When you ask Why Me?

Sermon on John 17:6-19 Jesus Prays for His Disciples


I imagine many of us have wondered in this last year what it means to be Jesus’ disciple in these torrid times. We may have asked “Why Me”? Why has this misfortune befallen me? Many of us myself included have had survivors’ guilt, why have I been untouched by all this and so many been so severely affected? “Why me” gets asked all the time, it is the subject of many of the psalms.

Its perfectly natural to ask why was i missed in all the carnage, or of course why when I was a disciple of Christ, when I am such a faithful servant was, I included in mess of the world?

We can never truly know, why us. Why has this happened to me, or for those with guilt why have I been spared?
But there are some things that we can take from this prayer of Jesus for his disciples.
Because this is what this is today, one of the longest prayers of Jesus recorded in all the gospels. Most are short snippets, but this is Jesus pouring his heart out to God.

Slightly oddly in easter season we have in this story switched back to just before he was arrested. But the reason this prayer works in and the last week of easter and Ascensiontide is because its Jesus prayer for his disciples is while he is here but for after he is gone.

What does he say in this prayer? What are Jesus wishes for his disciples. Well first off this is him praying specifically for his disciples, that being us, he is praying for US just before he leaves us, and rises.
We have to bear in mind and please note like a lot of Jesus sayings we have to always remember, and put them in a wider context as well, he came for the entire world; he loves every single person in it, but today in scripture just as he’s about to leave us, he prays for us. His disciples.
There’s a lot in this prayer for his disciples, as you would expect when Jesus prays for us. Which is why I may paraphrase slightly but let’s go on the journey. See if it helps put us on some sort of track to hint at some of the questions we asked right at the start, why have bad things happened to us or why not?
Whats the first things he says for his disciples in his prayer to God.


I have made your name known from those you gave me from the world. So, we know our status we have been given to Jesus by God. But he shares ownership, all mine are yours and all yours are mine.
Truly like a marriage, whats mine is yours and whats yours is mine.

Then he asks that we are protected, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name,” so he doesn’t want us to come to any harm. So that is the first thing to remember if bad things happen, is that Jesus doesn’t want any harm to come to us. One of his last prayers is that no harm comes to us. While he was on earth, he protected them all, and only lost the one he was destined to lose.

Then he said he gave us his word, put his words in our hearts and the world did not like that because we are no longer of this world. “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world”

Then he asks us to be sanctified. And sanctified means set apart. But not in a haughty way, not in a grandiose way, or even like a hermit, but sanctified by the truth, set apart knowing the truth that Jesus is the way the truth and the light.

They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by[d] the truth; your word is truth.

Then he says he wants us set out into it.
As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world

So we belong to him and we are not of the world, but he does not want us taken out of it, he wants us sent into it to be truly part of it, but not of it, like him.

In it, but knowing something that sets us apart, that Jesus Christ is lord. Set apart, chosen, in it , part of it, but not of it, because we know that he is the creator of everything, loves every single one of us, and he wants us to share that, help others hear his call. Sanctified, which means set apart to the truth. But we are not taken out of the world, we are sent into it.

So what does all this mean?

So albeit he loves us, and doesn’t want harm to come to us, we are to be sent in to this mad broken , old world and we are broken and we suffer from its brokenness like all the rest of those in it.

Also, that’s something else we can take from this prayer, the disciples weren’t and aren’t saints in the way we often think about saints, they got it wrong lots of times, didn’t really get what jesus was doing up until Emmaus and just after, they ran away from him, argued among themselves, slept when he asked them to be awake. So just as broken as the world they were sent into. However, they sort of stumbled along kind of following him albeit they really don’t know where he’s going or why, got scared, got hungry, got angry, deceitful boastful, ran away and came back . But the next day he was there and so were they whatever came their way.

