the right response, the only response to make.
A drop in the ocean of human need.
No great altruistic act.
The simple purchase of a pack of tissues.

But she stays in my thoughts and I pray for her and for her child.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


You are not transient.
You do not droop and fall.
You stand tall and proud.
blood red,
redolent of beauty
bleeding from the tower -
yet your pooling does not soak into the earth.
For you there is no muddy bed.
No death for you,
No sharing in their lot.
They are gone.
They have fallen.
Their blood has fed the earth.
Dust to dust
They have perished.
A travesty perhaps.
But rather,
in your unchanging
beauty -
You are the memory.
We will remember them.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

WWJD - What would Jesus Do?

I have never owned or worn a wrist-band or any other item carrying the letters WWJD. This is for two main reasons: firstly I don't wear logos from personal preference (apart from my cross), secondly I think the answer to WWJD? would most often be "I don't know for sure". It simply doesn't work to think that we can know what Jesus would do in every or any situation; even his closest friends often got it wrong when they tried to second guess him. Add to that all the complexities of textual analysis, historical literary criticism and reader response and WWJD doesn't work for me as a simple means of working out detailed response to specific situations.

Having said all that there have certainly been times when I have tried to work from the basis of WWJD when working out my own response. Let me give an example.

A few years ago a family friend asked me if I would be willing to conduct the funeral service for her husband. She said that they understood that I might not feel able to do so because he was a convinced atheist and though he would like me to preside I would not be able to talk about God or Jesus. As I made my decision I was conscious that I was asking myself what I thought Jesus would do. My conclusion was that Jesus would want to take the opportunity of being alongside people at a time of great sadness and would want to meet them where they were and minister to them there. I took the service. I didn't wear any clerical clothing but I did wear my cross, explaining that I was never without it and it expressed something about who I am. The family agreed that this was completely appropriate and when they produced the printed order of service I was named as Rev. Ruth Gee. I maintained my personal integrity, I spoke about the hope of resurrection but in words that were accessible and not overtly "religious" or Christian.  After the service those who were atheist commented that it had been very helpful and "not religious." Those who were Christian said they had clearly heard the Christian message of hope and love. I hope this meant that I had preached the gospel in an accessible way. Of course, it might just mean that I was sitting on the fence. I am still sure that offering to be with people and to meet their needs as far as I could was following the example of Jesus but I know and accept that others would say that following Jesus would lead to a different course of action.

Over recent weeks my facebook and twitter streams have been full of discussion about very significant world events - Gaza, Israel, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine. There has also been much discussion around human sexuality, the death of well-known people, the marking of the outbreak of war, political and social issues. Quite properly Christians have responded from the basis of their understanding of what our faith requires of us. It is not surprising that there are different conclusions drawn. It is not surprising that there are not always easy answers.

What would Jesus do?

I don't know, not in detail. I do know that he would value and love each person. I do know that he would seek peace and justice. I am also uncomfortably, fairly certain that he would challenge me and my pre-suppositions.

I am uneasy how often those who are in debate seem to know exactly what Jesus would do. How often the absolute answers are given. How quickly responses are made to media reports, assuming that the whole story is known. How often the absolute necessity to stand alongside people who are being victimised and abused closes our eyes to others who need us to stand alongside them and listen to them as they are victimised and abused too.

What would Jesus do? It is important for his followers to ask the question.

I think it is also important to realise that we don't always have an easy answer.

Jesus still surprises and challenges his disciples.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Remembering in August

In the week of August 4th people in the UK were remembering the outbreak of World War 1.
In that week I was in Austria and it was very moving to be there while those commemorations were taking place at home.

In this graveyard at the Catholic Church in Gosau I stopped and looked at a memorial. I don't read German but clearly it was for soldiers who had served in the war and are remembered here.

 Later in the week, we visited Salzburg and went to the fortress s.een here at the top of the hill
You can go up the hill the easy way, by funicular or the hard way - we chose.....(for the answer see the end of this blog).
The castle was well worth a visit, the views over the city were spectacular on a hot and sunny day.
 We went into the exhibiton area and there I found 10 rooms dedicated to the military history of the Salzburg Rainer Regiment, one concentrating on the first world war.
There were the uniforms of the Austria-Hungarian army and pictures of soldiers from Salzburg who had dies in brutal conditions in battles on the Italian front at Monte Cimone. Young men being comforted by colleagues and by a chaplain as they died in war.

And the fighting still continues in so many places around the world.
We will remember them.
And we will work for peace.

