Thursday, 28 March 2019

Leave a legacy

The final preacher in our opening sermon series was Julie Austin. What follows has two endings, as she adapted for different lectionary variants over two Sundays.

This year’s theme verse is “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” under the heading phrase "I will tell".
Julia told us who the I is, you me all of us, I can't tell your story it's yours, Steve used the hymn verse "go tell it on the mountains" we have no mountains in Living brook a few hill yes, maybe you could tell from the top of your street or road maybe to people in the opposite street the point is to tell. Angie talked about being open and having courage to tell others even if the response isn't what you expect.
The Holy spirit is amazing and always finds away into your mind when you least expect it.
In the early hours one December morning last year I awoke from a wonderful dream, but in this one I could remember everything.
I had just done a full sermon in my sleep it was well received and I was so pleased with myself, I then woke my husband Robin to tell him what had happened , "really! was his reply" even if he can't get to church to listen to a sermon, he now knows you don't have to be in church the sermon will come to you.
At our next bible study meeting I happened to tell Beverley and Angie, and gave them a shortened version of my dream, as I watched a smile grow across Beverley's face she uttered the words, "that's it you've got the Christmas day sermon" let this be a gentle reminder be careful who you tell, but tell I did and I am hugely grateful to Beverley for letting me do the Christmas day sermon it was an absolute privilege.
I started by talking about gifts and wanted to know what happens when they receive a gift, as it was advent I used the five gifts of advent that are represented by the advent candles, Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Jesus.
I had wrapped all five gifts up in lovely wrapping  paper, ribbons and bows with a tag that read to you from God.

I gave out each one to a willing member of the congregation, I asked are you a person who receives the gift looks at how lovely it is wrapped but doesn't open it  for fear of ruining the wrapping paper,? a few people smiled.
I asked are you a person who receives the gift but doesn't have time and is far too busy to open it ?, a few more people smiled.
I then asked are you a person who receives a gift but puts it to one side, you have so much to do but promise to open it later and it stays where you left it.
This went on right until the fifth gift the gift of Jesus this one I gave to a 5 year old boy, all the grownups held on to their gift even though I said it was theirs and the tag clearly told them it was, to you from God, the little boy looked up and said "can I open it now"?, "yes" I said, in seconds it was unwrapped and a pile of paper left on the floor. Inside all the gifts were a candle a cross key ring and this years theme verse, you see this was my point all along some grownups will always find an excuse not to open their gift even if it's from God, but a child needs no excuse to have Jesus now not later.
If you never open the gift how will you tell your story of Jesus.
The Bible is your gift, but one that is full of people who are telling their stories of Jesus, this they left for us, this is their legacy, if the likes of Paul, Matthew, Peter, Samuel, John, Luke, Jeremiah, I could go on.
If they did not tell their stories then  the amazing things Jesus had done would be forgotten.

In one of Paul's letters to the Roman's  he writes 14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” New Living Translation (NLT)
In the Gospel reading this morning we heard about those who are blessed or another word to use is happy.
20 Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Happy are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Happy are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Happy are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
22 Happy are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.
23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
It seems a little odd that we will feel happiness being poor, going hungry, crying and having people dislike us, telling our stories reminds us the reason we are happy is because Jesus fills us we have something better to look forward too. Isn't that something worth telling others about?.
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

have you ever heard of the saying "what do you give a person who has everything"?
those who are rich, who have never felt hunger and are popular, Jesus tells them this is all you will have there is nothing to look forward to. I believe that those people are missing the most important thing they are not truly complete, maybe because no one told them of Jesus and how truly amazing the rewards for them are.

On that day there was one sermon one crowd, but lots of people had different responses the words, just as today as I stand here in front of you I am responsible for my words but not how others hear them.

(Q & H)
In the Gospel reading today we have things in common with the disciples on the boat, as you think about telling your story you may worry that you will be caught off guard and feel un prepared just as the disciples did, but you need remember that Jesus' words have a calming effect, and most importantly Jesus was present with them through the whole thing as he is and will be for you.

No one needs to have a theology degree to tell their story, you just have to have Jesus in your heart a Bible in your hand and a little help from the Holy spirit.
Think about your story and let it be your legacy, how amazing would it be if in years to come someone else is standing here preaching and telling people of Jesus and saying the reason they are doing this is because someone like you once told them their story.