That is actually sainthood. Keeping with it despite life’s often outrageous misfortune and our fickle nature.
This ,is jesus true love, on display despite all that messed upness, and with almost his last words, and one of his longest recorded prayers here he is praying for us. That’s love isn’t it? When almost your last words are for us, his broken, worrying, scared, disciples, worrying about us, asking for us to be looked after?

Like we are with our children, they may not be perfect, but we love them and we pray for them, and we are always there for them.

Because he knows us doesn’t, he? We get scared, angry, forlorn, bereft, etc e but in the morning he’s here and so are we. In but not part of the world, just as broken as the rest of it, just as loved as all of it, set apart by the knowledge of the only way it works.

SO, us disciples are not excluded from the world’s madness and sadness, but we wobble along with a truth that lights the way to a better way, and a better life.

So to come back to the point of this sermon, when we ask why me? I dont have that answer, apart from to say we were not meant to be excluded from the world, quite the opposite.

We are chosen and despatched into it. He knows we are going to mess up, know we wont always stay with him, we will have doubts and fears and anger, and despair, but in the morning he’s here and so are we.

Why? Why are we?

Because we know he really loves us and doesn’t want us to come to harm, and we know something really really important.

We have been set apart by knowing him and knowing this is just part of a journey to wholeness, a journey whose direction is only shown in our lord Jesus Christ. As we get bumped and battered by this world, as the random madness of it hits or misses, we are called back, by his love , knowing he doesn’t want us to be hurt because he loves us, and we are to try to help others and get others to tag along on that journey.

That is why he sent himself into it, its why sent us into it,
Me and you.

Amen

Where has God been in the last year?

Sermon on John 12 20-33.

Before I start, I would like you all to do one thing for me write down in percentage terms how much God has been a support for you in lockdown? How present has he been? As I am speaking please just put a number , zero being not at all, and 100 a total all-pervading presence. It’s a rough tool but have a go?

NOTE if you are reading this – Press stop and write a number down?
Don’t go ahead till you have answered this question!
!

Just type the number in the comments section please, as I speak? We will come back to this at the end.

The Greeks had come to see Jesus, the gentiles, that is us,
These were strange people knocking at the door, they had check before letting them near him.
Gentiles asking to see a Jewish rabbi was a bit weird, but being as the disciples had probably seen lots of weird, they checked, before possible sending them on their way.

Before we stir up any more problems best check.

So the Greeks asked Philip, Philip told Andrew, who told Philip who, told Jesus. The thing here of course is this was happening just as his own people rejected him, and the pharisees were trying to catch him out , here are strangers, from outside his people, outside his faith asking to see him. Big news if you ask me? His message is getting out!
When asked , can they come in, Jesus does as he often does and rather infuriatingly for those of us who want a nice easy to understand text so that can write a sermon, Jesus gives one of his sideways answers and starts speaking about seeds. Not how lovely let them come in , or what? Not today thank you, his answer is about seeds.

The disciples are probably as confused as ever because after they had plucked up the courage to ask whether the gentiles can say hi and then to hear their messiah say he is going to be glorified and then talk about seeds dying. They probably wouldn’t have seen it as him speaking about himself because of course messiahs don’t die?

Whatever this message means it does sound disturbing. But he tells them he is troubled, so they are probably right to worry despite not really getting it. We do not find out if the Greeks ever got in to see him.

In our gospel reading today, writing much after the event, our apostle John gets it because he’s writing his gospel many years later and he explains to the reader that Jesus did this to speak about , the kind of death he was going to die. So, we are all the readers since then are also in on it, and its with that context we are going to have a look at what Jesus means with all that stuff about seeds…

So what did Jesus mean about seeds and whats this got to do with having Greeks at his door?
What metaphor is Jesus illuminating?
Anyone who wants a crop this year is either awfully close to planting or has put their seeds into pots and is probably waiting for some green shoots (I’m probably late again, I wish Fred was here as he would know). Our fields around us in Wickford have been tilled and are ready for the farmer to sow his crop. As average a gardener I am I know when you plant a seed, you bury it in the soil, and wait. The potato we plant shrivels and dies and becomes many potatoes, the tomato seed disappears as soon as the first root pops out and then the plant takes on a new life.

