The Essential Question… How can I make a difference…

For the last few years a number of us in our churches have been reading through a book together- not quite a book club, but just a bunch of people reading the same thing at the same time. This year we’re looking at ‘The Essential Question’- a book by Whitney Kuniholm which takes us through the book of Acts in 50 readings. It’s looking at the question of how can I make a difference for God in my life, and over the next 10 weeks we’ll be having some talks based on passages from Acts, and I’ll be posting occasionally on bits that I’ve been reading.

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Today we’re right at the start- Chapter 1… in the first reading yesterday there was the account of Jesus leaving his disciples, ascending to be with the Father- its one of those things that our imagination (with some help from Star Trek or wherever else) tries to help us with… but of more importance is what is said- he tells them to wait, and he tells them to pray, and he tells them they will receive the Holy Spirit, and he tells them they will do great things in many places.

If someone ever tries to tell you how great you’re going to become at something, there is something within us (certainly in me) that doubts, that puts your head down and says ‘yeah sure, whatever’… but I guess if that same person has healed the sick, raised the dead, fed the hungry, risen from the dead themselves (oh, after telling you in advance that they’d be killed and rise again), and then proceeds to teleport/fly/ascend/whatever, you have to wonder that they might know something more than you do.

But you still have to trust.

And trusting is hard, especially when it involves waiting.

But that is the first thing the disciples have to do, and us if we’re going to try to learn from their experiences of how to live and make a difference for God. If you want to make a difference, first of all trust, and wait.

Finding comfort when things are uncomfortable

Last Sunday morning our reading was from John 14- a passage that we’re most familiar with, unfortunately, from funerals. It’s very often used, because its so very poignant and appropriate to the question of ‘what is happening here?’ that we often face at those times. Yet the odd thing is, it comes before the death of Jesus- he is helping his friends to come to terms, in advance, with his death…

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Yesterday I went significantly off script, various things came up and had come up- some tough things for us as churches alongside things to celebrate, but it was just one of those wonderful timings- The passage chosen for today, and which I’d put on the list several months ago, was just perfect for many of us in different ways. Just another one of those remarkable coincidences that seem to happen around God.

Anyway, here’s what I based my talk on- I think the audio should be on our website here

Jesus is the way to the Father… but that doesn’t make it comfortable…

Often folk like parts of the Gospel, or the idea of God, or the feeling of the Holy Spirit, but when all three come together it can be more challenging- we might like to have a pick’n’mix, but is that what is on offer?

I once came across the acronym USP- Unique Selling Point… its what makes something unique- its particularly to do with marketing and sales- what makes this product or service stand out…

In terms of faiths and philosophies, this passage expresses one of the really important USPs of the Christian faith- How we can relate to God…

All philosophies/belief structures and religions try to help give life meaning- to find a way to live.

Many have some spiritual aspect beyond the material and measurable

A significant number have an understanding of the universe that embodies spiritual power within a god or gods

Some believe that there is some kind of life after our death

A few believe that their god is interested in individuals- that some kind of relationship is possible

One, and only one to the best of my knowledge, claims that anyone who wishes to can have a parent/child relationship with their god, a relationship that is based on love, hope, and that out of that relationship they can act and represent their god…

Jesus says- no one comes to the Father except through me. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.

This is one of those ‘did he really say that?’ moments- What Jesus said is either true or blasphemy-the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leaders, made their decision and then acted on it- blasphemy- so they sought his death, and they killed Stephen for what he said…

Whilst the gospel is open to everyone, its not acceptable to everyone- there’s a point at which it can no longer be one of the things that we ‘like’… it is either so true and so important that it shapes our response to everything else, or its complete rubbish.

If Jesus is wrong about himself, if Stephen was wrong about Jesus, then the Christian faith is built upon the mistakes of a deluded man and his lying or hallucinating friends…

But the proof is in the pudding- when we humbly seek God, when we come in prayer for the needs of our community and seek forgiveness for the mess we’re making of our world… then we find that God responds- rarely in the way we might have preferred, or the timing we had in mind, but often in a way we could not have conceived of.

In prayer faith and faithfulness go hand in hand- do we believe in God’s ability and desire to act? And do we have the faithfulness to keep on pressing into that situation, praying for those people etc…

If we want to see people come to faith, we have to pray. If we don’t pray, why are we surprised when people don’t? Like a father, God knows what we need and yet delights in our asking for it…

Life to the full- woop woop!