If you ever need reminding of who we should be telling I want to give you psalm 78:1-7
My people, hear my teaching;
    listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
    I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
    things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
    we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
    his power, and the wonders he has done.
He decreed statutes for Jacob
    and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
    to teach their children,
so the next generation would know them,
    even the children yet to be born,
    and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God
    and would not forget his deeds
    but would keep his commands.

so I ask you ,open your Bible, know your story and most of all leave your legacy by telling others. "I will tell".

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Be Open

The third sermon in our 'I will tell' series was preached by Angie Milne, the newest member of the Living Brook ministry team, on the first two Sundays in February 2019.

Julia and Steve have already started our Sermon Series with the theme of I Will Tell.
I – meaning each of us
Will- doing something even if it feels a little uncomfortable
Tell- tell the story of Jesus and all his wonderful deeds

Julia spoke to us about her meeting with the distressed young man in the park that led to a journey of faith for him. And Steve spoke about the Monk and his retreat and how rather than shouting about his faith he developed a quieter existence that drew people to him.

So where do I begin…..I Will Tell started long before Jesus arrived.  A few weeks ago, a reading from the book of prophets Isaiah chapter 62 started “I will not keep silent”, what was Isaiah refereeing to?  Isaiah chapter 35 verse 4 tells us “be strong do not fear, your God will come to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped”. Was this the talk of a Messiah that will come. 
Mark shares with us in his gospel the wonderful miracles and deeds carried out by Jesus in his early days of ministry, Jesus’ disciples witness his miracles and listen to his wisdom and correctly identify him as the messiah.

 Healing the deaf and mute man just as predicted by Isaiah.  The gospel of Mark chapter 7 verses 31-37 tells us ‘Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went into the region of Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and begged for Jesus to place his hand on him.
Jesus took the man aside away from the crowds, Jesus put his fingers into his ears. Then spat and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven with a deep sigh said to him ‘Ephphatha’ which means BE OPEN. The man’s ears opened his tongue loosened and he began to speak plainly.
Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone, but the more he did, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. He has done everything well they said. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak’.

Why did Jesus command them not to tell, was it because he did not want to draw attention to himself with large crowds forming around him having just arrived in a new region, he didn’t want to cause trouble, especially with the leaders of Jerusalem. Was Jesus worried, that the messages about his miracles would somehow change and not be accepted for the miracles that they were. But how could they not tell of Jesus’s good deeds, they had just witnessed something amazing they were overwhelmed, why would they not share this news?  Why would they not BE OPEN.

Perhaps Jesus asking them not to talk was a way of getting them to talk more, you know it’s one of those occasion’s, when your best friend calls you to one side and says, ‘I’ve got something really important to tell you but you’ve got to promise me you won’t tell anyone else’   what goes through your head … who can I tell first or perhaps I won’t tell them all of it, just a bit of the story. Whilst you listen as the story unfolds, in your head you decide if you should keep it quiet to yourself or tell everyone else.  There’s always that person you know that if the story is told to them then everyone will hear about it. We are all very good at spreading the news about something amazing that we’ve seen or heard.  
So why should spreading the news of Jesus be any different? We are all disciples called to spread the good news, are we sometimes embarrassed about our faith or is it that some people just don’t get it, how can they after all we didn’t witness these miracles? Every week when you come to church and listen to the readings, gospel and sermon your ears are being opened to the teachings of God   sometimes, there is a message in them that really affects you, it may be a word, a sentence but something. Do you then go home and talk about that message and how it affected you.  Or is it that you’ve never spoken about your faith or shared it, are you by not sharing denying everyone of this amazing relationship that you have.  What I’m asking you to do is BE OPEN at home, at work, with friends, family with people you meet. BE OPEN about the good deeds that Jesus did but also about your relationship with Jesus.  When was the last time you asked a friend to come along to a service with you, maybe they are just waiting for you to ask?  I’m sure we all ask friends to come along and support our amazing church events and cream teas but how about a service?

 In our Gospel reading Luke chapter 5 verses 1-11 Luke tells us -  Jesus was in the fishing boats with Simon Peter preaching just from the edge of the shore. When he had finished he said   “put into deep water and let down your nets”.  When the nets were cast and a bounty of fish was caught, Simon Peter was amazed. He fell at Jesus’s knees and said ‘go away from me Lord I am a sinful man’– but Jesus said don’t be afraid, from now on you will fish for people.
A few weeks ago in a Sermon from Beverley she asked us to choose slips of paper with words on – mine was COURAGE – Well  I believe that’s what we all need, the courage to BE OPEN speak and share the news about Jesus, there are some people that won’t listen, some that will question you and that’s fine.  We have to trust in all the stories in the bible, even though we didn’t hear or see them unlike Simon Peter but he also needed courage to BE OPEN and follow Jesus. If our ears are opened to the teachings of God will our tongues be loosened to share them…will you have the courage to BE OPEN?