In or story today Jesus was troubled by what was to come but he knew he had to be buried, lost from sight to make new fruit, he was the seed that had to disappear to make new fruit. He had to head through lent, to the period of darkness that is Good Friday to make easter happen.

Why did he have to do this? I think that’s why the Greeks at his door sparked off this train of thought. Because he knew he was here to make disciples of billions of gentiles rather than just the few that had come to see him. To make that happen and open the gates of eternity he had to die. I think the Greeks at the door may have been seen by Jesus in the same way I noticed the tiniest shoot in my greenhouse this week. A tiny shoot, but not enough, nowhere near what he had come to do.

To make more

He had to disappear to reappear, he was the seed that had to die to make new fruit.

But what do we make of this? What lesson is there for us in this story? How do we relate to this story?

I think many of us may understand what it’s like to be buried this year, our homes have become very small boxes. We have tried to find as many legally inventive ways to be free from. We have been entombed like the potato or tomato seed. We have tried to be faithful servants, and many of us have tried new ways to worship him, via zoom or YouTube. How many of us used zoom for the first time as a result of all this nonsense? But we are all his servants and we remained faithful.

Here in this act of death and renewal , is a message of hope for all of us who have had bad times in this last year. For all of us who have felt this was like a time of being buried, of darkness, maybe we can see the green shoots of spring. Our church has seen itself in new ways, worshipped and carried on and been Christians in so many new ways. Its forced us to revaluate the importance of this building, as much as we missed it we have learnt that we can carry on regardless. We can’t unknow that we are more than bricks and mortar. Also, we have found new ways to reach out, and be church, and we have had much time to reflect on those things that we have missed. I bet very few of them are grand things. A cuddle from a loved one, dinner at a nice restaurant, being able to move around and breathe fresh air.

What long term change this year will bring about ,but online church is here to stay, maybe online bible studies and lent courses. Who knows? So, what will we do differently in our communities once we can reach out again? Asking ourselves what can we do with these new tools we have made will be important things maybe on our next parish day or reflection day at pleshey?

Also when I listen to peoples stories from lockdown its amazing how much of a presence and a steadfast pillar of strength God has been for all of us. How much part of this year he has been.
We can’t unknow that, where to turn when the world goes mad.

So, turning back to Jesus metaphor of the seed,

When we put that seed below the soil, think how pleased are we when it pops up again as a new shoot. Both at prospect of lots of lovely tomatoes but also as a sign of spring.

The end of the burial of the seed and a season of plenty is round the corner, as we approach good Friday the thing is we know Jesus knew it was the only way to easter Sunday. He was of course referring to himself knowing his death would bring billions of gentiles to his door for all eternity and he was going to his death for each and every one of them and us. He knew when he burst forth the world would see signs of spring, for the whole of humanity.

But I also think there’s a message for us who have been buried away for a year now. Hopefully when we can all be together again soon and we will meet with the vigour and joy of what was seen as mundane being wonderful, we can share that sign of spring with others. Maybe just maybe spring is round the corner in this life, as we know it is in the next.

So as we endure the last days of lockdown, maybe we can console ourselves that albeit we have been locked away, locked down, hidden away. When we come back and speak up people will have questions. Maybe the only way we could make new fruit is to be buried, and we have been buried, but who knows whats round the corner.

He knew that the Greeks coming to see him were just the beginning, that was why he answered as he did. He knew he was the seed that would bring forth all the fruit in the world, he was the living water to bring that fruit from the darkness of the soil and set it free and into the light.

