Memorial Service for Miscarriages and Stillbirths

A Service of Memorial for Babies Lost to Miscarriages and Still Births

 Before the service, set out some small candles or tea lights. There will be a time in the service when you invite those present to light candles in memory of their lost children.

You may also wish to set up a Tree of Memorial. This could be a decorated plant, or a metal frame, provide paper leaves, pens for writing and a means of attaching the leaves to the tree, either pegs or ribbon ties. The congregation can be invited to write the name of their lost child on a leaf and attach it to the tree. 

 

Jesus said 'Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these'. Matthew 19:14

 See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. Matthew 18:10

Opening Prayer

Dear Lord, we come together today to remember.

We remember the little ones we have lost.

We remember the loved ones that surround us.

We remember the future that You have promised to prepare for us.

 

We remember the children who have passed away.

We remember our joy when we first knew of them,

our delight in sharing the news with others,

our excited expectancy of tiny hands and tiny feet,

our growing and swelling with hopes and plans.

We pass all these precious things on to You, as we entrust to You the souls of our children.

 

We remember the children we thought they would be.

We remember the futures we carefully prepared for,

the purchases made,

the names chosen,

the dreams of happy childhoods.

We pass all these precious things on to You, as we entrust to You the souls of our children.

 

We remember the moments of loss.

We remember the dashing of hopes;

the pain, the sorrow, the despair.

 

Dear Lord, we come together to remember what we have lost,

and we come together to remember what we still have.

 

We remember the loved ones who have born these losses with us.

We remember those who have offered us comfort and support.

We remember the friends and family who have brought us new reasons to celebrate and new joys to share.

We remember that You are with us always.

 

We remember Your promises to us:

to be with us,

to go before us,

to prepare a way, a family and a home for us.

We remember Your love for us:

Your love that searched for us, found us and cradles us still

We remember that You are with us always.

 

Dear Lord, we come together to remember our pain and to remember Your promise of healing.

Be with us now, Lord, help us to remember what is true.

Amen.

 

Suggested Hymn

O Love that will not let me go – by George Matheson

Suggested Reading

Jeremiah 31:15-17

New International Version (NIV)

15 This is what the Lord says:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,    mourning and great weeping,Rachel weeping for her children    and refusing to be comforted,    because they are no more.”

16 This is what the Lord says:

“Restrain your voice from weeping    and your eyes from tears,for your work will be rewarded,”declares the Lord.    “They will return from the land of the enemy.17 So there is hope for your descendants,”declares the Lord.    “Your children will return to their own land.

A Time to Remember

Father God, You are the perfect parent of us all,

We entrust our lost children to Your loving care,

Knowing that You receive their souls with open arms.

Amen.

 

We will now have some time of quiet reflection to remember the lost children.

During this time you may wish to light a candle in memory of your child, you may wish to write your child's name on a leaf.

There will be time for you to complete one or both of these acts of remembrance, or to sit and remember your child in your heart.

 

Have some quiet music playing and make sure everyone has enough time to light candles or write names if they wish. Do not rush into the concluding prayer.

 

A Prayer to be said over the lit candles or the Memorial Tree.

Father God, we leave our children with You, knowing that

You love them truly, You know them completely, You hold them forever.

Amen.

Suggested Hymn

Father, I place into Your hands – by Jenny Hewer.

 

Suggested Reading

Psalm 136

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.His love endures forever.2 Give thanks to the God of gods.His love endures forever.3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords:His love endures forever.

4 to him who alone does great wonders,His love endures forever.5 who by his understanding made the heavens,His love endures forever.6 who spread out the earth upon the waters,His love endures forever.7 who made the great lights—His love endures forever.8 the sun to govern the day,His love endures forever.9 the moon and stars to govern the night;His love endures forever.

10 to him who struck down the firstborn of EgyptHis love endures forever.11 and brought Israel out from among themHis love endures forever.12 with a mighty hand and outstretched arm;His love endures forever.

13 to him who divided the Red Sea[a] asunderHis love endures forever.14 and brought Israel through the midst of it,His love endures forever.15 but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea;His love endures forever.

16 to him who led his people through the wilderness;His love endures forever.