Last weekend was an odd one… Wonderful wife plus two other stars were taking the main service and my boss was coming to preach at later service… so I had the day off? Not quite, as we still had an early morning service, there was a worship group to play in (yay, got to play bass in church!), and still needed to lead worship… so a light morning’s work that lasted 6hrs, but definitely no complaints- a good day was had by all.

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The passage we were thinking about was from John’s Gospel, chapter 10, which contains one of my favourite verses- ‘I have come that you may have life to the full’- verse 10. I love it, its both challenging and inspirational… Hope you don’t mind sentimental cheesy pic of wonderful wife out on a walk later in the week- living life to the full.

Here’s what I said at our 8am service…

 Jesus has just healed a blind man, the religious authorities have been called to investigate and have ended up throwing the man out of the synagogue for being cheeky, Jesus then finds the man who recognises him not only as a prophet of God but accepts him as the saviour… a blind, ill-educated man gets in a flash what the ‘proper’ folk have been waiting for and can’t see right under their noses. Who is really blind here? He goes on, in the passage we heard, to talk about the importance of the answer we give to ‘who is Jesus?’ or ‘what authority does Jesus have?’… The idea of sheep knowing their master’s voice sounds at once alien and attractive to us- it’s a nice image but not one we know from our own experience. We might remember the record shop HMV with its iconic picture of the dog listening attentively to ‘his master’s voice’… we might recall how a child can be calmed by a word from a parent when no one else will do… but we need to know the cultural resonance that the image of a shepherd had for Jesus’ listeners- they’d been shepherds since, well, forever- Abraham was a shepherd, Jacob and his sons were shepherds when they went to Egypt, Moses was a shepherd, David was a shepherd, and throughout the Psalms we read of God as a shepherd…and on the night of Jesus’ birth shepherds were on the hills- the role of a shepherd, while maybe no longer such a respectable job, was still significant.

When Jesus says, there are those who enter by the gate and those who climb in another way it’s clear he is saying that there are some who should not be followed, and some who should be- the sheep know the difference. There’s a relationship here- the sheep know their shepherd by voice and the shepherd knows their sheep… the shepherd is thinking of them- again, a different context for us where sheep are primarily farmed for meat, historically their milk (and cheese) and wool would have been more important- you grew the flock to fill the land… a context, a way of life that is less centred around short term profit and more about longer term care… The image is of a leader who cares, who puts themselves out- what we might call a servant leader… this is who Jesus is… his authority doesn’t come from the volume of his voice, but from how he speaks… a shepherd who’s flock know him and trust him- as Jesus disciples followed him they came to trust him more and more- as we live our lives as Christians today we find there are times when it’s easy to trust, and times when it’s hard, times when we forget someone is guiding us, and times when we cling to him…

In life there are many things that we might say we follow- a football team, a hobby, a band, an artist, a political party… at various points in our life we’ve probably each done so- but there is one similarity that carries across all of those- although you can see them, and although following them has its rewards- I remember going to obscure gigs and seeing my heroes close up, those things that we enjoy to not love us the way we love them- the way that Jesus loves us. They do not know us- despite the clever algorithms and cookies on websites they don’t know us, they do not have that self-giving love that Christ spoke of and demonstrated throughout his life and in his death. He is in this, both the shepherd and the gate- the one calling us to follow, and the means by which we are able to cross over- he is our personal saviour and Lord AND the saviour of all creation who stands at the right hand of the Father.

For us, we’re called to be sheep- to follow our Lord where he leads us, and we’re called to be sheep that somehow look like the shepherd- you know the way that dogs and their owners have a likeness? Just as Jesus came and lived among us so we’re to be like him to those we meet… not trying to replace him, but pointing others towards him by our words and our actions- by our prayers and our work amongst those in need.

And the outcome of all of this? Not a life lived in a holy tower or a ghetto, but life lived to the full- including the things we love- those hobbies, that desire to see the world changed, that love of the outdoors and those people we care for… but a life that isn’t limited or constrained by them- a life with a perspective that reaches to eternity and includes the whole world as our neighbourhood.

So, wherever you find yourself, live life to the max- not in splendid isolation from the rigours of the world, not blindly denying the truth of what is around you or missing out on the beauty of the world for fear of getting bruised along the way, and do what you can to help others live more fully.

Cheers.

 

Roadtrip with Jesus

Last Sunday we were looking at the passage in Luke’s Gospel where two disciples are walking from Jerusalem to a nearby village, on the afternoon of the first Sunday. It’s known as ‘The Road to Emmaus’ because, well, they’re on the road to Emmaus… you can find the passage in Luke 24.13-35 here, and this is what I said (or at least planned to say… as always the two are never quite the same).