I think that might be a lesson for us and a cause for optimism. That all the things we have learned in this period will hold us up and embolden us when we step back into a more open life.
When we emerge from darkness maybe we can bring much light into the world, we can share knowing how much we relied on him, how little he relied on this building and how much of the church was in us

What is your score please comment? Have look at some of the comments I hope have gone up? Some of those scores

Those scores should give us that confidence so that we can tell of our experiences with God and have new tales to tell our community about what being a follower of Jesus is like. When our community says where was God in this we can answer from confidence, from experience he was with me every step of the way. We know from our stripped back lives how important he is to life, we can say that with total confidence because think just for a second how much have you relied on him this year. Hopefully borne out by the numbers going up? We know that much more now than we may have done before, just how much he is with us in hard times
Jesus has been with us in our darkness, he will be with us in the light. He was with us in our solitude, he was with us in our community. We can be the seed that was buried, the seed that fell to the ground but grew into new fruit. We can witness to others how much he has been with us, when people ask where’s he been, think of the number you put up, and know that. Tell others about that number, tell them hes been with us all.

So now as we stand at the gateway the threshold of the literal and metaphorical spring we can take these new tools, these new ways of doing things and move forward. Remembering we are Christs body here on earth, we are the ones he expected to him bear new fruit and he is with us. When he said he knew that the only way was to fall into dust to rise up that includes us.

That’s the lesson here today , that with that knowledge of how present he has been we can help show the world that Jesus is the only way into the light forever so that Jesus that was the seed that died , will through rising again and his body here on earth , make new fruit forever.

Amen

Anna and Simeon – Sermon for Candlemass

How did you meet Jesus?
Have a think about that for a mo?
For some its gradual thing, a growing awareness over time, for some he has literally been with them their entire life, for others it is a moment you can remember. For others he is introduced through friends. For me it was clutching my little red Gideons bible while very lonely in a little flat in the wilds of Dorset and asking for his help. Feeling love rush in that room, and then reading sermon on the mount. Knowing I had been shown how to live, and who to live with, I never felt alone again.

if you were here with me today, I would ask you to tell your story. How did it happen for you?
When did you meet him and When did you know Jesus is lord?

maybe if you are on Facebook share it there?

Because theirs power in that story…

Our witness of how we met Jesus, explaining that story is often our most powerful tool for evangelism, it is something we all have, that story. However, it happens it is our truth and people know truth when its spoken.

But somehow, we all met him, know his goodness, the spirit informed us of everything he is. Whether instantly or over time we reacted instinctively to the presence of him.
For Jews at that time, if they wanted to meet God they went to the temple, and he was God only for a chosen people under the law of Abraham. By being circumcised Jesus came under that law as well. Jewish custom said that the first boy child was given to God. Mary and Joseph followed this rite and did so as poor people as shown by their sacrifice.

This makes what Simeon says so radical, He said the temple, this singular place to meet God is about to be opened to the whole world by this child. Also, this God is no longer just for his chosen People but for everyone.

Interestingly our reading said he was moved by the spirit to go that day and say the thing he said.

so that is my other question?

How does the spirit move you? How do you discern what God wants in your life? Whats the feeling you get?

For me the spirit often feels like a sort of nagging feeling, one I cannot ignore. Until I take action, I cannot rest. Sounds like Simeon was like that, moved to get up and dressed and go to the temple. Then when he got there and met this baby, he was moved to Say something that would have been very shocking to all that heard, our God is now everyone’s God. This baby is going to do that.

, he. Knew the prophecy of Malachi some four hundred years before had come true, he had indeed come suddenly to the temple.

“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts”.

He knew something as well radical for his people, this promise was to be fulfilled in a massively unexpected way, as he said when he saw Jesus

For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

This was a God for more than just the Jews, this one is for everyone, all humanity, a light for everyone. As he stood in the temple for the God of the Jews, he knew that God had opened himself to the world in the vulnerable shape of a baby born to a poor family. This is the child that will grow and tear a hole in the curtain of the temple. No longer do you have to go to the Temple to meet him, he is now abroad by the spirit. The same one that activated him to move, the same one that revealed who Jesus is to Simeon, the same one that showed who he is to all of us.

