When Life Gives You Lemons

I’m not sure if there is an equivalent statement in German, but when life gives you lemons – make lemonade.

Now before you think that something bad has happened, I can set your mind at ease by saying that the exact opposite is true.  This morning we went to the church to help set up toys for the children who come with their mothers from the refugee area.  The church puts on a weekly activity for the women and their children which I think benefits everyone.  Feeling sensitive to being the only male around I headed out into town in search of an outfit for one of our daughters who, along with her classmates, will be in a Fastnach parade.  “What is Fastnach?”, you say.  Well, good question.  It seems that in each area it can be celebrated in different ways, with days of parades and candy being given out to children.  Everyone gets dressed up, much like a North American Halloween.

While looking for a very specific costume (that looks like old fashioned pyjamas) for said daughter a small group of people came up to me in the centre of the Munsterplatz and said (in German and some English) that they were music students from Italy on a special class. As part of their sightseeing they were given some strange tasks to interact with the locals.  One student held out a lemon and asked if I would trade something of mine for the lemon, but that it couldn’t be cash.  The goal was to see which group got the most expensive object in exchange.  So what did I give them? I had a German stamp in my wallet worth 0,45 Euro.  In our exchange I found out that the students spoke more English than German, and in some cases, they were native English speakers studying in Italy.  So for a lemon that cost me 45 cents I also gave them out some of my business cards and told them about the Anglican Church in Freiburg.  The students are here for only a short time, but they do stay over the weekend, so maybe I shall see them in church on Sunday.

So next time when someone gives you a lemon, make lemonade…and invite them to church.

Home Groups

The meeting of Christians has not always happened on Sunday morning, and more and more people find spiritual nourishment throughout the week by meeting in small groups.  I was very happy to meet with the “North Freiburg Home Group” and participate in what they have been doing over many years together.  A small group of around 8 people have been meeting together in each others homes for several years.  They have alternated with either Bible Study, or book study to help focus there time together.  Strong bonds of friendship and fellowship are evident.

In my thinking, small groups have a lot to offer. One thing that I think is important to realize is that not everyone wants to be invited to a church worship service, but many people are spiritually hungry and seeking after God and will more likely like to explore their faith with others in a small group where there is an opportunity to believe, behave, belong and become a Christian.

Small groups, home groups, have the advantage of being flexible to the people who attend. An example of flexibility is the willingness to provide space for life’s circumstances.  Children might play together in another room whilst the parents study and pray.  If you work shift work, the group could accommodate you by meeting over lunch.  Such is the flexibility of those who participate.

Another reason home groups are great, is that you get to see real change in peoples lives as they grow and develop in their faith.  What is encouraging is that soon after this evening gathering, another couple in the church had an idea for yet another home group that they wish to help host and get started.  God is good.


“Even the stones cry out.”

Finally the weather in Freiburg has become more like winter.  Over the past weeks it has been unseasonably warm, but now it feels like winter.  Strange how things have changed in just a week.  For instance, last week I looked out the window and saw a spandex clad man ‘skate’ by on skis with wheels.  A Cross Country skier desperate for snow!

This week the Strassenbahn had several people with skis bound to backpacks as they headed to the hills that are now covered with snow.  As many people look to the hills, I was trying hard to stay warm.  It was with hunched shoulders and eyes down that I saw the following things.  Of course I have noticed these stones before, and for different reasons, but when battling brisk wind it gave me more to ponder.

In much of the walking areas of Freiburg one can see storefront signs placed on the ground outside the doors of shops.  These signs are made from stones of different colours and usually designed in a way to represent the current business, or institutions.  Of course things change over time so not all are up to date, but they make for interesting viewing and walking.  wp-1452875190129.jpeg


There are other ‘stones’ that catch the eye as one walks the streets of Freiburg.  At times they are single markers, and other times there can be six or seven all in a group.  I chose one nearby a University building as an example. In some way I am sad that I cannot say more about the name of the stone.  wp-1452875328822.jpegThese ‘Stolperstein’ are known in English as ‘Stumbling Stones‘ and are a reminder to passersby that in the house, or apartment block there was a Jewish person, whom after the war, did not come home and the building was left unoccupied.  A new tenant, or new owner now resides in the building, but the stone is a reminder of people missing, killed, displaced, but not forgotten.

‘Even the stones cry out’

Baptism of the Lord

To begin with, let me set the context. The Acts of the apostles, chapter 8, depicts at church that has just suffered the loss of its deacon Stephen. They have been persecuted and we find them spread out and going to places which might not have been if it weren’t for the persecution. The apostles, those who personally knew and ministered with Jesus, stay in Jerusalem. Philip is found going to the Samaritans. Often times travellers would avoid Samaria altogether. We see Samaritans represented as outsiders in the New Testament and we certainly remember the good Samaritan as a surprising and shocking story about an outsiders hospitality. It is to these people that Philip has begun his ministry. Philip preaches and demonstrates actions that are Spirit led -healing people, and casting out demons. There is a fellow in the area named Simon the magician. Simon’s claim to fame is that he does miraculous things through magic and has gathered quite a following. The people of the region in which Philip was ministering in Samaria are convinced by Phillips strong preaching, behaviour, signs and wonders, and as a result they come to believe in Christ. They reach a point of decision and wish to be baptized. Along with them is Simon the magician who we learn from the account of Acts, also comes to belief.

And so it is in this passage that we have heard today that there is a visit from those apostles in Jerusalem. It is here that I wish to expand and elaborate on the text. What are we to make of this new deacon Philip, and those he is baptizing? I wonder, what was the feeling back in Jerusalem that prompts to visit from Peter and John?

