Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Friends with Jesus

In these magnificent post-Easter days I have been reading through some of the Farewell Discourses which have such resonance with Easter.  Like John 16:16 when he warns the disciples that 'for a little while they will not see him' but will know weeping and mourning while the world rejoices. 'You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy'.  Oh, yes1
And I have been especially struck again by the transformation they will undergo.  'I do not call you servants any longer....but I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father' (John 15:15).
This claim has been running through my head these past few days:  Michael, I have called you friend!

However, in the way these things happen, this Scripture hit me at the same time as I reached a meditation in Oswald Chambers.
If we are the friends of Jesus we have deliberately and carefully to lay down our life for Him.  It is difficult, and thank God it is!  When once the relationship of being the friends of Jesus is understood, we shall be called upon to exhibit to everyone we meet the love He has shown to us.  Watch the kind of people God brings across your path, you will find it is His way of picturing to you the kind of person you have been to him.  'Exhibit to that mean, selfish person exactly the love I showed you when you were mean and selfish'.The thing that keeps us going is to recognize the humour of our heavenly Father in it all, and we shall meet the disagreeable person with a spiritual chuckle because we know what God is doing.  He is giving us a mirror that we may see what we have been like towards Him; now we have the chance to prove ourselves His friends and the other person will be amazed and say - "Why the more I annoy her, the sweeter she gets!" and will tumble in where we tumbled in, into the grace of God.
Oh to be that kind of friend, walking in resurrection power!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Odd Anecdote(4)

A couple of you have commented that my post on playing the harmonium organ raised a chuckle! I fear so. It made me think back to those primitive days when sometimes chapel organs were on larger scale with bellows operated by someone (hidden) standing behind.  I can recall my huge pride as a small boy when I was occasionally given this job.  Discretely, behind a wall, I took the large wooden arm in both hands and started pumping up and down as soon as a hymn was announced, so that the organist could hit the notes with pipes full of wind.   Much wheezing and creaking accompanied the first pulls of the arm and when the organ was at full pelt it meant a considerable work-out to ensure no unnatural fading occurred. 

This provokes a memory of a story current back then (which I guess is apocryphal).  A similarly enthusiastic young boy was so eagerly pumping air into the bellows that one organist found the whole contraption was almost whistling with bulging extra energy.  Playing with subtlety was sabotaged by rushing mighty wind.  After the first hectic hymn the organist wrote a note to be passed round to the boy.

Unfortunately, it was assumed that the note was intended for the preacher.   After praying he looked down to see in block capitals:  THEY CAME TO HEAR ME PLAY, NOT TO HEAR YOU BLOW!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Happy Easter

A glorious Easter to you!  I anticipated thrilling worship on Easter Day and it turned out to be just that (!) with a worshipful crowd including many old friends packed into church.  What a privilege to help lead that congregation on the greatest day of the Christian calendar.  In my sermon I marveled at the impossibility of Easter, yet its absolute necessity.

I didn't use a poem by John Updike, but it was in my mind:
    Make no mistake: if He rose at all
    it was as His body;
    if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the amino
    acids rekindle,  
    the Church will fall. 
    Let us not mock God with metaphor,
    Analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
    making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of
    earlier ages:
    let us walk through the door.
    Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
    for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
    lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed by the
    and crushed by remonstrance.

Yes, Easter is monstrously disruptive for the rest of time.  Alleluia.  May this Easter week be the best ever, lived in resurrection power.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Holy Week 2014

Being back in Cambridge for Holy Week evokes rich memories.  Yesterday, on Maundy Thursday, I was at my former church to lead a service for older friends, several in wheelchairs,  who are brought in especially to share communion as well as enjoy tea.  It was announced at the beginning that I had begun the tradition in 1982 - and several of the older folk are still going strong (including one at 93!)
Today, Good Friday, I joined a March of Witness down the High Street of Histon (just north of Cambridge).  Several congregations from different churches processed behind crosses to meet on the Library Green for an open-air service.  The Salvation Army band and a music group accompanied us, with songs, prayers, reading, drama and an address.   I was on the edge of the crowd conscious of the busy traffic flow and pedestrian passers-by - often visibly surprised at our presence.  It was good to sound out the gospel message right in the middle of the community.
On Easter Day, I shall be preaching back in my former church - an opportunity that thrills me to the core.  Every preacher longs to be able to proclaim good news on Easter Day....and I'm one!

