Sunday 25th September was the last service Fiona attended as a member of our fellowship. Fiona, Gethin, Elinor and Sioned joined us back in 2003. During that time Fiona has contributed to the life of the church in many ways. Gethin, through his ministry at other churches had many other responsibilities, but worshipped with us when he was able to. Elinor now works in London and Sioned is at University in Birmingham. They grew up in the church. We wish them well in their new home. To mark the day Fiona and Gethin shared two reflections with us, and Elinor read the readings. Sioned was unable to be with us as term had only just started.
Carpe Diem – Seize the Day
Dr Fiona Liddell
Jeremiah 32 1-3 and 6-15 Read by their daughter Elinor
Dame Judy Dench had an unusual present for her 81st birthday this year; a tattoo on her wrist. It was a present from her actress daughter. It was the words of her favourite motto: Carpe Diem.
No that doesn’t mean fish of the day, but Seize the day! Take your chances, live life to the full, don’t let good opportunities pass you by but make the most of them. Carpe Diem. It’s good advice.
And I suppose that is what Gethin and I did. We saw a house on Zoopla that ticked all the boxes for us.. location, rooms, enough space for books, easy -keep garden, price. Carpe diem. We went for it. And we move in on Tuesday. Apart from the sadness of moving away from this church, it seems a sensible move for us as well as an exciting move.
I wonder how Jeremiah felt as he held the deeds to his newly purchased plot. Was he excited? Did people congratulate him on his purchase? Because honestly, his wasn’t such a sensible move.
The outskirts of Jerusalem at the time of occupation is hardly a leafy suburb of Cardiff. It was more like buying land in the Somme 100 years ago. Who in their right mind would do that?
Yes he seized an opportunity, that he saw as coming from God. His cousin Hanamel wanted to sell land. We don’t know why – perhaps he needed the money. Perhaps he wanted ‘out’ of such a troubled city. Perhaps he could see the writing on the wall for Jerusalem. Couldn’t Jeremiah see that to buy here and now would be a bad move? Had he, (excuse the pun) lost the plot?
We think of Jeremiah as the prophet of doom, because he didn’t believe in quick fixes or false hopes. But in buying that field in a war zone he expressed not doom, but a ridiculous hope… that some day the Israelites would once again live there, and buy and sell houses. A ridiculous hope!
“The Lord God Almighty, the God of Israel, has said that houses, fields and vineyards will again be
What Jeremiah had was more than a vague hope. It was a version of the future that he was prepared to commit to, by putting his money on it. He bought a field. Where others saw a doomed future, Jeremiah dared to see a positive one. He began living out that vision as though it were true right now. That is Prophetic action.
A more recent example that comes to my mind, of churches living out a ridiculous hope with prophetic action comes from Namibia.
Before independence in 1990, Namibia was occupied by South Africa. People could imagine nothing different, but the Churches were at the forefront of keeping alive the vision of an alternative, positive scenario. They dared to dream of an independent country and they expressed that dream in two significant ways.
First by the use of English rather than Afrikaans as a language that could unite different tribes and build relationships with the wider, global community.
Second, since there was no university within Namibia, they developed with support from churches in UK, a sponsorship programme that allowed young Namibians to study and acquire professional and leadership skills abroad, which they could take back to use in their own country. When I visited in 1990, these were the people who made up most of the (new and inexperienced) government in a free and independent Namibia.
Now imagine, if you will, that Jeremiah were a member of this church. Not an easy member perhaps, but one would who would be alert to sensing how God us calling us to be tomorrow, not just today.
I can imagine him pointing to the churches of Cardiff, and saying ‘see there. I tell you, that is how it will be in Ponty, in 5-10 years or so.’
You see, not a single URC church in Cardiff has a full time minister. As of yesterday 2 churches have one minister on a part time and short term basis, but that’s all.
Churches are not happy about this lack of ministers, of course. There is Dismay, ‘a church like ours without a minister is unthinkable. We have always had one’. There is Anger… ‘why does the URC allow this situation. Why doesn’t the Moderator – that Simon – do something?’ And there is Fear…. ‘how will we cope? What is expected of me?’
To some it looks like the writing is on the wall….. with the end of churches as we know them.
I’m sure Jeremiah would have no truck with those false prophets who say ‘well that may be how it is in Cardiff, but that couldn’t happen in Ponty’ , or those who insist that Phil is immortal and will be our minister for ever !
On the other hand I think he would hold an alternative positive vision, a ridiculous hope, that this church might continue to be the friendly, outward looking, crazy bunch of Christians that it is, and that ministry might take on a different shape.
He might challenge us, perhaps banging on about it in church meetings, about how we can express that positive version of the future right now. How do we commit to it in action?