That in different ways activates us to pray, to be his disciples, to do his will. Its easy to say “Oh yes but he saw him” he saw a baby, and a poor family. But the knowledge of what he is, comes to us in an identical way. The recognition of who Jesus is, is the same for us, identical.
That is what connects todays story to ours today, we have all ,met him in exactly the same way as simeon,

Interestingly he also recognised the implication of knowing who Jesus is. As soon as he meets him death loses its sting because he knew this child is the way to salvation. He utters the words of the nunc dimitus which is latin for “now dismiss me”. “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace” This man knew faith in this child saves you, knew he had been saved and was now unafraid of death.

Anna had a different morning, she ordinarily went to the temple every single day, was probably supported by charitable donations from the temple. When our story calls her an old lady of eighty-four it was not joking. The , the average life expectancy at that time was twenty-nine.
By going backwards from her age to the history of the Jews. We know this lady had seen tragedy in her life on many levels. At the family level, she had only been married seven years and then she had been a widow for the other sixty or more years.
She had seen tragedy at her tribal level. She was of the tribe of Asher which was one of the ten lost tribes taken to Assyria as slaves. Her ancestors had been among the few survivors of that tribe which had been just about obliterated. She had seen true Genocide. Anna had escaped and kept the family tree.

She had seen tragedy at the national level. She had lived in Jerusalem and for the eighty-four years before Jesus’ birth there had been one civil war after another. Jerusalem changed hands from one group of rulers to another – from the Hasmonean kings of Syria to the Roman emperors to the hated Herodians.

So she had led an exceptionally long and tragedy strewn life, and but was at the temple in one of her many days at the temple spent praying and worshipping God. However as soon as she saw the child she knew as well; in the same way we do. Remarkably In among her long and in many ways tragic life she still gave thanks to God. At the heart of our faith is hope, and that hope is brought about by this child. She is speaking of the hope she has found in this child.

After the shepherds and the wise men, Anna and Simeon are the only the third group to know who this child is. The shepherds had the angel, the wise men had the star, I think the holy spirit had a hand there. But these two, knew in the very same way we know.

We here today, and as you listen online have in our own ways had the very same experience. This is NOT a miracle isolated to the Bible, this one happens to every single Christian in the 2.4 billion in the world today, and everyone that ever was and ever will be. What we know is what we are part of love into eternity from the day moment we know him.

Eternity enters into our knowing and we know we are called to it, like that sense of action that drew simeon to the temple, draws us to pray, and worship and act in a way befitting his disciples. And we are called, to eternity in the very same way, we know we are destined and called beyond our horizons, beyond whatever we can imagine.

You, me, Anna, Simeon, and every Christian ever, called and knows him. Anna of course shows us our duty today, and then. “Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” She gave thanks she had met him and told all who were looking for redemption.

We know there is a lot of tragedy in the world at the moment, a lot of pain, and heartache. People made motherless, fatherless, without a husband or a wife. Our death toll of 100’000
is comparable to what Anna saw in her lifetime, but she knew the correct response to meeting this God is gratitude for the hope that extends for eternity. She also knew what comes after the revelation and the gratitude. To go find others who don’t know him. Who have that nagging feeling of Simeon but do not know why.

in anna and simeons day, everyone went to the temple, religious rites were a way of life? Now not so much but the task doesn’t change it is as she did “ to praise God and to speak about the child[h] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

There are just as many who are looking for redemption today, but they do not know where to turn

Our job like Anna’s is to show them who he is. Shepherds, Wise men, and worshippers at the temple are the first who he chose to announce him. Outcasts, Highborn and those who have some sort of relationship with God, who seek him in his temple. Like us. The shepherds and the worshipers all reacted in the same way and told others. I like to think the wise men did when they got home.