 Jesus is sometimes called Immanuel – God with us, that’s what God had in mind for Jesus to be with us and that’s what he has in mind for us – to just be with other people and talk, BE OPEN and have the courage to tell. So, when you’re standing in the queue at the shop or in the school playground that might just be the place where God need’s you to be and start talking, sometimes it’s just about what’s in your basket or the weather but occasionally the conversation goes a bit further….  maybe it’s the day that you talk to that person and it’s the spark or invitation they needed.
So that’s what I’m asking you to think about and do – BE OPEN – about your faith and your relationship with God – BE OPEN to Jesus – and tell.  Tell the good news of Jesus.

So what’s my story……..

My best friend has two daughters neither have been baptised my friend wanted her children to choose, she comes from a semi practising catholic background and her husband is Church of England.  As families we go on holidays and camping trips together and whilst the men sit around drinking and playing music us ladies and children tend to go off to the local towns for coffee and always a visit to the local churches- they call that part the Angie pilgrimage. My friend has always been aware of my faith and the children are just beginning to recognise it. They have started to question me about bits in the bible and things we see on our visits to the churches, wow Lucky for me my work with Gill and the school’s team has helped me to remember a few bits from around the church I’ve even impressed myself!!!!
 Her eldest daughter is now at university, we don’t see her as often. We met for coffee during the Christmas holidays where she couldn’t wait to tell me about a trip, for her mum’s birthday.  A 3-day Angie style pilgrimage to Rome. To explore and learn more about her faith ……. And when she’s home she want’s to come to an Elevenses service.

So the message I would like to leave you all with today is
Have Courage
And Tell

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Go, tell

In 2019 Living Brook Benefice is encouraging everyone to tell their stories of God in their lives, and to pray for people to meet Jesus. We begin the year with a sermon series given by the Lay members of the Living Brook Ministry Team.What follows is the second sermon given by Steve Watson.

Our Benefice theme for this year is the phrase I will tell and Julia on behalf of the Benefice Ministry Team introduced this a fortnight ago. I too stand before you today to continue the narrative and Angie Milne will carry it on further in 2 weeks time.

My  theme for today is taken from the last few verses of Matthew’s Gospel; these are commonly known as The Great Commission.

Reading from verse 16
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. The Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

The first thing that popped into my mind when I read this was a few lines from a hymn:
Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere.
Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.
Shortly afterwards I read a piece in the newspaper about a monk who had been living on a bleak hill in Northumberland since 1971; first in a caravan and latterly in a house he built with the help of friends. The site now has a church and 4 monastic cells also built with occasional help. Brother Palmer could be described as a hermit but he is not a full recluse having visitors every week or two.

I started to ponder how to square the idea of the great commission with this life of comparative solitude spent largely in prayer and saying the various daily offices. For me the answer is in the epistle reading set for last week and today from 1 Corinthians. Paul describes how each of us is given different gifts; we are not to have all the gifts, but some of them, and we are to work together as a team helping each other.

Brother Palmer’s gift is for prayer and he has used it to provide a retreat where others who want to experience prayer in solitude can come and join him. He has chosen a life not of going out evangelising but of visibly witnessing to God mainly on his own. It seems to me that his vision of telling it on the mountain is to set a clear example of following Jesus that anyone can look up and see. The invitation is implicitly there to come and join him for a while and engage in prayer with the aim of becoming closer to God.

Frankly it is not a life or a lifestyle that I feel comfortable with – for one thing I have stood out on too many draughty building sites in the cold and rain and I appreciate my creature comforts in Piddington. That led me to think about some of the people I have known over the last 40 years and who have prayed in all 3 churches in our Benefice. One of the things that struck me as I reflected was that many of the people of my parent’s generation had a faith that was grounded in a thorough knowledge of the Bible and they were not apologetic about sharing it with anyone. A Christian Life was important to them and it showed in what they said and did both inside and outside the church.