17 to him who struck down great kings,His love endures forever.18 and killed mighty kings—His love endures forever.19 Sihon king of the AmoritesHis love endures forever.20 and Og king of Bashan—His love endures forever.21 and gave their land as an inheritance,His love endures forever.22 an inheritance to his servant Israel.His love endures forever.

23 He remembered us in our low estateHis love endures forever.24 and freed us from our enemies.His love endures forever.25 He gives food to every creature.His love endures forever.

26 Give thanks to the God of heaven.His love endures forever.

 

Address

You may wish to say some words at this point in the service. You may wish to talk about God's love for lost babies and for their bereaved parents. You may wish to talk about the perfect plan that God has to give us all fullness of life. 

 

If appropriate, you may wish to mention the pastoral support on offer from your church.

 

If appropriate, you may wish to mention your own personal experience of loss.

 

If you are holding this service for one family, you may wish to mention their individual circumstances.

Prayer

Father God, we know that Your love endures.

When we have times of joy and celebration.

When we are happy with our friends and family.

When we feel successful and useful.

Your love endures forever.

 

But You are the same God when we are struggling.

When our plans just won't work out.

When we are alone or bereaved.

When we cry and rage and scream.

Your love endures forever.

 

You will be the same God for all eternity.

When You return in glory You will wipe away every tear.

You will heal every wound.

You will lead us all in praise and rejoicing.

Your love will endure forever.

 

We do not know what tomorrow holds for us.

There may be more sorrow and grief.

There may be more delight and rejoicing.

There may be more work and hardship.

We do not know what will happen tomorrow.

But we do know that Your love endures forever.

 

Amen.

 

Suggested Hymn

Beauty for Brokeness – by Graham Kendrick

Blessing

Go out now into a world that holds joy and pain.

Go with God's love around you,

with Christ's hand in yours,

with the Holy Spirit's strength in your hearts.

Go with God, and God go with you.

Amen.

Counting your blessings (Thoughts on John 21)

153 fish. That's a lot of fish.It's also a strangely precise number. We're used to the Bible talking about forty of this or five thousand of that – round numbers that I tend to assume are estimations. It's quite strange to come across a number this precise.I suppose that what the precise number reminds us of is that this is being written by a real person and it is the story as told by someone who really saw it. St Jerome suggested that there were 153 types of fish in the world. Which, unfortunately, is untrue; current estimations are that there are about 20,000 species of fish.

153 is a triangular number.  It is the result of 1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10+11+12+13+14+15+16+17.  But I don't think that's why there were 153 fish! There are an infinate number of triangular numbers, and there is something mathematically interesting about every single number so we should never read too much into this sort of thing. When something really great happens, we like to share the details of it with others. It seems to me that is was John is doing here. He's excited about what happened and so he shares the details with his readers.

The other thing that you notice is that – if he knew how many fish there were – then he must have counted them. Counting is an interesting thing. And counting is one of the ways that we identify ourselves. There's the inhumanity of numbering people: like John Val John rejecting being addressed as 24601 when he leaves prison towards the beginning of Les Miserables.

There's the very famous opening of Briget Jones' Diary: “Sunday 26th Feb. 8st 13, alcohol units 2 (excellent), cigarettes 7, calories 3,100 (poor).” We keep count of our weight, of our age, sometimes we even keep count of our grudges. Who hasn't caught themselves yelling – in the midst of an argument - “how many times have I told you . . .?” “How many times do I have to ask you . . .?” And the Bible contains a lot of counting too! Strangely, nobody in the Bible records their weight. But a lot of people are occupied with their age. God, however, doesn't keep count. Whenever ages are mentioned in the Bible, it seems to be in order to emphasise how little God's plans are affected. God doesn't take much account of ages. Easy for Him, of course, to Whom a thousand years are like a day! (Psalm 90:4) Nor does God keep count of grudges! Who can forget Peter's wonderful question “how many times should I forgive my brother?” Peter suggests counting to seven. Jesus moves it up a level: not counting faults, but multiplying forgiveness. (Matthew 18:21-23) “I tell you not seven times but seventy times seven”. After all, if we count other people's faults, then how can we expect God to let ours go? (Luke 6:37 “Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.”) 1 Corinthians 13:5 reminds us that 'love keeps no record of wrongs'. Love does not keep count of grudges or of hurts. Let's not count faults – neither theirs nor ours. If God does not count our faults, then why should we count them? If God has forgotten them and covered them over, hidden them the other side of the sea, then why should we go back, looking for them? Let's not keep count of anyone's faults – neither those of others, nor our own.