Yes, we took the hard way up - following others up the hill. This is the last section of the climb.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Thoughts from a mountain lake

It is such a beautiful place, this mountain lake. The day was hot and sunny and I could see the tops of the mountains. Walking on the shaded path I could see children, women and men swimming, sunbathing and enjoying time together. sailing boats, motor boats and pedaloes floated past. Some of the motor boats were towing passengers on water skis or suspended in the air above. All was idyllic.
I was with my husband and son and we were enjoying a holiday together, walking, visiting new and interesting places and sharing lots of laughter.

I found myself thinking about the water, the beautiful, clear alpine water - and thanking God for it. Water that is abundant and freely available for recreation and for drinking. Water in which children were playing freely and without fear. Water in beautiful and peaceful surroundings.

And then I thought of people on mountains around Sinjar, fleeing from persecution, and dying of thirst. I thought of people in Gaza with no access to water. I thought of people in many other parts of the world who have been and continue to be devastated by drought.

"The Lord is my shepherd...
he leads me beside still waters"

Dear God, let it be so.

Friday, 11 July 2014

All we have in common is the weeping

"A voice is heard in Ramah
lamentation and bitter weeping
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children
because they are no more." (Jeremiah 31:15)

Weeping in Gaza
Weeping in Israel
Weeping in Palestine

And the missiles fly
And the bombs fall
And the children die
And all we have in common is the weeping

And God weeps with us
And God weeps for us

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women as Presbyters

A celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the ordination of women
Wesley’s Chapel, London
21st June 2014

Sermon preached by Rev Ruth Gee

In the summer of 1974 I was in Taize. I had gone there with three friends to join the thousands of students ho were gathering in that ecumenical community. One day we had gone into the small village church which was kept as a place of silent prayer,I was in there longer than the others and when I came out I leaned on the wall and waited for them. And it was as I waited that I had the first experience of being called by God to ministry in the Methodist Church. I had no idea what that might involve, I wasn’t even a member of the Methodist Church at that time and it was many more years before I candidate. But, of course 1974 was the year that the first women were ordained to Presbyteral ministry in the Methodist Church in Britain.

Many of you will have your own memories of that yea and it is wonderful to have three of those first women to be ordained with us this afternoon.

Many have contacted me to say they are thinking of us today and to express gratitude for those women presbyters who have been important to them as pastors, teachers and role models.

Already today we have heard about those first Methodist women to be ordained
We have heard something of their story, we have listened to their songs.

And today we have listened to another woman’s song - Mary's song.

I Could have chosen one of a number of narratives from the Bible involving women as the focus for our thoughts this afternoon:
Mary Magdalene, first witness of the resurrection
The woman who touched the fringe of Jesus garments, coming from the edge to find healing and wholeness
The unnamed woman who came from behind to weep at Jesus' feet and to anoint him
The Egyptian midwives, Shiprah and Puah who used their knowledge and skill to oppose Pharaoh's genocide
Deborah who served as leader
 Jepthah's daughter who paid the unreasonable sacrifice of love
And countless unnamed women who sang their songs along with rest but were often unheard, their voices quiet but essential to the overall harmony.

But today’s celebration is not just for women, it is for the whole church because it is a celebration of the integrity of the church, a church that fully recognises and gladly embraces the calling of women and men.

So, instead of focusing on the story of any one woman, I invite you to hear Mary's song and to take it as your own, whether you are woman or man - it is for you
'And Mary said,
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour'

This is where we begin - we begin with a song of praise. We begin with the source of all our joy and all our rejoicing. We begin with God.

We begin with God, the mighty one. With God whose name is Holy. We begin with God who cannot be fully described by any word or combination of words and who is addressed by many names. We begin with God who is described as King, as Lord, as rock and as shield. And we begin with God who bends down to feed her children, with God who shelters us with her wings as the mother hen shelters her chicks

Mary’s song begins with praise and in doing so, Mary joins in with the songs of others who had gone before her, she is part of the great tradition of praise - and, very specifically she joins in the song of another woman. Hannah also had cause to exult in the Lord. She too called God Holy, she knew God who was secure as a rock. She sang of the God of knowledge and of judgement. (You can read Hannah's song in 1 Samuel chapter 2)

And Mary with Hannah sings of the wonder that God has looked on her lowliness, that God has reached out to her and done great things for her.
Mary was known by God and in that knowing she was called blessed. Through that knowing and that blessing, through the grace of God, she was affirmed as worthy.
The knowing and the blessing - being known by God and blessed by God - are at the heart of our Christian experience. And knowing and blessing are for everyone - for everyone is known and loved by God.

