Do not despise the small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10)

I was reminded this week that we sometimes need to look back to recognise how far we have come. Yet there are times when progress is slow. There are occasions when you look back and realise that you have not come as far as you hoped. You worked hard. You were focused. You have given your all. You are exhausted. Yet relatively little has been achieved.

Don’t despair. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have been doing it wrong. It sometimes means that you have done it right.

‘Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin….’

Zechariah 4:10

Easter 2023 (1 Corinthians 15:14)

So, this is Easter Sunday. Easter is the point in the Christian calendar where we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Resurrection from the dead. Jesus died. Jesus was buried. Jesus rose again. The empty cross. Game changer. (1 Corinthians 15:14)

As a brother of two sisters, a husband, and as the father of two very intelligent daughters, it saddens me more than I can say that in the 21st Century, too many people continue to be ready to think of  women as sort of second class. Actually, it makes me angry.

I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised. World history and culture are mainly patriarchal. In spite of some small steps forwards, misogyny has been, and sadly remains, deeply embedded in our culture and society. Progress is painful and slow. It doesn’t make it any easier, and it certainly doesn’t justify the issue, that this is actually a universal, global, and institutional problem.

Of course, I have always tried to value women in my life. My family. My friends. My colleagues. But I am a man.  There have been lots of times when I could, and should, have done better.  Times when I should have done things differently. I can’t get away from the fact that there have been times when I have almost certainly perpetuated the culture.  Even today, I am a work in progress.

The real sadness is that this is still a big issue in lots of UK Churches. Too often,  women are sidelined. Their activities are controlled.  There are jobs which they are expected to do. There are jobs which they are not expected to do. Within a few miles from my office there are several Churches where women would not be allowed to speak openly, and certainly not to preach or lead worship. There is at least one Church where a woman could not lead a Bible study. There are Churches where the female voice is not encouraged.

For most of her career, my wife was a Christian Children’s worker and Director, working with Churches of many denominations and has been invited to preach in many Churches.  Our local Anglican Church is led by a Rector who is a mother, leader and teacher. The Church is in a corner of the Diocese where the Bishop is a  strong and influential woman. A few years ago that would have been unthinkable. These small steps have been hard won over generations, and there is still so far to go.

To some people (men),  it might sound like I’m on some kind of feminist rant. Relax.  By most definitions, I am genetically prohibited from being a feminist.  So perhaps you might describe it as some kind of guilt trip. A personal apology for my own already confessed contribution to male dominance in our society. It’s not that either.

Here’s what is actually going on.

Like lots of people, I read the Easter story in all four Gospels this morning. As ever, I hoped that God would speak to me through His Word. He often does. The thing that hit me powerfully this morning was that in each account,  as with the news of his pending birth, the first people to recognise what was going on were women. That was no accident. That was deliberate.

I look at the Church, which has had huge historical impact in establishing our cultural norms across society, and I look at the place of women in our world, and as  Christian, I wonder how we ever got to where we are. Generations of Christian men have, after all, taught that Jesus is the example we should follow.

So, this is Easter. And here I am reflecting on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The moment when everything changed. Here I am recognising that in His life, and in His resurrection, Jesus demonstrated that He valued women every bit as much as men. Possibly even more.  Game changer.

Trust (Psalm 20:7)

I’m in a cafe in York. Outside it’s cold and raining. In here it’s warm, dry and familiar. 

I’m reflecting on a recent conversation with my elderly mother. 

My Mum has an old coat. It’s a lightweight, comfortable sort of coat. When I was a kid people would have called it a windcheater.  Nowadays people would just call it a rather lightweight coat. In the right circumstances it’s a great coat. Sort of warm, dry and familiar. On a spring afternoon, my Mum can depend on it.

One winters day, when the temperature was around zero, I had called round to take her out for a trip. When I arrived, she was ready. There she was wearing her rather lightweight coat. “Mum,” I said, “it’s really cold out today. Why don’t we get your winter coat.”

“I’m fine,” she said. “This is a good coat.”

“It really is cold outside, Mum. You will need a thicker coat.”

“I will not be changing my coat.” She said, “This one is perfectly adequate. I’ll have you know that a few years ago I wore this coat at the North Pole.”

The lady was not for changing her coat. We ventured outside. After a few minutes my Mum was complaining about the cold. The rather lightweight coat might have been cheating the wind but it was no protection against the cold. I didn’t mention her trip to the North Pole.

As I’m sitting here reflecting on that conversation with my mother and her readiness to rely on an old windcheater, I’m reminded that we need to be careful about where we place our trust. We need to make sure that we put our trust in something which is worthy of it. 

Psalm 20:7

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the Name of the LORD our God.

My Mum is 93 years old. She suffers from dementia. She has never been to the North Pole.