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In this passage we see something of the impact that an encounter with God can have on people’s lives… but most importantly we see the how that encounter needs to be understood- eyes need to be opened, minds need to come to terms with things…

The two disciples, on the road to Emmaus- possibly going back home after the events- the excitement of the arrival in Jerusalem, the tension between Jesus and the teachers, then the seeming catastrophe of his arrest, the farce of the trial and the nightmare of his crucifixion. And then nothing. In times of crisis there are moments of in-between- waiting for the exam to start, for the news from the doctor, waiting for the girl to finish reading the note, for the phone call after an interview… and sometimes your mind is in a fog, you can’t think properly because you can only see one thing, and nothing else really makes any impact on you… the people of Jerusalem were convinced that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah, so he must be a blasphemer, a rebel, a danger… the disciples were convinced that Jesus was dead, so the news that they’d heard about the empty tomb wasn’t good news, it was another twist of the knife…

Sometimes we need to have our eyes opened, our horizons raised, our perspectives changed… but even when that does happen we may well not have the language and ideas to understand what is happening… When people use the term ‘spiritual but not religious’ they often mean that they have had, or want to have, spiritual experiences, that they believe in what is beyond the physical… but that they don’t want to be told what it means, or how to make sense of it by any form of organised faith community- they want the spiritual, but not the religion… which is ok, except that it can lead to a situation where everyone interprets an event themselves, and no one interpretation has any more truth… which is where our disciples on the road to Emmaus were… they just didn’t know what to believe- who was Jesus, was he alive or dead, what should they do? And so, they were just heading home- just as Peter and some of the other disciples… fishing etc…

Jesus joins them on the road- as with so many of our own encounters with God, we can mistakenly think that we have sought and found God, but in reality God has found us- often because we have stopped running or hiding… Jesus joins them where they are- they explain what they know and what they are unsure of, and then Jesus begins to speak, ‘explaining to them…’ and then finally Jesus joins them in real life- at the table, in a home- not in a worship time or a church, and they knew he was the Lord…

They still don’t have the language, but they can’t ignore what’s happened, so they get up and walk for two hours in the night… ‘were not our hearts burning within us’…

Article in Christianity last month- a young student from a damaged background, ended up in church having seen how becoming a Christian had changed a friend… not sure what’s going on, not connecting, when invited back gave a ‘sure’ but not meaning it, and then somehow finding themselves there for the evening service, and ended up being prayed for… and felt their heart burning within them, with no knowledge of this passage or having ever heard of Wesley’s ‘heart strangely warmed’… without having the language to describe it, she knew she’d met God…

Acts- Peter explains- this is what has happened… this is what is means, this is what you should do…

Our job, our privilege is to help people understand their spiritual experiences, their desires etc… not to control them, but to free them and give them peace… to point them towards Jesus to help explain and make sense of things, to help them process them in a way that brings the supernatural and spiritual (yes, there is a God almighty, and a Holy Spirit, and Jesus is the Son of God, and because of God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice I can be filled with the Holy Spirit) into the everyday and the earthly (yes, I can pray at the kitchen table, about things that are happening in my life, and God can help me to cope with the stresses I face today)… The promise was not just for those who met the risen Christ or who heard Peter at Pentecost, but is for all who would listen.

Later this month we’re going to be reading through Acts together as a church, and I’ll be posting reflections on those readings- probably not every day but a bit more frequently than over the last while… If you fancy getting hold of a commentary/guide to Acts yourself, we’re using Whitney Kuniholm’s ‘Essential Question’ or you might prefer Tom Wright’s ‘Acts for Everybody’, both available in good bookstores and various online places.

Every vote counts, or at least it can.

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Lovely people, I have a feeling that the next few months may get a bit political, and I don’t want to fall out with any friends. (in case you’re wondering, this is not the opening sentence to last week’s sermon).

This leaves two choices- a- don’t mention politics at all, or b- talk about politics without reservation, but remember to be informed and generous to people. So… It seems to me, from my position, that the austerity measures of our current government have not worked to reduce poverty, improve living conditions, help the elderly, fund the NHS or develop or education system. I don’t know what the gap between the top 10% and bottom 10% income in our country is like, but it doesn’t feel as though its shrinking (which is what austerity measures should result in).

 

I don’t know Corbyn, Farron or May really, and I don’t want to go through a referendum regarding the EU again. I want to live in a country that helps the needy more than it helps the rich, that does the ‘right thing’, simply because its the right thing, where our government reflects all that is good in our society rather than leaving us to fill in the holes and gaps that they choose to cut funding from. It feels as though our current government don’t feel that way- I may be wrong or misinformed, but that’s how it feels.