Was this news of a growth in the church in Samaria taken in disbelief? Are Peter and John coming to inspect, like some kind of new pharisee and make sure things were done in the right way, in the correct manner? Or was this news received in Jerusalem about this new church and its deacon Philip taking with joy and welcome?

If there was disbelief one might argue that John and Peter are much like the liturgical police who have come down to ensure that things are being done correctly. If one is to take this point of view seems that Phillips ministry is incomplete and his baptisms are also incomplete. This is especially tempting point of view to take especially when we hear of John the Baptist during the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. John the Baptist commends to others within earshot that his is a baptism of repentance and another one who follows him will baptize with the Holy Spirit. So in our case looking at Acts it might seem that the apostles are coming down from Jerusalem in order to offer some guidance and corrective measures. An early church is formulating how it will baptize and what happens at baptism.

This, I believe, is a track in the wrong direction. Mainly the thing that disturbs me the most about thinking that the apostles, Peter and John are coming down from Jerusalem in order to offer corrective measure to somehow bolster a lacking ministry of Philip puts a lot of human control over the person of the Holy Spirit. In the instances of Philip preaching healing and casting out demons all this is in the power and majesty of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit so certainly in the Holy Spirit would be part of Phillips’s baptism.

I take the point of view  that the news about new Christians in Samaria was taken with joy and welcome when first heard in Jerusalem by the apostles. I believe this direction of joy and welcome offers us a powerful statement that overcomes possible messages of disbelief and skepticism and the narrow tribal religion that results from such a view. In the baptism of Philip to the Samaritans I believe that there is a seed which is nurtured and helped along by the laying on of hands by Peter and John. It is a welcoming and acknowledgment that the new Christians are in deed part of the church. They may be in the hinterland of Israel they may be sidestepped by travellers, and they may be despised and disregard it by others, but those in Jerusalem who are the apostles and followers of Christ have come to them to affirm and welcome them into the Christian community.

Baptism is the initiation rite of the Christian Church.  We use a Trinitarian form naming God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  When the Bible says that Peter and John come from Jerusalem because the Samaritans had not yet received the Holy Spirit, but only been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, I wonder if this is the church referring to the baptism of Jesus where the Spirit descends upon Jesus like a dove.

One thing comes to mind in this visit from Peter and John, and that is the importance of touch.  It is human to touch and in the church many of our significant moments are marked by touch.  Baptism involves touch, often carrying an infant, or marking the sign of a cross on the forehead.  Confirmation involves touch, with the laying on of hands by a bishop.  So to with ordination, marriage, anointing the sick and setting new ministries such as bishops, or new clergy ministry.  It is significant that those who would have previously distanced themselves from the traditions and people of Samaria have made the effort to come and lay hands upon them and encourage the Holy Spirit in their lives.

What I want to stress is that belief needs to be nurtured and tended, as well as stretched and broadened.  This is the first instance of God reaching out to others who were seen almost as untouchables. We know from the accounts in Acts that God will next reach out to the Gentiles, and so the tidal wave of Christian faith will flood the world.

The spark of faith is present to those who come to believe with Philip’s preaching, and the wider church visit from Peter and John help to stoked the spark and flame it alive.  A generous affirmation of faith to those who were for so long despised, and a generous God who has planted the spark of faith in each of us.  Let us not be afraid of flaming our faith, and recognizing that even those whom we might disagree with, or seem foreign to us can also be filled with the Holy Spirit and welcomed joyously into the Church.


Welcoming New Worshipers

At our last All Ages worship the children were introduced to a new member of the congregation.  He comes from the UK, but had been living in Victoria, Canada for a time, and is now comfortably at home in Freiburg, Germany.  Charlie the Church Mouse was a bit shy a did not want to come out into the crowd of children who have gathered. The children patiently waited until Charlie was ready and his welcome by the children was a warm one.  There were lots of questions for Charlie, about where he came from, and how old he was.  In return, Charlie in a quiet mouse voice, asked the children some questions about the Bible passages that he had heard that morning.

Charlie made his way from Chester Cathedral

The church has a tradition of inviting new members to a special gathering where they can become more familiar with the church, the activities and the people.  There are a number of more informal ways that parishioners have opened their homes up to newcomers for a dinner, or social gathering.

Charlie has reminded us that large, or small we are called to welcome all people (and mice).

Traditions come and go

A New Years tradition that I started on my own whilst living in Victoria was to attend the Levy at Government House. I would wake up early and stand with masses of citizens to enter the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor General. Standing in the cold would be quickly forgotten once making ones way through the front entrace and feeling the heat from the roaring wood fire in a massive fireplace. Equally warm was the greetings from many city officials, local mayors and of course from Her Honour the Lieutenant Governor and her husband as every person was personally greeted with a handshake. What always impressed me was that many people who lived on the street were often allowed in first and we’re treated with the same hospitality as anyone else.
There would be live music from the Navy band and the Canadian Scottish Regiment Band. Finger foods, tea or coffee, and small sweet cakes would be consumed by the masses while we milled about in the grand ballroom and looked out at the view of the ocean from the large veranda.
I was almost always the only one in the family that dared to participate in this tradition so I felt obliged to take a picture of the official dinning room with its polished silverware, candelabras and wooden table that was so shiny that you could easily make out reflections of the Queen and HRH Philip’s portraits which hung over one of the large fireplaces. I would take a few treats and a few napkins with the Royal insignia stamped onto them home with me so that I could share the experience with my own family.
After last night’s celebrations and no levy to attend, I went for a morning run with the dog. The only people I saw was one elderly woman walking her small dog and one young man stumbling home after what looked like a long party.
I don’t believe in making resolutions (as they usually end up broken within the week) but it was nice to try something new. Sadly, the family was not impressed with the ‘treat’ I brought back with me from this new year morning, but Skippy was much happier. 🙂

May this year be a good one for all.