Another thing that – particularly as church congregations – we like to count is people. Have you ever asked someone what a service was liked and received a lot of numbers in reply? Twelve people came, the sermon lasted twenty minutes and the whole thing over-ran by ten. Christ assured us that 'wherever two or three were gathered together' He would be here. But, in actual fact, He doesn't keep counting. Christ often comes in person when only one person is there to meet with Him. He meets people alone, He meets people in small gatherings and He meets people in huge stadiums.

Of course, there are times when we must count people. It would be silly to fail to supply enough chairs, or to give out three cups of tea per head. But, counting people doesn't give us a very good picture of what God is really doing. Don't forget that even in Acts, when Luke wishes to convey the excitement of the early, rapid expansion of the church, he doesn't give us the numbers! Don't count heads, count fish. In the story that we read, John was counting. He wasn't counting faults, nor ages, he wasn't even counting people. John counted that this was the third time that they had seen Christ, since He rose again. I wonder what it would look like if any of us tried to count how many times we had seen Christ?

What would we count? Would we count those moments in worship, when we seemed to hear the angels singing alongside us? The days when we'd seen the beauty of creation and it had taken our breath away? The times when others had helped us, been there when we needed it most, prayed with us, given us what we needed, been Christ for us? Would we count the decent sermons we'd heard, the great books that we had read? I have thought about this a bit recently, and I think it might be an interesting way for anyone to while away a little time. How many times have you seen Christ?

It may well be, of course, that you find the exact number impossible to calculate. But, that needn't deter you from the game. We are encouraged to think about Godly things. Phillipians 4:8 “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Counting the number of times that we have seen Christ, must encourage us to set our minds on noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy things! So, it is worth doing, even if we don't expect to find the number.

Again and again throughout the Old Testament, God asks His people to remember what He has done; to remember the many blessings that He has given to them, to remember how He has saved them, to remember Him. John was counting the number of times they had seen Christ, he was counting the number of fish that Christ had helped them catch. He was counting blessings! Something that I have been thinking about a lot recently is the difficulty of counting my blessings. I am not really very good at focussing on the positive. I am better at listing the things that I want than I am at listing the things that I have.

I often catch myself saying 'if only I could have x, then I would be happy, then I would be grateful, then I would be a better person', but if I can't be happy, grateful and a decent person without my latest desire, then I will probably never manage to be those things.

There will never be a time when everything is perfect and we have everything that we want. Gratitude could start right now. I read somewhere that if you only pray one prayer it should be 'thank you'. That's all well and good. But to say merely 'thank you' doesn't really mean very much. When I was a child my mum taught me how to write thank you notes. You should always say thank you for the gift, of course, but then you should tell the giver what is so good about the gift that they have given you. You should tell them what you like about it or what you plan on doing with it. I still do that when I write thank you notes. I don't know if there's any great goodness in my doing so, but I do know that it makes methink more carefully about the gifts that I receive. As I consider what I am going to write, I find myself contemplating the gift and realising how much I do like it.

In fact that is something that's becoming quite a popular idea now. Recent research has shown that active gratefulness (that old saying of 'count your blessings') really does make people happier. People were asked to keep a diary of what they were grateful for – writing down all the things that made them grateful. The experiment was performed by Dr. Robert Emmons (gratitudepower.net/science.htm), who has recently published a book called 'Thanks' which details the positive effects of gratitude.

Counting Blessings versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. The paper includes 3 separate studies, so I will just be able to provide a quick glimpse. More than a hundred adults were all asked to keep a journal, and were randomly assigned to 3 different groups. Group A had to write about things they felt grateful about. Group B about things they found annoying, irritating. Group C about things that had had a major impact on them. 2 out of the 3 different experiments were relatively intense and short term (keeping a daily journal for 2-3 weeks), while one required a weekly entry during 10 weeks. 