An example of why I feel this way would be the fact that business models with profitability etc are being imposed on schools and healthcare… its just the wrong way of measuring those things- education isn’t about profit, its about education, and it costs money… if you want to call it an investment ok, but the ‘payback’ will be in 20yrs time and it won’t come back to the school… A hospital similarly isn’t about profit, its about welfare of people and, you know… health care… if a department costs money but is needed, then its needed.

Anyway, I’m posting this because I feel that we need a change of government. In my fluffy wonderful dream world the ideal government would be left of labour and greener than green with the generous philanthropy of the best tories, but I recognise that isn’t going to happen this side of eternity. So what’s do be done? I came across an article on Huffingtonpost that is rather more strongly worded than I might choose, but links to this great spreadsheet, the point is this- if you’re unhappy with the current government and are wondering how to make your vote count in the forthcoming General Election, this is a very straightforward guide as to how to vote. You may not agree with tactical voting at all, but given the electoral system that we have it is a part of the process- our political parties are aware of it and pump funding and effort into swing seats.

Whoever ends up as our prime minister after the General Election it’ll be fascinating and they’ll be someone to watch- May as only the 2nd elected woman prime minister, Corbyn having been arrested for protesting against the government in his younger years, Farron as one of the youngest prime ministers in the last century… each of them will bring something and each will have faults, that much we can be sure of.

Boom! Shazaam! ‘Where’d he go?’, the resurrection according to Matthew and Spielberg, with visuals by God.

What a weekend! What a week! What a day! What a sunrise!

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Looking back its really easy to look past the middle of the road stuff and see either the highs or the lows… most of the time when someone asks how you’re doing the reply is either ‘Great, thanks!’ ‘Busy as you like!’, on occasions we may be ‘just awful’, but its rare that we describe ourselves and our day as ‘a bit pants and a bit good, you know’…

I’m saying this because when we read the events of the first Easter, they’re viewed in hindsight- the women were overjoyed, the men ran to the tomb, the angel- well, the angel played it pretty cool actually. After an event we talk it down or we talk it up, but while its happening we’re mostly just getting through- hanging on with our fingertips, refusing to give up, or just trudging along. Last week I took my daughters on their first rollercoaster ride… there was much screaming, laughter and general ‘whoa!’-ing, but when the ride finished, their voices were unleashed ‘it was like this, and so that and then…’ Often in church we’re quite good at calm and reflective, but we don’t tend to do too much ‘it was just amazing!!’… maybe we should try a bit more?

Anyway, some of these things and more were included in my talk on Sunday morning which was based on Matthew’s Gospel… it was recorded on the website here, and my original notes looked a little like this:

Matthew’s account of the resurrection is a real action movie- there’re angels and supernatural earthquakes, but there’s also the human aspect- down to earth things- the body is gone… Jesus appears and speaks to the women- they can ‘clasp his feet’…

At the beginning of the day, everyone thought they knew what was going to happen- the guards, the women and the disciples… but they were all wrong. And so their first reaction is a mix of disbelief and fear- Guards were afraid, Angel says do not be afraid, women hurry away, afraid… Jesus says don’t be afraid…

But the women were also filled with joy…

When something momentous happens, how do you feel? When you get wonderful news, what emotions go through you? A friend gave me some news the other day- it was big stuff, and I could feel a whole mix of thoughts- concern, sorrow, relief… when you get the best news, sometimes its hard to accept it… sometimes you have to say to yourself ‘is this real’- but the answer is often ‘why wouldn’t it be?’… when someone tells me its raining, I rarely look up… when they see a rainbow I’ll come to the window- if they say its snowing I can’t bring myself to believe it until I know for myself.

The resurrection- Matthew and the other Gospel writers, who are the primary source for Jesus’ life, seem to present the resurrection and the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples in the same way as they present the rest of their gospels- when they include a story, its clear that they aren’t presenting that as something that happened…

If Jesus rose again, its of supreme importance- because it validates what he said about who he was, about his power and authority, and it means so much for life after death.

If Jesus did not rise again, its of supreme importance- because it invalidates his claims, and the claims of others around him, it means that he was ‘just a teacher’, but one with a remarkable idea that he was the Son of God- or whose teachings were so warped as to sound like that… either way Jesus is not someone to follow.

What are the alternatives?