But overall, the aim of my talk today was to show that albeit a miracle we see in this story , its an everyday miracle it’s not rare. Albeit a wonderful thing, it is something we have all had happen to us, and all the other billions and billions of Christians ever.

The story today is enacted in every Christian ever, we know he will come suddenly and when we least expect him, the first time we meet him and the second time . Simeon knew the baby had opened God up to the entire human race and Anna knew her next task was to tell them.

Now we know that about him its our job to tell others too.

The sign of the Manger

When I give directions, I often point out landmarks, when people come to my house, I tell them 10th house down with a Blue Audi outside. When you get down my road, count roughly to ten and look out for a Blue Audi. There’s enough information in that direction to think this is about ten houses and the chances of there being another Blue Audi are slim, especially in the next 3-4- houses and the fact it was given to you as a signpost makes it very likely you have found my house…
The Audi signifies that this is my house.

That was the thing about the manger. A roughly carved stone drinking trough with a Baby inside was unusual enough that when the Angels said they would find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in and there he was, they must have been sure this was the child Angel Gabriel had said to go see.
The other thing about the oddness of it, is that it sorts of proves they hadn’t lost their marbles, or the cold had not given them a funny turn, and an Angel really had directed them this way.

Even more importantly if we have seen an angel and he was right about this strange location for a Baby, and they had found them to prove they hadn’t imagined it. The angels were right about one other thing, and this was the messiah. What with the census going on it might be expected a few mothers and children might run away? But the manger was a signpost, this particular baby, in this location, in a rough drinking trough.

The manger was a sign.
This sign of the manger was given to Shepherds. Shepherds at this time were considered as very lowly people in society. They could not give testimony or be a witness, as they were not considered reliable. In a rigid honour based society, they were among the lowest..
So not only was the sign of the manger one of poverty, but it was given to the poorest and those regarded as the most unreliable.
These low born people were also his first heralds. They were the first ones to go and explain what had happened.

God’s and Messiah’s do not in our worlds view enter into the world like that. Our royalty leaves the king Edward hospital in the west end with the worlds press and world leaders as heralds and the woman looks very smart has her coiffured hair styled perfectly with. Dad in a very expensive suit, both smiling, holding the perfect baby as the cameras flash, and enter into a life of conspicuous privilege to lead a life detached from the day-to-day reality of all of us.
This view of royalty is one of detached, entitled perfection. It’s given to us as an aspirational thing. However, as Christians we recognise it is the precise polar and exact opposite of Jesus. But with that in mind we have to come to terms with the fact this place, this location, this poverty, displacement, and helplessness was a deliberate choice of God .God made that choice.

So we have to ask? this way God?
Why hasn’t Jesus been zapped out of the sky, been heralded by trumpets, prime ministers and princes, had roses thrown at his feet. Why hasn’t he turned up on a Gold chariot, with hangers on, mothers hair coiffured with Joseph in a Saville row suit in front of the worlds eager press .
Why has he not been led into glorious wealth, and led a detached life, while issuing ethical advice from said detachment about how we should all live? Why has god decided this way?

This is not an accident, God is complete, in every facet, in every part of his nature and being, he lacks nothing and is in everything. Omnipresent across space and time, knowing everything. However, not content with reducing himself from a thing with no boundaries in time or space, to an object, a creature with form and shape and limitations “the word” the ultimate, the alpha and omega etc. he joins us as a homeless baby

This is a god that instead of standing back and pointing the finger at everything bad. Joins us in it, born into poverty, on the run, placed in a drinking trough , literally in the mess made by animals, scared, met by and announced by societies outcasts. Totally reliant on parents, who themselves are exposed to danger, a refugee, essentially homeless,
That reason for that choice is the same reason I am a Christian, the reason for all the faiths for me this marks out our faith as unique.
Why Lord why? What should we make of this choice?
Because the only God I could ever worship, is one who met me at my lowest, who knows me at my worst, joins me in my suffering, loves me enough to die for, one who isn’t big ,scary and detached. But a baby who you could pick up and smile at, and who needs the care of a scared mother to survive. Who chose angels , a mum and the lowest of the low to announce him?

