The Minister's Message for February
Some years ago I went on a course designed to help ministers keep up to date with ideas and resources for the life of the church. In the section about worship, we were asked to identify the events in church and society that had a significant impact on the shape of the church’s worship. There were lots of ideas – Sunday Trading, the Charismatic movement, new technology.....There was one thing no one suggested. That was the twenty-six episode television adaptation of John Galsworthy’s novels The Forsyte Saga! Originally shown on Saturday evenings between 7 January and 1 July 1967 on BBC2, at a time when only a small proportion of the population televisions able to receive the channel. It was repeated on Sunday nights on BBC1from September 1968 with 18 million tuning in for the final episode in February 1969. In the UK at least the TV adaptation is credited with transforming forever the pattern of Sunday evening worship as churches discovered flexibility and pragmatism about the timing of services.
The Forsyte saga wandered into my thinking as a result of watching the latest Sunday night BBC Classic Serial “Les Miserables”. It only has six episodes but is attracting good and enthusiastic audiences to discover how the feud between Jean Valjean and Inspector (we are never told his name) Javert will be resolved. Written in French by Victor Hugo the novel was first published in 1862 the title has defied translation – the BBC, for example, has kept the original name rather than something like the Poor Ones, The Victims or The Dispossessed.
Between Christmas and New Year a friend who is a Pastor of the Reformed Church in Switzerland sent me a poem he had come across – there is a copy elsewhere in this edition of “The Link. He sent me the text in German but also his excellent draft of an English translation. The latter came with comments about a couple of words and phrases that he said were “literally” in English but still felt German. We had an exchange of emails in which we wrestled with how to convey the true nature of the poem. Copies of the German text are available on request!
The poem can be read either from top to bottom or from bottom to top. In a sense, they are two quite different poems. I’ll not give away more than that here.
The Romans had a god called Janus who was traditionally portrayed as having two faces. He faced both ways and carried responsibility for doorways - but more than that for all beginnings and endings. January takes its name from him. He had no temple on Rome - only a courtyard with gates at each end. They were opened in time of war and closed in times of peace. It may not surprise you to hear that they were open (much) more than they were ever closed.
How do we choose to live our lives as we start a New Year? Which way do we read the poem? What do we choose as the core values of our life? In the book of Revelation (3:20), there is a verse that has inspired poetry and paintings “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking: if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come into you and eat with you, and you with me”. There is no handle on the door for Jesus to use – there is an invitation to which we can choose whether or not to respond and open the door.