Of course times have changed but I wonder how many people could say of each of us - I can see that they are Christian by the way that they lead their lives, by the example they set, and that they are prepared to justify their beliefs in public.

Today’s Old Testament reading is from Nehemiah. In Chapter 8 Ezra, the priest, reads to a large gathering from the Book of the Law of Moses. This is probably the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible where among other things Moses is setting a way of living for the Jews. Ezra is telling the people God’s word and the people are listening carefully.

The Gospel Reading from Luke Chapter 4 sets out that Jesus has been teaching in the synagogues and today he starts to give a clue to who he really is – he has been already, and is now, telling them what the Christian story is going to be.

Both Ezra and Jesus are speaking publicly, their actions and their words are inextricably linked

So what does Go and make disciples of all nations look like. While I was reading round I came across some figures.
According to research the ratio of non - believers to believers has steadily declined over the centuries.
At the end of the first century (AD 100) there were 360 non - believers for every single follower of Jesus on earth.
By the end of the first millennia (AD 1000) that number shrank to 220!
By the beginning of the Reformation (AD 1500) there were 69 non - believers for every Christian.
 As the last century began (AD 1900) the number was down to 27.
After two world wars (AD 1950) progress was still being made. The number of non - believers for every Christian totalled 21.
By 1980 that number had diminished to 11 non - Christians on earth for every “Great Commission Christian” – those committed followers of Jesus who are trying to spread their faith to others.

To be fair that sounds good; however the number of people on the planet has also vastly increased so in terms of actual numbers there are a lot more people who still have to learn about our Lord

Also a couple of figures from the Diocesan website I found last week:
·       52% of mission is led by non-licensed lay people (31% clergy, 17% licensed). Often not picked up by the system these hidden gems are doing outstanding mission work all across the diocese.
·       77% of all contacts with non-church goers happens in and around primary schools.

Going back to Brother Palmer, the monk on the hill, he was definitely not someone like Billy Graham who was comfortable talking to thousands but someone who interacted with no more than 2 or 3 people at any one time – and that it was where I personally feel more comfortable, along with, I suspect, many other Christians.

So where does that leave us here in Quinton / Hardingstone? How can we show and tell today?

 Here’s a couple of ideas - could anyone help support the Benefice Pastoral Team by giving a small portion of their time to visit a lonely person. Alternatively the Children’s Team are running Experience Jesus days at the end of March for the local schools in Hackleton and Hardingstone. I know many of you have volunteered to help previously at these events and found them very spiritually rewarding both for the children and themselves, please speak to Gill Watson if you can help. We are going to need additional help this year because Gill needs another replacement knee operation and will be out of action during the schools’ visits.

For an action –

At Piddington I suggested that it would be good if we could tidy up Church Walk again and trim back the tree overhangs so that the children can reach the church safely. A lot of people use that path, it’s on the dog walking circuit and it’s another way of showing the church in action.

In Quinton I was very impressed with the display of poppies on the church for Remembrance Day. Is there anything else that the church here can do to show that it is not just contained within these walls.

Here in Hardingstone you can now see the church from the High Street thanks to the efforts of a group of volunteers but is there anything else that the church here can do to show that it is not just contained within these walls.

In our brown hymn books the hymn immediately after “Go tell it on the mountain” has a chorus that goes
Freely, freely you have received;
freely, freely give.
Go in my name, and because you believe,
others will know that I live.

In many ways I think those few lines say a lot about Christian living and sum up what I have been saying earlier.

Go tell it on the mountain by all means – but much better to tell it here in Living Brook in both word and action.


Monday, 28 January 2019

I Will Tell

In 2019 Living Brook Benefice is encouraging everyone to tell their stories of God in their lives, and to pray for people to meet Jesus. We begin the year with a sermon series given by the Lay members of the Living Brook Ministry Team.What follows is the first sermon launching our year given by our Home Groups Leader Julia Javes.

SERMON for 6 and 13 January 2019

Psalm 9 v 1

You may have noticed that in recent years, Beverley has given us posters, cards and book marks with theme verses on them.
This year the theme verse is Psalm 9 v 1

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.”

The three words I want to concentrate on today are “I will tell”.

The first word “I” – who does that refer to?  Does it mean just the writer of this Psalm?  Does it mean just the people who have been ordained, like our Bishops Donald and John or Beverley?  Or does it mean people like you and me?  I would suggest that all of us, who know and love the Lord, have a responsibility to tell others of the Good News.