Across the 3 different studies we found that people in the gratitude group generally evidenced higher-levels of well-being than those in the comparison conditions, especially when compared to Group B (the one journaling about hassles), but also compared to the "neutral" group.

In the longer study, which ran for 10 weeks, we also saw a positive effect on hours of sleep and on time spent exercising, on more optimistic expectations for the coming week, and fewer reported physical symptoms, such as pain. Additionally, we observed an increase in reported connectedness to other people and in likelihood of helping another person deal with a personal problem.

(from an interview of Dr. Emmons by Davidel the natural health care company)

It would be a real shame if we were all to 'practise gratitude' because we thought that it was a short-cut to happiness. But we know that gratitude is a reasonable response to what God has already done for us. We know also that gratitude is something that the Bible encourages us to practise. And we know that even when we don't feel grateful, it is still right to say thank you.

I am not sure that I really want to live my life as if it were some competition to see how happy I could be. I would rather not focus on my feelings to such an extent that I become inward-looking and self-obsessed.But saying thank you is not about looking inward, it is about looking outward. Gratitude is not about trying to feel satisfied with what we have, it is about saying thank you to God. Practising gratitude is about making an effort to notice what God has given us and saying 'thank you'.One thing that I really liked about the Dr. Emmon's studies was his finding that the people who noted what they were grateful for weekly actually experienced stronger effects than the people who kept their gratitude diaries daily.

Often when we go to church we can find ourselves haranged with a long list of tasks. Daily doses of Bible study, prayer, meditation, five fruit and vegetables are all good and admirable things. I have no doubt that they all do us all good.But, I find it a great relief to be told to do something every now and again. So, that's what I think we can take from this morning. Every now and again, catalogue your fish.

 

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12)

Matthew 5:1-12. This is a familiar passage to many of us. It may even have sounded comforting, it can be rather soothing to hear read in church a Bible passage that you know well, almost like hearing a well-known bedtime story. The Beatitudes in particular, can have that effect, because of the balance and repetition, it's a very poetic passage.

 

But, there's another side to hearing again the Bible passages that you know well. There's that niggling, worrying side. There are so many parts of the Bible that I have heard many times and I still don't understand. Every time I hear them again, they worry at me. What do they mean? Why don't I understand them yet?

This is one of those passages for me.

On the one hand, I like it very much. It's familiar and it sounds good. I like hearing it. On the other hand, it bothers me. It sounds somehow wrong.

The basic premise doesn't make sense to me. Poor people are not blessed. Mourners are not blessed. Those who are persecuted are not blessed.

Poverty, mourning and persecution are terrible things.

When I pray for myself and when I pray for other people to be blessed by God I never pray that they would experience poverty, mourning or persecution. None of these things are good things. Of that I am quite sure.

In fact, this is not a list of good things at all. This is a list of hard jobs and of the sorts of people who are oppressed, down-trodden and marginalised.

This is a list of hurt people, unfulfilled people, suffering people, broken people.

So why does Christ say 'Blessed are those who mourn'; surely He means to say 'Blessed will be those who mourn, for they will be comforted.'

Yet, every time I hear the passage read, He says it again 'Blessed are those who mourn'. Over time, something like that really starts to eat away at me. I can't stand not knowing what He means.

My first port of call was the actual meaning of the words that Jesus is using. My Study Bible – which always sounds a bit sharp to me – rather curtly points out that 'blessed' doesn't mean 'happy'. That's a relief. I don't think that I would have been able to make much sense out of 'happy are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness'. Happiness not being the emotion that I instinctively link with thirst or hunger. And 'happy are the poor' sounds terribly like a bad excuse for not helping them to become less poor. It doesn't sound like a reasonable thing to say at all.

So, I decided to tackle the passage from this angle: what does it mean to be blessed?

The accepted response to 'Let us bless the Lord', is 'thanks be to God'. But, this passage is about God blessing people it's not about people blessing God.

We often bless people before we take our leave of them. I used to think that blessing meant to say 'God be with you'.

Just as Aaron blesses the Israelites:

'The LORD bless you and keep you;

the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.'

It's all about the presence of God. To be blessed, then, could mean to be closer to God.