This doesn’t mean ignoring Phil, I hasten to say. Far from it. For it is his God given ministry that gives this church a unique opportunity to embrace and seize the future, to be ready for whatever God needs us to be as Christ’s church in Pontypridd.
I have a small gift …which I hope you find both enlightening and amusing. It’s a theology text book, for the continuing education of the people of God. This is theology expressed in diagrams, graphs and charts. Do take a look later.
and Gethin’s reflection
Escaping from hell
Luke 16.19-31 read by Elinor
This is one of Jesus’s most frightening stories, and we will come back to it in a moment. But I want first of all to reminisce about our arrival here as a family over 13 years ago.
We had many reasons for choosing to attend St David’s Uniting as a family when we moved to Pontypridd in February 2003. We already knew Mary Cotes, the then minister; although URC by background we had just spent 7 years serving the Presbyterian Church of Wales and had been captivated by its history and character and bilingualism – with St David’s we could have both; we wanted a church that would nurture Elinor and Sioned well in the faith with friends their own age. So on our first Sunday we turned up here.
But we weren’t committed yet. There were other possibilities. What we learned that first Sunday, though, was something we did not know in advance. When we went into the hall for coffee we saw the remnants of the homeless hostel from the previous night. It was clear that this was a church that meant what it said about loving its neighbours – it was actually putting a roof over their heads. I soon became a volunteer at Lunch Bite and became an expert at opening tins of tomato soup and dishing out beans on toast – always white toast.
St David’s wasn’t like the rich man in Jesus’ story, who stepped over Lazarus every day as he went in and out of his home, and ignored him. St David’s had noticed who was lying at its gate – and had opened the door and let them in. We had no doubt that this was the kind of church we wanted to be in.
Mind you, in some ways it wasn’t much of a choice. Jesus tells us that the alternative to living as St David’s lives is – hell! It’s one of the few times Jesus talks about hell as a place of torment. So why does the rich man end up there? Because he was nasty to Lazarus? No. Because he believed the wrong kind of theology? No. Because he voted the wrong way in the referendum? No.
Just because he knew Lazarus was there and he chose not to share his bread with him. That’s all. That’s enough to end up in hell, says Jesus.
Isn’t that a bit extreme? Well, Jesus is extreme of course – he would fall foul of the Government’s counter-extremism policy at every turn. But Jesus is also telling us what we already know in our hearts – and we don’t have to be Christians to know it. If I’d had a pound for every time someone in Trefforest or in the Rhondda during my ministry there had told me that “I used to know all my neighbours around here, but now I don’t know any of them” I’d be quite rich by now. Occasionally, I used to venture to ask in reply “Well, why don’t you call round to see them? Or invite them over for a cup of tea?” “Oh, but they’re not like the old people were. Oh, I don’t think they’d want to come. But they’re not like us – they’re from Cardiff – they’re from England – they’re Muslim….”
You see we do know who our neighbour is, we know who our Lazarus is. And we have a range of excuses as to why we intend to carry on ignoring them. And just like the rich man the consequence is that we end up in hell – a hell of our own making – a hell of loneliness, isolation, fear. Polls show that even though there is less crime now than in living memory, people are more fearful of their neighbours than at any time since the Second World War. And less hopeful for the future. Hell. A hell of our own making.
When we moved into our house in Pontypridd, it turned out that the bottom strip of our back garden was owned by the Welsh government (It’s a long story, to do with the construction of the A470 in the 1970s). This applied to all the houses in the row, and our moving in and attempting to register the title brought it all to a head. The Welsh Government wrote to all our neighbours asking for their gardens back.
On the advice of our solicitor, we invited all the neighbours in for coffee and cake. We tried to explain what had happened. “Well, we didn’t have any of this problem until YOU moved in, did we?” said one neighbour. (You don’t hold back in the valleys, do you??) We became good friends once the business of the garden was sorted out. One house became the place where Elinor and Sioned could go if we weren’t back in time to meet the school bus. The son of another neighbour taught Sioned the piano. We’ll miss them all when we move next week. We were lucky – we didn’t have to live in hell, because we were forced to break bread (well, cake) with our neighbours.
And that’s what Jesus asks of us. No more. But no less. These days, of course, Adref house our homeless neighbours down in Mill Street. But instead St David’s breaks bread with new neighbours – refugees from Africa and now from Syria – who have thereby have become our friends.
So Jesus’s rather frightening story is really good news. The good news is this: escaping from hell is actually rather easy. You don’t need to sign a statement of faith or have lots of money or a glittering career – in fact those things may well trap you all the more. All you need is a teapot, some cake and an open door.
May it be so in your lives in this church as in ours. Amen.