“I will” suggests a definite intention to do something.
In the NIV bible Jesus said “If you love me you will obey what I command”. 
Why should we love Jesus?  Do we know the Good News of what Jesus did for us?

Listen and I will tell you.
Humankind was designed to have a relationship with God, our heavenly Father.
Humankind found it very easy to disobey God and become sinful.  God is holy and this meant that humankind was separated from God because of sinful ways.  The rift started and as time went on the chasm that separated God from humankind became huge. 
Then God decided that this could not continue and, as it says in the bible “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
We know the story.  Jesus died on a cross, he stretched his arms wide and became the bridge across the chasm which enabled humankind to repent, to say sorry, to turn back to their heavenly Father and be reconciled to Him.

What should our response be when we hear, understand and believe what Jesus did for us? 
I would suggest that we express our thanks by showing him that we love him, and we make a definite intention to obey his commands.

Our last word – “Tell”.  Jesus commands us to “Go, tell….” The great commission in Matthew 28.
We know to whom we have to tell this Good News, don’t we?  Yes, anyone  and everyone who will listen.  It can be a very scary and challenging thing to do.

About 35 years ago, I can remember doing a course on how to tell others about Jesus.  There was a video in which we were shown how not to do it.
The video showed a man who had decided to tell his next door neighbour about Jesus.   So when the wife of his neighbour opened the door, he asked to speak to her husband.  She, being a busy lady, told the man that her husband was in the loft and pointed to the stairs.  The man started up the loft hatch steps and as he popped his head up through the loft hatch he shouted “Have you been washed in the blood of the Lamb?”  Now the husband was so shocked at this that, turning round to see who had asked this weird question, he lost his footing and fell in between the loft joists and landed in the bedroom below.   Needless to say the neighbour made a hasty retreat, mumbling profuse apologies to the wife.

So if that is how not to speak about Jesus, what do we say and how do we do it?  Well, we can learn and soon we will have the opportunity to do just that.
This year’s Benefice Lent Course will be about Telling Others about Jesus.  Beverley and others will, in the coming weeks, be telling you more about the Benefice Lent Course.  There will be two opportunities to learn this most important command that Jesus asks of us.  During Lent on Monday evenings at Quinton Village Hall and on Thursday afternoons as part of the Bible Study Home Group.
So, how and who do we tell about Jesus?
We don’t have to make an appointment or carry bibles about with us.
If we are open and make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit to tell of this Good News, the Holy Spirit gives us opportunities to speak to people about what we know.  

I want to finish by telling you about a young man.

The story of James

  In the village where I used to live before I moved to Quinton, there is a large park area surrounded by houses.  One afternoon I decided to prayer walk around the park, praying for the people who lived in the houses overlooking the park.
As I prayed, coming towards me I noticed a young man who seemed very distressed and was weeping.  I stopped in front of him and as he looked up I asked him what was troubling him and if there was anything I could do to help.

The young man told me his wife had just had a baby girl but both his wife and his baby daughter were very unwell and he was extremely worried for them.  I laid my hand on his forearm and asked if I could pray for him.  He hesitantly said yes, and so I prayed for this little family, for peace and hope and healing.  When I stopped I asked what his name was and he said “James”.  I invited James to come to our Sunday morning service assuring him I would be there to welcome him.  We parted and I continued to pray for James and hoping he would turn up at Church.

Sunday came and to my relief, James walked through the Church door.  I went over to welcome him and invited him to sit with me.  He quietly sobbed throughout the service and slipped out before the end.  But he continued to come to church and I and the whole church family prayed for him and his family and gently witnessed to him about the love of God.

Time moved on and James brought his daughter and later on his baby son to join our Church family.  He began to say the intercessions during our Sunday services.  He became a PCC member and continued to grow in faith, serving the Lord in many ways.

Time has moved on a bit further and now this young man is Chief Inspector with Northamptonshire Police.  What is James doing with his faith now?  
Beverly knows, perhaps she will tell us some time.

“I will tell….”
My challenge to you today and for the weeks to come is:
Let the “I” be you.  The Benefice Lent Course will be your opportunity to learn how.
Let the “will” be a promise of your definite intention.
Let the “tell” be the start of your witness to others of what Jesus has done for you.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Blue Christmas

Address for Blue Christmas service 21st December 2018

With many thanks to Pastor Jennie Lee for the kind invitation to preach at this service.