But, God is everywhere. He is not literally closer to the people listed in the Beatitudes passage than He is to anyone else.

'God be with you,' may or may not be an acceptable synonym for 'God bless you', but either way it doesn't seem to explain any more about what's going on in this passage.

When we say that we have been 'blessed by God' we are usually referring to unearned joys and pleasures. Thus children are a blessing, talents are a blessing, even worldly wealth can be a blessing from God.

That is not what Jesus means when He talks of the groups who are blessed.

Obviously none of these groups are experiencing unearned joys!

The word that is used in this passage is ['makarios',] the same word that is used to describe Mary when she agrees to carry the baby that will be Jesus. It is used by Peter and by James in their letters, referring to the condition of those who suffer for the sake of the Gospel, or who commit themselves to doing the will of God.

Jesus Himself uses it in the parable about the watchful servant 'blessed is that servant whom, when his master comes, he will find doing what he is told' [Matt 24:46 Amplified (ish)].

According to the gospel of John, Jesus tells His disciples 'now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them'. [John 13:17 NIV].

[As a matter of interest, Paul uses the same word when talking about God in 1 Timothy 1:11 and 6:15. “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” and “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords,”]

So, what we have here is completely different, it seems to me, to the usual use of the word 'blessed'.

When Jesus talks of being blessed, he is commending these groups as people who are approved by God.

So, does that solve the problem? Is it just a case of understanding what 'blessed' really means?

Well, if we substitute 'approved by God' for 'blessed', quite a lot of the passage becomes comprehensible.

I would like to divide the list into three types of people and handle them set by set.

First the people who do good things.

Approved by God are the peacemakers, the merciful, those who are persecuted because of righteousness.

That all sounds very right and proper. I am already aware that God approves of people who do these things. These are all things that help others and help to spread the word of God. These are the people who hold out and do what is right in a world full of selfishness and wrong. I fully understand that God approves of such people.

Second, there are the people who have good attitudes.

Approved by God are the meek, the poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the pure in heart.

Again, this makes sense. I am already aware that God approves of people who are like that.

Meekness is of course the opposite of pride and I can reel off a list of verses that tell us that God disapproves of pride.

[Proverbs 16:5 The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished. Isaiah 2:11 The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low. 1 Peter 5:5 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."]

Yes, God approves of meekness.

Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is also very good. We know that righteousness is the right thing for us to desire, and desiring it urgently, with thirst and hunger, certainly sounds very fine.

Being poor in spirit is a little harder to handle. But, it sounds similar to such ideas as accepting God's Kingdom with the trust of a child, and total dependence on God.

So far so good, it makes perfect sense that God would approve of people who did good things and of people who held good attitudes.

The third set are more curious.

Approved by God are the mourners.

That makes no sense at all. Why on earth would God approve of mourners?

Well, Jesus doesn't actually stop there. He doesn't just give us a list of people of whom He approves, He gives a little explanation after each one, a little 'for' statement.

He says: Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.

So, we can see that blessing is a transformative process, it turns something bad into something good. It locates an empty space an fills it with the presence of God.

This makes sense for the first two sets of people:

The people who do good things: the peacemakers, the merciful, those who are persecuted, all receive logical rewards.

The merciful are shown mercy. Those who are persecuted get the kingdom of heaven. They are demeaned on earth and promoted by heaven. The peacemakers, who have stepped back and brought others together, receive public commendation, they are called the sons of God. They are praised for their praiseworthy actions. That is all very logical.

Then there's the people with good attitudes.

The poor in spirit also receive the kingdom of heaven. The meek inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are filled.

The pure in heart see God.

I once spoke to a monk about the difficulty of chastity. He described it to me as keeping an extra space in his heart for only God to fill. The space in my heart that is filled with the love I bear my husband is in that monk's heart filled with his love for God.

After that I have always had the image of purity as a space, cleared of personal pleasure, left open for God Himself to fill.

Those who have kept a space in their hearts for God, will see it filled.

Fulfilment is the opposite of hunger. There's a balance there.

All of their longings are fulfilled. All of their sufferings are reversed.

Yet, still the problem of the mourners remains.

They are comforted.