He didn’t really die- Soldiers put him on the cross, a soldier stabbed him with a spear… they were professionals doing their job…

The women and disciples were mistaken- (wrong tomb) if so, why didn’t the authorities at the time produce Jesus’ body? That would have quashed the stories early on, and there wouldn’t have ever been a church

The disciples stole the body- that was the line the authorities took… interestingly in Acts it never comes up again… when Peter, John, Stephen and Paul are before the Jewish or Roman authorities, on trial about their claims, its not recorded that anyone suggests this… instead the response is ‘blasphemy’- how can you suggest Jesus was the messiah? Rather than ‘of course he wasn’t, you’re deluded and wrong’…

A spiritual resurrection- this suggestion comes from Christians who want to believe the accounts of a resurrection but can’t accept the idea of a bodily resurrection… but it has two big problems- where did the body go? And what does ‘spiritual resurrection’ mean- his disciples claimed they saw and touched him, and shared food with him… and the body was gone… a spiritual resurrection doesn’t actually help, it just raises other, equally big questions.

The resurrection started a chain of events that has led to us being here today…

There was a man named Jesus who was crucified outside Jerusalem- the Bible says so, the Jewish historian Josephus says so.

His followers claimed that he rose from the dead- again, the Bible, Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius and the Jewish Talmud all agree that his followers claimed this…

Those followers then went on to live as if what they claimed was true- to travel around sharing the news with others, they didn’t deny it under oath or torture. They lived lives in keeping with Jesus teaching, including practices of generosity as well as healing the sick… they prayed and bore witness to lives changed through prayer and God’s power.

If that had all been untrue, or just made up, it would never have made it out of Jerusalem, out of Palestine… it would never have made it to the heart of the Roman Empire, where for the next 200yrs Christians were persecuted- but still continuing to grow in numbers until its estimated that by the time of the Edict of Milan in 313AD there were over 200million Christians…

Despite rumours to the contrary the Christian faith is still alive and well in the world… but it is true that there are a lot of people in our own country and community that wouldn’t accept the claims that Christianity makes… so the challenge for us is to let them see the truth of those claims in our lives- in our love for the poor as well as the rich, in our generosity to the stranger as well as to our friends, in our faithfulness in the small things and the large- in the way that we show the love of Christ that prompted him to live on this earth, to minister amongst Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles, and to walk the path of the cross.

We worship Jesus as the son of God, because that is who we believe he is, as demonstrated supremely by his death and resurrection- which is why you’ll see here and in many other churches an empty cross- a symbol of state execution, but without its victim. We remember his sacrifice in the way he showed his disciples- through the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine- in some churches using grape juice, wafers, raisins or other things- in some countries using different food that has meaning to them, with the use of water to demonstrate that even the poorest of us can bring something. We celebrate that Jesus is the light of the world, who came into the darkness- with candles, white to symbolise purity… we do all this, and remind ourselves with the words of our communion prayer, that we worship, follow and serve a God of love and power who knows us and sees us at our worst, yet would transform each of us to more than we could hope for. Let us worship the Lord- Alleluia, Christ is risen.

 

What I would have said…

Sometimes on this blog I post some notes, or thoughts, from a talk that I have given; often with a ‘well, this is what I planned to say, but it didn’t quite come out like that…’ note. I think this has to be a first however- What follows has not been used as a talk at all, or given as an address- not even with a few changes or alterations.

I was, last week, ahead of the game- everything was prepped for the weekend by 5pm on Friday so that I could take some time off for the kids on Saturday- all good… until the phone call on Saturday afternoon… I’m not working so my wife picks up, listens, talks a bit, and then says ‘well, I think you’ll need to speak to Andy’… and calls ‘Andy, its your boss on the phone’. Fortunately, it wasn’t THAT kind of a phone call from the boss, but the other one, where he rings you up and says ‘hey, do you want a lie in tomorrow, I’ll take your early start if you like, come along and lead the main service but I’ll do the 8am’….. You bet! And then as I put the phone down, it hits me- firstly, I have 3 children, a lie in? and secondly that I have a completely sorted talk that’s going begging…

Anyway, so here is the premier unveiling of my… unspoken talk, based around the first 11 verses from chapter 5 of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.

If it doesn’t make sense, well, sorry… I haven’t road tested it yet.