Those of us here tonight all know the feeling. We’ve been invited to a party and we just don’t feel like celebrating. We turn the radio on and it’s blasting out ‘Rudolf the red nosed reindeer’ and we just want to throw it across the room. Our colleagues are wearing silly jumpers and putting tinsel anywhere they can wrap it, and you just want to be quiet, away from the noise and the fuss and what feels this year like very fake jollity. Don’t they know how tired I am? Don’t they know that I don’t want to be merry?
And anyway, all that Victorian Christmas carol nonsense doesn’t help anyone. None of it was cute, Jesus definitely did cry – he was a real baby, and babies cry. Mary and Joseph no doubt had as many sleepless nights as any other parents, not helped by Joseph losing his job and his home when the Roman occupying army forced him to move to Bethlehem from Nazareth where he’d found work. The real story of this child being born was very tough. It involves homelessness, fear, being made a refugee, poverty, rejection, and terrible loss. We don’t tell it that way, because we don’t want to upset people, or to frighten the children, or to put them off. Instead, December is a series of sweet nativities and carol services, mixing folk stories like Santa with a gilded truth, and however lovely that all might be, perhaps in the midst of it the real truth can get lost, and the vital hope of the story is buried under the glitter and the tinsel.
In a time of trouble and confusion for the nation of Judah, the prophet Isaiah told his king that a sign of coming troubles would be the birth of a child, and that child would be called Emmanuel. The word Emmanuel translates as ‘God with us’, and as Isaiah unfolded his words (which we find in Isaiah 8), he makes it clear that God is with us is a real presence of god in the tough times. The times when everything around us seems to be going wrong because of the selfishness of the nation. god won’t prevent us from making the choices we want to make, because he gave us free will. But when our choices lead to war, to hardship, to opposition, he is with us. Right in the middle of it all.
The story of the birth of Jesus is the story of God with us. God with us in poverty. In homelessness. In loss of life. In times of fear and of anxiety. God, present with us in the worst that the world can do to us. Not waving a magic wand and making it alright – because if God kept doing that, we’d just become a bunch of puppets, and our lives would be valueless. God loves us so much that he gave us the choice, the freedom, to live for ourselves – and the big risk God took was that meant he left us free to choose bad things. He left the world free to contain bad things. Choice and control over our own lives, means that it isn’t always good. Mary and Joseph knew that as they ran, horrified, terrified, desperately sad, to escape the soldiers who wanted to kill their son, and who killed other people’s sons – and please understand that in a close-knit society, children would have died who were Jesus’ cousins, or who were born to friends.  God didn’t protect himself from the bad that is in the world, he came into it and lived though it in the same way that we do.
When Jesus was grown, and travelling the country calling people back to his father, asking people to change from their selfish ways to follow God who loves us, he made an invitation. ‘Come to me’, he said, ‘all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’
Remember that the man who offers that invitation is Emmanuel. God with us – God present in the things that make us weary. God offering not to take away the burden – that might not be possible – but to share the weight of it. God who knows what a burden feels like because he has carried them himself. Come to the man who lives right in the midst of our troubles with us – because he does get it. He doesn’t ask us to party when we don’t feel like it, just because it’s Christmas. He offers us a place to stop, and rest. To lean our heads on his shoulder and let the tears out if we need to. He offers to listen. And this is the deep listening of someone who has been there. Someone who has experienced grief and sees ours. Who has experienced pain and loss, and knows what is in our hearts.
And as we rest in Jesus, that is when the miracle of God with us can change us. God has a big purpose in coming to be with us, here, in the middle of the earth’s troubles. Jesus explained it to his friend Nicodemus: God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
This world, with its wonderful love, and beauty and joys, with its heartbreaking losses and meanness and pain, is not the end of the story. Jesus, God with us, lived, and died, and rose again and shows us the way to the place that he came from. Jesus opens the doors of heaven to everyone who believes in him. He offers forgiveness, and shows us how to live well. We have a greater hope, and as we rest in Jesus, that hope can enter our hearts. It is a real, solid hope. It’s not glitzy, not offering a fake promise – it isn’t a folk story like Santa that we’ll grow up to find isn’t true. It’s there, beneath all the packaging, behind all the loud music – Jesus, God with us, sharing our troubles now, and leading us to a real hope. Isaiah tells us, in Isaiah 11 that Emmanuel’s ‘place of rest will be glorious’. He tells us that the people who walk in darkness will see a great light.
If today you feel you are one of those walking in darkness, hold on to that hope. You will see a great light, You do have a real hope. And all the while you wait for it, God is with us, in the midst of us troubles, offering to share the burden, and to give us rest.