However, one thing struck me forcibly today.  One of the songs we sang was Graham Kendrick's 'From heaven you came'.   It tells the gospel story and the last verse with chorus ends:
      So let us learn how to serve,
      And in our lives enthrone him ;
      Each other's need to prefer,
      For it is Christ we're serving.

      This is our God, the Servant King,
      He calls us now to follow Him,
      To bring our lives as a daily offering
      Of worship to the Servant King.
I remember a phone conversation with my father one Sunday evening.  He could be astonishingly transparent.  He said that they had sung this song in his church and everybody joined in gustily with loud accompaniment.  He paused and softly said: 'You know I just couldn't sing it.  Those words about 'enthroning', 'prefering other's needs' and 'bringing lives as a daily offering'.  I couldn't do it.  It's too much, today.  We should be so careful!'

I have never forgotten how that cut through my often thoughtless singing, mouthing casually such monumentally demanding words that only Christ can command and by His Spirit begin to make practical in our lives.   This Easter I want to be real in my response.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wedding anniversaries

Later on the same day we landed back in the UK we were at a Silver Wedding anniversary in Caius College, celebrating with a couple who met at the Cambridge church when I was once minister. We were (unsurprisingly) late entering the main dining hall where everyone had gathered for drinks and speeches before the food.  The hall was full of noisy happy chatter. 

Taking off our coats, we began to register who was in the crowd. I was amazed to catch sight of first one married couple I had not seen for 22 years, followed by a second, then a third and then a fourth.   As I greeted them with wonderment that they were instantly recognizable, I marvelled even more how their stories instantly came to mind in that weird way that memory can google search quicker than google (with added colour and emotion)!

It should have been obvious that the happy couple would invite many of their peers who have remained friends to share their night, and that they would have met in the same church and that I would know them well.  But I was surprised that there were, in all, six couples there whom I had married some 25 years ago,  all going strong. 

There wasn't time to talk in depth but it became clear that each marriage had shared in the rough and tumble of family life for the last twenty five years.  Yet, for every couple their Christian faith had remained central to their lives together.  They shared stories of different churches they now belonged to and their passions and commitments to various responsibilities.  I know Christian marriages can fail in our fallen world, but I walked on air as we drove home and reflected on our experience.  Here are six couples who have stayed true to each other with the Easter Lord in prime place.  Thank you, Lord.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Odd anecdote (3)

Our bags are packed and we will soon (hopefully) be in flight.  In the lull of waiting I recall another odd occasion!  Unfortunately my wife remembers more of my student experiences than I would wish.  She claims that from the viewpoint of the congregation one of the most 'worship-disturbing' of all occurred not when I was preaching but when I was playing a harmonium to accompany another student.

The congregation was a small one outside Oxford and my fellow student Colin prepared carefully the whole act of worship which he was to lead from the front.  Because they had no regular musician he was asked to bring one along.  Although I would hardly claim to be regular I agreed.

The harmonium operated by foot pedals pumping air into the pipes. If the instrument was well-worn (which was generally the case)  then both legs needed to be in continuous vigorous pumping motion, that later became the template for certain gym apparatus to trim leg muscles.  Swell boards either side of the knees controlled the volume.  Though a number of organ stops appeared to offer a range of possibilities, in most cases the variety of bearable sounds was limited with occasional notes refusing to sound at all.