‘Therefore’… Paul has been building an argument over the last few chapters of the letter to the Roman church, and he continues to do so… ‘you see’, ‘since’… This is not an image-laden passage, not his testimony or a powerful metaphor… this is Paul in full logical argument mode…

Justification- being made right with God, comes through faith… by believing in Jesus we are at peace with God- or as John puts it- to all who received him, to all who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God… as believers we are now in the unique position of being able to stand before God- but only because of his grace and Christ’s saving sacrifice…

Suffering for the sake of future peace- we have hope, and so we persevere, which leads to greater hope…

When people talk about favourite passages of Scripture, they may refer to a story- a parable, because we can retell a story, they may refer to a passage from the Psalms or Proverbs that is evocative- the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it… or a short verse that helps us understand God’s will and work- Romans 5 verses 6-8 is just such a passage…

It emphasises the role of God- at just the right time while we were still powerless…

It clearly describes the action of God- Christ died for the ungodly

It challenges our easy acceptance of this- very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man (but haven’t we just been described as ungodly?)

And then it comes back round to the starting point- but God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us…

That single verse contains so much-

The nature of God, the relationship that God desires for us and him, the relationship between Christ and God, the nature of sin and redemption…

In some circles the theology of redemption isn’t very popular- particularly penal substitution, which suggests that not only did Christ have to live and die for us, but that it was as a punishment that God the Father either could not or would not rescind… Now, that doesn’t sound loving or merciful to us, but we have to remember that we, us sinners, are the ones needing redemption… and that we cannot save ourselves. Unless we can… If somehow we can lift ourselves out of our sins such that we are saved from God’s wrath by our own actions (maybe inspired by Jesus?), then we don’t need redeeming… but if that’s the case, then why did Jesus die?

It seems, from the Gospels and from passages such as this in Romans, that there is an essential need for some kind of redemptive action by God- that Jesus chose to take on life so we could know God more fully, and that he chose to die so that all who believe might be forgiven… and rose to life again to show his power over sin, and death… God demonstrated his love in that Christ died, God demonstrated his power in that Christ rose again…

Under the covenant that God established with the people of Israel in the Old Testament, if you read Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, we see repeatedly the idea of substitution- where someone sins, there is something they can do or give to atone- to make up for what they’ve done… and there are specific things… there is a clear indication of the necessity, established from the moment of the Passover, for some form of substitution… things can’t simply be forgotten but they can be resolved… God creates a way for the mess that we are, and the mess that we are in, to be redeemed… while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…

And what this means for us, as Christians, is expressed most fully in the final verses of this mornings passage- this is how much God loves us- he allowed his son to give his life so that we might be reconciled- before we were actually reconciled… and so now we in are in that relationship with God… one that he conceived before we knew of his existence, one that he acted to make possible, one that he continually restores us in when we blunder, slip or march headlong back into sin…

This is the God we worship, the one we are called to follow as we serve Him in this world, this is the Gospel we have received and are called to proclaim as we grow and make disciples. This is the relationship we have, and can grow through our own prayer life and our study of Scripture. So let us pray that this week we may do all we can, each day, to make this true in our lives.

 

 

Charlie Brown, the eternal optimist

Usually this blog is based around what I’ve been preaching on- my own thoughts and reflections on a passage from the Bible and the things that are going on in life. You may have noticed that some weeks I appear to have no thoughts (or at least nothing worth sharing)… and while this may be true, the reason nothing comes onto the blog is because someone else has preached at our Sunday worship times. In one of our churches those talks are recorded and uploaded onto our website and itunes, and you can listen to them or find them here– you can also download them from itunes, I suggest you go via our website rather than searching on itunes or click here if you want to subscribe. Anyway, in the other church those talks don’t get recorded or uploaded, instead we just allow people to remember them, or not.

A few weeks back a friend preached, and it a real good’un, and so I’ve asked her to give me the text to post here- so, a guest post by my good friend Jo Pay, based on chapter 6, verses 25-34 of Matthew’s Gospel-

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When I was a teenager the Daily Mail used to run the Peanuts comic strip and I used to cut out those that I thought were apt, I occasionally come across them stuck between pages in books. There was one with Charlie Brown and Linus, where Linus is asking if Charlie Brown is worried about tomorrow; he answers no – he’s still hoping that yesterday will get better! This little cartoon strip perfectly illustrates the theme from our 2 readings today – Worry and Hope. I tried to find the comic strip, but although I flicked through a number of books I couldn’t locate it – never mind it’s around somewhere.

Now at times I can be a bit of a worry wart; am I packing the right clothes for this holiday, will the meeting at work today go alright, will I catch the train this morning as I’m running a bit late! Not huge all the time sort of worrying, but odd and quite specific concerns – probably quite trivial in the grand scheme of things.

Our reading today tells us specifically not to worry. I find it really refreshing that Jesus recognised this inbuilt trait in humanity to worry. Also it’s quite reassuring that it was prevalent enough then to warrant a mention, and there’s us thinking that we have the monopoly on things to worry about?! Times obviously don’t change that much.