Saturday, 3 November 2018


4th November                    1 Corinthians 15


Faith and hope will one day be unnecessary gifts, for we will see and know what now we believe and trust and hope in. But for now, our faith and our hope are essential, which is why St Paul ranks them among the three most important gifts of the spirit, alongside the one gift that lasts into eternity, love. Our faith and hope are not about what is now, but about what has been – the life and teaching and resurrection of Jesus - and about what is to come – the resurrection of the dead, our own life beyond this one.

People found this difficult even in the first generation, when witnesses were still living who saw Jesus in his lifetime, and who witnessed his return to life after crucifixion. They still find it difficult today. Astonishingly, folk myths take hold and are spoken of as if they were truths, taught to children as if they were more comforting than the truth. But how can it be comforting to be told that Grannie has become a star in the sky, when any child knows that stars are superheated gas balls set massive distances from each other on their lonely orbits. How can it be helpful to tell a child that Old Mr Jones has gone to become an angel? It isn’t true, and so it doesn’t prepare them to handle the actual truth. It seems when it comes to death, people either avoid the truth by indulging in sentimental storytelling, or when imagination and faith fail completely, by insisting that death is the end, that there is nothing beyond it. Because we do not at this time see the resurrection of the dead, many people deny it.

In Corinth there was a powerful group of people within the church who insisted that there was no resurrection. You live, you die, that’s the end of it. Paul, Apollos, Peter and all the others who had led churches in Corinth and taught the stories of Jesus, including of his resurrection from the dead, they were wrong. And so the authority, leadership and teaching of Christian leaders was completely undermined and the faith they taught utterly devalued. And yet these unbelievers continued to consider themselves part of the church, and as they spoke out they damaged the church more and more. Paul wondered why they bothered, because if they were right, and he was wrong, then ‘let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!’

If you don’t believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, or that we can be raised from the dead, then what you do in church is a waste of time. Paul knows, and offers lots of witness statements to back himself up, that Jesus did rise. But if you choose not to believe that Jesus rose, then it follows that his death either wasn’t real or was the end for him. In either case, his teaching, his actions, the miracles, all become meaningless. And if Jesus is meaningless, then so is the rest of the story. If he didn’t rise from the dead, you won’t rise from the dead. And if that’s the case, why are you in church? Go and party, or have a lie in, or go shopping, because nothing in church makes any sense if don’t believe in everything that Jesus is.

Paul was pretty frustrated by this group of effective unbelievers who were exercising a lot of influence within the church and undermining the faith of others. You can see this frustration in the outburst: Come back to your senses! (v34). Paul knew that some of those who denied the resurrection would try to justify themselves by demanding a description of what life after death looks like. They’d see it as a clever question, because of course no one knows what life after death looks like. None of us has seen it, other than those first witnesses of Jesus, which is why it is a matter of faith and hope. Paul’s frustration shows again as he exclaims: ‘Foolish question!’

But then Paul offered an answer to the question which has been definitive for Christians ever since. Let’s look at it this way. Imagine for a moment that you’ve never seen a flower seed or bulb before. You know, because you’ve been told, that if you put it in the ground, it will grow. But what might you expect that to mean? Becoming a bigger flower bulb perhaps? But no, the seed or bulb destroys itself. Apparently, the seed no longer exists. In its place there are roots, and a stalk or leaves. Eventually in the place where you buried the seed or bulb you find something quite, quite different. Could you have imagined it? From just seeing a bulb, could you have imagined a bright, golden narcissus? A narcissus is so very different from a bulb, isn’t it? And this is Paul’s point. The life of the resurrected is brighter and bigger, more colourful, more vivid than we can possibly imagine right now. It is as like the lives we currently live as the flower is to the bulb. The one emerges from the other, but the seed must die in order for the plant to emerge. Our current life is a mortal one, as mortal as Adam. Our future life is eternal, everlasting and spiritual – like our risen Lord Jesus. Now we are like Adam, then we will be like Jesus, and it will be indescribably wonderful!