So Mary begins by singing Praises to God.
And then she sings of a new order, she sings of a world transformed.
Because, if God can reach out to her and bless her, then everything is possible.

Paul urges his readers: ‘Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds’

The world Mary sings of is a transformed world, a world in which lives are transformed.
It is a world where the lowly are raised up, and the hungry are filled with good things.
It is a world where the proud and the powerful who are so certain of their own strength find that it is not enough - and they are scattered and brought down from their thrones.
It is a world where those who are certain that they can feed themselves, discover that by themselves they are empty.

Mary's hope for a world transformed, echoes the hope of Hannah and the hope of God's people through the ages.
And isn't this our hope too?

Do we not hope that those who have no food and those who have no access to clean water will find themselves filled with good things?
Do we not hope that those who use their power to trample on the hopes and dreams and basic human rights of others, will be brought down?
Do we not hope that the tyrants will be overthrown, that justice will be tempered by mercy and that everyone will be recognised as a person known and blessed by God.

Do we not hope and pray for these things.
Do we not sing with Mary and with Hannah?

The song of a world transformed is a beautiful song - but it isn't an easy one to sing.
It wasn't easy for Hannah as she handed her child over and travelled just once a year to Shiloh taking the robe she had lovingly made for him.
It wasn't easy for Mary as she watched her son responding to the God who knew and blessed him. It wasn't easy for her to stand at the foot of the cross.

I love Elizabeth Frinck's sculpture, 'The Walking Madonna'. Among other places it can be seen in the Cathedral Close in Salisbury'. This is a strong and determined woman. A woman who has seen life and known suffering. She strides towards the city, her journey has been hard and long. It hasn't been easy for her. This is no impossible blue and white, perpetual virgin. This is a real woman, a woman who is etched with life - and I can identify with her.

It wasn't easy for the women who responded to God's call to be presbyters and were ordained in Bristol in 1974.  They began to pave the way for the rest of us, and we followed in a way that is not smooth but that is well marked.
Today I give thanks that within the Methodist Church there is no role that is not open to women  - that is a precious and rare thing.

But we cannot be complacent because there are still those places and gatherings where women who are ordained know what it is to be seen as unusual.
We still know what it is to be accepted in some places with curiosity or caution. We still know what it is to have our calling and identity as presbyters denied by some because of our gender, because of an integral part of our being.
There is pain in that and it is a pain shared with others, with men and women who find themselves marginalised or have limitations imposed on them because of those things that are an integral part of their being as those who are known and blessed by God.

In a few minutes we will sing:

Summoned by the God who made us
rich in our diversity…

Let us bring the gifts that differ
and, in splendid, varied ways,
sing a new church into being
one in faith and love and praise.

We are rich in our diversity and we rightly talk of celebrating our diversity. But, last week, as I talked with Rachel, a member of the Corrymeela Community, she reminded me that diversity can also be painful and challenging.

When we allow our diversity to divide us, when we are proud of who we are as distinct from others rather than as those in fellowship with others; when we begin to imagine that we might be worthy in our own power rather than through the grace of God; When we  begin to believe that others are better if they are created in our image and forget that we are all created in God’s image and in relationship with one another –
Then the rich and splendid diversity becomes painful difference.
Then we are conformed and not transformed
Then the world is impoverished
Then the body of Christ is diminished
Then Christ is crucified again in our midst and by our hands.

Then the beautiful songs of the kingdom disintegrate into discordant cacophony.

Then we weep and God our father and our mother, weeps with us.

‘And when human hearts are breaking
Under sorrow’s iron rod
Then they find that self-same aching
Deep within the heart of God.’

But that is not our vision and that is not God’s will for us.
We believe in God whose love transforms and cannot be overcome.
We believe in God who calls us on to new hope and new possibilities.
We believe in God who knows us by name and calls us to follow.

The challenge is real – we are not yet rich in our diversity – but we are on the journey and we are committed to it

We dare to dream the vision promised
sprung from seed of what has been.

Today we pray that, with God’s help, we will:
 …bring the gifts that differ
and, in splendid, varied ways,
sing a new church into being
one in faith and love and praise

Today we celebrate our ordination as presbyters and we give thanks that we have been able to respond to our calling within the family of the whole people of God.

Through his grace we are worthy.

And to God be the glory!