So worrying, why do we do it? Is it because we think that by making a real conscious effort and dwelling on something we could possibly make any difference to a situation, or to the outcome?

Let’s look at the reading – it opens with ‘do not worry about your life’ and goes on to say ‘is not life more important than food’? This made me think about planning, just because God tells us not to spend time worrying about our life, it doesn’t mean that we can’t plan, or map out our lives. Now I might think that I do this, but oh no I’m just a mere amateur compared to some! When I worked at Wrafton Labs in the Development Team we had a gap year student, who had planned exactly how he wanted his life to be. He was working with us for a year and then studying Chemical Engineering at University. He had decided that he wanted to work for BP, he’d even decided at what age he would marry and when he would have children, and yet at that time he didn’t even have a girlfriend – wow! I’d never met anyone like that before to have such strong views on how his life would be, I remember thinking at the time what would happen if it didn’t turn out like that, maybe that wouldn’t be the case as he was so determined! In comparison my life is a bit more ‘unstructured’, allowing space for God to steer, or push. I have aspects of planning as for an example, from quite a young age I was determined to work for ICI at Plant Protection Division, and I did, however when I look back the ‘steer’ from God can be quite visible, although when you are there in the moment, it doesn’t feel like it. We don’t have to just sit there and worry about how our life will turn out, or what will happen to us – we can plan and turn it prayerfully over to God and relieve ourselves of that worry.

I was thinking of this passage as I was in the garden at the weekend filling up the bird feeders. Yes lots of people now help God out and feed the birds, however some of my shrubs still have some berries on them, and the blackbird was having a good old root around in the leaf mould finding insects, so there is still plenty of God given food for them. So why do we feed the birds? I think that it is because we care for them, enjoy them visiting the garden; Not worrying doesn’t mean not caring. Maybe some people feel that the only way they can show care for somebody is to worry for them, or about them. But we need to develop a better way of showing we care to relieve ourselves of the worry. Our heavenly Father cares for us, it says that he knows what we need. We need to sometimes give ourselves a shake and remember exactly how much God knows us, he knows the number of hairs on our head, he knit us together in our mother’s womb – put your cares back onto God. Stop worrying and enjoy the life that God has given you, know that it is all within his plan for you.

So now we’ve managed to consider our worrying habits and think about bringing it back into perspective and under control we can consider the second reading – we can have hope for today and tomorrow.

Now this reading is a bit more challenging, I’ve been doing some reading on it in preparation and one author stated that we need to read chapter 8 as the Victory chapter, the turning point in Romans where Paul tries to show us what is awaiting us. But if we are just considering the passage in question and especially thinking about hope I found a really good analogy which I will share. This passage was likened to watching a football game, or your sport of preference, between the team you support and a n other team. Your team isn’t doing well and so you are groaning, probably shouting at the TV. Part of you wants to hope that it will turn out to have the result that you want, a win for your team, however at the moment that hope is unfounded and you are in despair. Then, suddenly in the last few minutes of the game your team turns themselves around, the crowds are cheering them on – you are on your feet in the living room, shouting and screaming as they score the final winning goal. The hope you had in them has been realised. However you feel emotionally like you have gone through the wringer, yet if you watch any of that game on the highlights later on, you will have a completely different outlook all the way through, your despair is not so deep because you know the outcome.  Well this is what Paul says we should be like, our despair, our pain, our worrying should not be too deep because we know that God sent Jesus to die in our place. We can have that hope that it won’t be too bad, we can wait patiently because we know it will be good. However it is worth remembering that this hope needs to be our attitude to life, it won’t always be easy, life happens to us in all its glory and some of it can be a bit tough, we have those worries about those specific things in our life that can swamp us at times. We need to pray daily for hope to arise in our lives, to know that those things that make us worry and feel hopeless have been overcome by Christ’s death on the cross.

So let’s try this all together, praying daily for hope, kicking our worries into touch so that we shine with God’s light flooding us from within – maybe even changing what Charlie Brown thought and having hope for today and tomorrow.

 

 

Its tempting, isn’t it?

Somehow, in this mix of life temptation has become a good idea… somehow in the mix of life commitment has become a bad idea… somehow being careful has become cautious and carefree has become exciting… Words don’t always mean what we think they mean, and they certainly aren’t used in the way we might understand them…

I spent some time with a few pioneering types this morning. Now, 300yrs ago that would have entailed wagons heading out west to settle the prairies, and in my previous work a pioneer is a type of plant that is particularly adapted to extreme conditions, but here I was drinking coffee with some youthworkers- pioneers the lot of them and not an ounce of chlorophyll to be seen (or a wagon either).