What Paul describes is far more hopeful and far more lovely than the strange stories that people imagine bring comfort to children or even to themselves. He offers us something to hope for, a glorious end to the life of faith. Without this hope, being part of church is a waste of time, but with it, everything that we do when we worship, when we pray, when we spend time reading our Bibles and getting to know God better, is a preparation for the life to come. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory over death and over faithlessness through Jesus Christ our risen Lord!

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Build up the church in love

21/28 October                    1 Corinthians 14

This sermon begins with reading a couple of verses from the chapter in a language that I am able to read, but that I know isn't spoken by anyone present in the room - in this case, Welsh.

Did that edify you? Did you feel better for hearing those words that you didn’t understand? It made me feel good! Well, actually, it didn’t, because I wasn’t communicating with you. The words were meaningful, and as it happens I know exactly what I said, which is not the case when I normally speak in tongues – I wasn’t using the gift of tongues then, I was teasing you, speaking Welsh. And it wasn’t good for you or for me, and would only have been good had there been a Welsh speaker here to understand the words.

The reason I did it was, of course, to underline Paul’s point about speaking in tongues. Using that gift in private, to grow closer to God, is really wonderful, and I can strongly commend it to you. But in public it is no more helpful than those words of Welsh were, unless there is a way to translate it. My speaking it in this way is basically selfish. And that’s not how the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives us are to be used. Whatever gifts we have, they are of proper value when they build up the whole church. That’s not to say we should only use our gifts for the whole church – we must work at growing closer to God as individual disciples in prayer, Bible knowledge and in the way we live. But in church we must use our gifts to build up the whole church.

Paul tells us that this works by starting with the rule of life that underlies all Christian life. He calls this rule the ‘way of love’ and describes it in chapter 13.4-7: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13.4-7 NRSV). This is the way of life that each of us should strive for. In chapter 14.1 Paul writes: ‘Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy’.

This way of life is a privileged one, but it is not a reserved one. Some people think that only those of us who are ordained need to live this way, or to have spiritual gifts, and especially to have the gift of prophecy. But Paul wasn’t writing to a group of clergy. He was writing to a whole church. All Christians, he suggests, should live according to the rule of love, and ask God to give them spiritual gifts, whether of teaching, hospitality, tongues, apostleship, healing, wise discernment – or prophecy. The point of prophecy, he reminds us, is that it builds up the church. Used properly, prophecy speaks into the present moment, speaking God’s word into what is happening right here, right now. Prophecy can bring comfort and encouragement. It strengthens and affirms. Sometimes it challenges and disturbs too, and seeks to change the status quo, but only ever for the building up of the church.

Being a prophetic voice is not easy. People don’t like prophets when they challenge or disturb. If a prophetic voice seeks to change the way that things have always been done it must of course be tested. But so often across time prophets have been shouted down or shouted at for speaking uncomfortable truths. We take some of those truths for granted now: that we should read the Bible in our own language, for example, that we should update our liturgies, or that the priest should not turn his back on the congregation – or that the priest might be turning her back. Or more locally, it can’t have been pleasant to be the person who first said ‘we’ll have to close the church in Horton’, for example. Perhaps that’s why so many people shy away from asking God for the gift, or look to the clergy to be the ones who exercise it. The clergy are so much easier to blame. But its not what Paul said. All of us are to ask for the gifts and to use them out of the basis of the way of love. Lovingly building up the church.

It’s challenging, especially when community demands clash with the needs of the church. We have to measure our actions against scripture, look at what Jesus taught and ask ourselves how community demands and the good of the church come together. Sometimes they don’t. Paul tells us that we have to think like adults in this, while acting like children when it comes to evil – in other words, to learn and apply our learning when it comes to the way of love, and to stay well away from learning about evil. Unless it is part of our working lives – as police officers or social workers, we should keep away from it. And thus we must pray extra hard for Christians who do have to deal with evil as part of their work. Jesus tells us to be ‘wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ (Matt. 10.16). In the affairs of the church, we must exercise adult wisdom. Millennials sometimes talk about ‘adulting’. Intentionally being responsible, thinking about it properly. Adulting should be loving and unselfish, looking to build up ourselves and others, not to indulge ourselves at the expense of others. So let’s do adulting when it comes to living in love and using the gifts that God gives us to make our church stronger and more encouraging. Let’s do adulting when we try to be men and women of prayer and of scriptural confidence. Let’s do adulting when supporting each other and seeking what is best for the church. Let’s do adulting when we look at the Bible to see what God actually wants us to do for the community around us, and then use our spiritual gifts – most especially the gift of love – there too.