I don't think that this statement is balanced in the same way.

The opposite of mourning isn't being comforted. The opposite of mourning is rejoicing.

We know this from our own lives. Being comforted doesn't undo mourning. It helps, of course, but it doesn't fix it.

What's going on? Are those who mourn actually being short-changed in this sequence of blessings? Obviously not, there must be something that we have so far missed in our explanation of what it means to be blessed.

I think that a promise to reverse mourning, would be to deprecate it.

Mourning is not something that can be brushed away lightly.

It is something that sinks in and changes our nature fundamentally

As Paul puts it: “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” [Romans 5:3-4 NIV].

In fact, this could be expanded to all of the characteristics listed in the Beatitudes. They are all long-term characteristics. They are all things that would make long-term changes. They can all transform lives.

Such deep longings, such absolute purities. The list is not of transient feelings nor of one-off actions. This is a list of permanent characteristics and life-long tasks. Not people who have occasionaly been meek, but 'the meek', nor people who have once attempted to break up a fight, but 'the peacemakers'.

All of these sufferings have persevered and have become characteristics. The blessings that Christ lists offer them hope.

It would be too simple to say that all suffering has a good purpose because of the good that it can do. But it does at least explain why Jesus doesn't offer to undo mourning nor to eradicate it.

Mourning is not an unalloyed evil. There is another aspect to it. There is a beauty to mourning.

Comfort is the finishing touch that beautifies mourning.

This passage is about restoring balance and beauty to the world. Jesus doesn't say that He will swoop in and fix everything, neither in the world today nor in the world to come. He says that in Him everything will find its balance and its proper finish.

So it is that blessed does mean 'God be with' and it does mean 'happy' and it does mean 'approved by God' and it does mean 'thanks be to God' and it means 'beautiful'.

One of my favourite things about the Bible is the way in which all the different translations can point to the same place. There are so many different ways of saying the same thing. So many stories leading us to the same God.

So many peoples but only one blessed and blessing God.

To those who are sorrowing, Jesus promises His comforting hand to wipe away tears. To those who are longing, Jesus promises His open hand to offer them what they need. To those who are working, Jesus promises His strong hand to finish their task.

In the kingdom of heaven, all the pictures will be finished and they will all be beautiful.

Beautiful are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Beautiful are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Beautiful are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Beautiful are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Beautiful are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Beautiful are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Beautiful are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Beautiful are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Beautiful is God and the world that He is making.

How is it that those things, which seem to us to be failures and sorrows, can be made into beauty?

At the beginning of the service I talked about the beauty of the praying hands: a beauty that is evidence of work done.

I talked also about the beauty of a well-loved toy.

Things which are worn and used, things which have suffered can be beautiful.

We are not completely surprised by this, we all know already about the beauty that is to be found in the midst of brokeness.

Broken things can be beautiful, but they can also be horrible.

What is the difference between beautiful suffering and ugly suffering?

Paul [2 Corinthians 12:7-10]: “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I'm rather impressed by Paul. I don't think that there is anything difficult that I have accepted after only three times of asking it to be changed!

The thorn doesn't actually come from God, just as the poverty, the mourning, and the persecution don't come from God.

But, God can transform the thorn into something else. He can make a crown out of thorns. He can make His Power perfect in our weaknesses.

That surely is why He specifies 'Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me'.

It is only through the presence of God that our weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties can be transformed into something beauty.

Had those hands been clenched into fists, there would have been nothing beautiful about them, the very scars that make them beautiful in prayer would have made them threatening as fists.

Our God is glorious, because He can work in our weaknesses.

He can work in us, just as we are, with all our scars and our faults and our failures.

So Jesus says not 'blessed are those who survive persecution', nor 'blessed are those who resist insults' but 'blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you'. In this moment, while the suffering is still there, God is there and He is working.

'Blessed are those who mourn' for in that mourning, God is there and He is working.

We do not rejoice because we suffer, but we can rejoice because in our sufferings, God is there and He is working and He will transform them into something beautiful.

Just as He will transform each one of us into something beautiful. And all our scars will turn out to be the signs that we, like Flopsy, are well-loved and that we, like the hands of the unknown man, have loved well.