Words, eh?

Image result for resisting temptation

So yesterday we were thinking, among other things, about temptation- our Bible passage in the morning was from Matthew chapter 4 – the temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness. (we didn’t record it this week, but we did record Bishop Sarah speaking in the afternoon at our baptism and confirmation service here. So, what did I have to say about temptation… well this is what I had written, but undoubtedly it’s not what I said:

Discipleship and Temptation… Friction, resistance, inertia… Momentum, intention, acceleration, direction… Active and passive… Directionless, intentional… Temptation and opposition…

Take your pick- in football there is the opposing team, in sailing there are currents and conditions, in climbing your own fears and the rock, in music the challenge of harmonising and keeping time with others, in faith there is temptation and spiritual opposition.

In life opposing forces exist. When we deny that we limit our ability to withstand and overcome them.

So Jesus has been baptised, is about to start his ministry, goes into the wilderness- led by the Spirit to be tempted by the Devil… an odd turn of phrase but one that recognises an important truth- that there will be temptations on the path, and its sometimes best to confront them earlier rather than later.

My wife and I were married in July 2004, I was ordained in Sept 2008 when our first child was 1, and a couple of years later we decided to go on a marriage course- it wasn’t marriage counselling, it was marriage strengthening- we chose to attend to our relationship, to talk through things that could have become problems in the future, so that they wouldn’t. We’re not perfect by any means, but we have learnt a couple of things that we know help us, and have a better understanding of what makes each other tick… the temptation is to assume that once you’re married it’ll all be fine forever with no effort required (because goodness knows you put enough effort into the wedding)… and that’s just not true.

In our Christian lives, the best and the hardest parts are still to come after we’ve come to faith, been baptised and confirmed. How many folk have we seen come and go over the years? How many of those have we actually invested time in helping to grow their faith- in their discipleship?

The three areas Jesus is tempted in, and the ways he resists are really important to note-

Firstly- material things… don’t be happy with what you have. Jesus has come to the wilderness, he’s fasting on purpose… but bread would be nice. You have a car/job/house/partner, a shinier one would be nice… His response? Material things are not the only things that matter… Jesus looks beyond the temptation, and he bases his response on God’s words, not man’s opinions.

Secondly- people’s opinions of us and our identity… if you are who you say you are… those worries we have about what people think, of whether we’re doing the right thing… if I do this, what will they say? Shouldn’t I just take the easy option- for Jesus this would have been to go public and let people know who he was in a showy and visible way. For us as the church and as disciples it may be the opposite- to step back from public debate about the important things of life or to concede that the Gospel has nothing to say to culturally imposed values… but either way its about who and what guides us… our identity is as children of God before anything else- before our national identity, before our sexuality, our age, our gender, our career, what team we support or anything… and as such we understand life and read the Scripture from that perspective.

Thirdly- Jesus is then challenged about the basis of his identity- what is on the throne in our lives? What do we worship? Not just have a nice car, but the temptation to make the desire for more and better at the heart of our lives- to worship the god of consumerism… The only place that God can fit in our lives is on the throne… there is nowhere else big enough. If we refuse to allow him that place, then what are we trying to do? Cut out the bits we don’t like? Make God small enough to fit into the box we have for Him? Somehow expand life so that God can still be the creator and sustainer of the entire universe whilst still being less important than… our next holiday- when you stop for a moment to think its ludicrous, but it’s the sort of mental juggling that we find ourselves doing all to often.

And then the devil goes (in Luke’s gospel ‘until another opportunity should arise’). Temptation doesn’t go away forever. Nor does opposition, and nor do our own daft habits.

As Disciples the advice we find in the Bible has two parts to it- Paul advises Timothy to flee from temptation- the evil desires of youth (though middle age and older age have their own evil desires too)…. If we think we can stand up to temptation just by staring it in the eye we’re fools. However James writes that Christians should submit to God and resist the Devil- and he will flee from us- where there is spiritual attack rather than temptation we can, by holding close to God, take control of a situation.

To go back to that image from sailing- you don’t sail towards a storm but you don’t just drift with the currents…

For us- the importance of being active in our discipleship because there are things against us- the natural temptations of life and the spiritual opposition- both are present, both are to be recognised, neither should defeat us if we are wise.

Spiritual wisdom starts with awareness, and is a combination of practicality, allowing God to help us and expecting to have to put effort in ourselves… This has got to work, without God this probably won’t work, somehow it appears to be working…