On this memorable Sunday evening I seated myself on a circular leather stool having first adjusted the height.  I was aware that this gave out an extraordinarily loud squeak when I moved to pump the pedals and tended to squeal whenever I shifted weight, especially getting on and off.  I was at the front, immediately facing the preacher with my back to the the congregation.  

The first hymn alerted my wife and the preacher to the unusually noisy stool and whether I was more vigorous than past organists I do not know but the squeaks and squeals set up giggling in the ranks.  Great effort was made during the following prayer and reading to conquer the inner shaking.  I could see Colin struggling and had no idea how close Carol was to complete meltdown.  At the next hymn I tried to reduce that noise level by keeping as still as I could.  So concentrating was I on noise reduction that I completely failed to realize the congregation had finished the hymn when I launched into a further verse as people were beginning to sit down.  Unfortunately, this provided the coup de grace.  I btought my mistaken recital to a sloppy discordant end hoping for silence, the stool misbehaved in monstrous fashion as I returned to my seat.  Giggling that had been repressed by handkerchiefs and immense willpower now let rip.  Colin was creased up in mirth and Carol could no longer control herself  with tears running down her face.

I know how hard he concentrated to get through another two hymns before the end.  I really apologized knowing how miserable it is to be sabotaged as a preacher, and to have engaged in such a shameful act is a scar on my memory.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fresh/Old look

Another advantage to seeing our New Jersey family is that Rob can bend some of his considerable IT expertise towards helping my feeble skills.  Alert readers will notice that this blog is now renamed as Michaelquicke.org and much of the material which languished (appropriate description) on my web-site of that name can now be found under the different pages in my blog.  With the loss of my main computer in Wheaton last year I also lost ability to edit these webpages. 
Rob informs me that it's quite cool to use your blog as your main web site and anyone now logging into michaelquicke.org will be re-directed here.
I have never been sure that the effort of posting is truly worthwhile.  Some of you make kind comments and surprise me mightily by mentioning you have read something or other!  As I shall share in future emails, I might still have some interesting opportunities ahead as Emeritus Professor and will value your partnership and input if these come to pass.
As a disclaimer:  much of the transferred material from my old web site is woefully out of date.  I have actually published since 2009 and (if I had the energy) there is a great deal of new oral/visual material on-line which could be added.  Anyway, at least I can access it now to try and keep more up-to-date!

Closure, Gift Card, Knoxville, New Jersey

Breathless is the word for the last two weeks!  Our 'recognition' evening left us with gargantuan feel-good.  How wonderful to close full-time working life on such a high!  Actually, several older friends have since commented how important good closure is and rather lamented what happened to them (oh dear).  We remain so grateful to all who shared with us and it took some time to read through the greetings and cards properly.  Alas, in our excitement we opened all the cards and later found a lonely gift card without a name on it!  Embarrassingly we thanked one set of friends profusely who then told us they had not given it!  So, somewhere among our generous friends there is a donor who needs to know how grateful we are (in spite of appearances)!

Simultaneously, while living in the after-glow, we undertook the exhausting task of emptying my store room (25 large boxes and innumerable carrier bags),  closing down my office leaving a remnant library, and filling the final boxes for removal to the UK.  It demanded a relentless pace with no breaks.  Fortunately, meal times allowed us farewells with dear friends, but each morning brought full-frontal countdown pressure until, last week, we stepped onto a plane to Knoxville, Tennessee, where I gave the Craddock Lectures at Johnson University (and preached twice to the university).  Suddenly from a freezing Chicago morning we were in the 80's, enjoying great Southern hospitality.  It was new material which brought its own pressure but after two nights we were back in bitter cold for the last gasp packing.   

A couple of days ago we completed the 850 mile road trip to see our family in New Jersey which is always wonderful as grandchildren Elliot and Sophie treat us like equals!  Tomorrow, the next lap with flight back to Cambridge demands yet more strategic packing. So, not much happening......
a big thank you to all our friends, both sides of the Atlantic who are part of our special circle who have followed our progress.