That’s the perspective the manger gives us, Christianity does not start with “Jesus saves you from your sins.” It starts with “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This means we cannot reduce Christianity to a method of being saved. It is a way of viewing reality and the narrative of scripture should influence our view of reality, how it was made, what are we, where we fit, what are we to God, what are others, etc. This view of reality in today’s shows us a lot about our lord, who he is ,who he chooses, where he is.

I don’t think he ever left the manger really; I personally feel closest to him among the homeless in southend. We often feel him most strongly when we are lost or alone, or scared or vulnerable. This is because this God knows what that is like to be vulnerable, and reaches out. This is where he is today in our story a helpless babe among the helpless, hapless and unreliable

The other person of course who shared this story is his mother. This is a mother’s story. Scholars think by the way that it was Mary that gave Luke this story. Unusually Mary’s name comes before Josephs in the text, and the fact that her reflection is mentioned in this is Luke making it as clear as he could where he got this story from . This is a mother recalling a night no mother would forget a detail about. “ But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”. The other thing that indicates this is Luke making it clear she did these things.

This is a God for 2020 isnt it? When our lives meet the real mess of life. A mother remembering giving birth in a smelly place with animals, and placing your child in the animals trough, on the run, sore, scared, worried, with a fresh burden of a new mouth to feed.

Mary’s prince is probably clearing the dung in the stable, emptying the trough, staying with her despite his young wife having given birth in a very odd way and not really understanding whats happening. His vulnerability is a sign to us , same way the manger is a sign to us, that where we should be, not pointing a finger but with others, helping saving making whole, clearing up the dung. So when we and so many are at our lowest point, I have no doubt that’s where he is, right there with us. Not pointing a finger, but with us, helping ,saving, making whole, loving us.
That’s where our lord put himself. Not by accident, not by mistake, but because that’s where he chose to be. He hasn’t locked himself up on a private island to rule us from the internet. He’s in our pain, in our loss, emptying his completeness into our loss. The angels made sure the shepherds knew him by the very fact of his poverty. The manger marked him out. The mother passed on the story, The outcasts announced him.
Also
The shepherds show us we don’t need to be among the worlds elite to announce him, and that’s such a comfort to me personally. This story helps show that those who may feel themselves or may have been made to feel unworthy can be his heralds, and announce who he is. He doesn’t need the worlds press and the paparazzi, he can have a shepherd, an ordinary mum, or a slightly sweary east end boy.

This story is shared by the angels, the shepherds, Mary when she told luke, and me, and hopefully you.
All quite different beings but all given the same job.
Inthis story we are also shown how we must announce him, where we are to begin when we speak about him.
The manger marks our God out as one who’s selfless love meets us at the lowest point imaginable.
When we speak about him, we must begin at the manger, when the shepherds in our story did as was told in out scripture “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” , they were said to be amazed, almost certainly like us, amazed that God had chosen this way to enter the world. With the lost, placed in a drinking trough, with lowly scared parents, heralded by outcasts.
That gives us all hope , and shows us where to begin when we explain him, not from a lofty perch handing out great advice from above but from the perspective of fellowship of those who may not always feel worthy, but are worthy of being Christ’s heralds. We should be where the worlds at its messiest, and meet it with love, and see the world as inhabited by Gods precious creation worth enough to die foe

When we meet the outcast, the lost, the sad, the refugee, the desperate we have to meet them as if they were precious, parts of Gods creation , worthy of being heralds of Christ, because they are . So wherever you reach out to the lost, dispossessed, helpless angry, and bring peace through love that’s being Christ. Meet them at the manger, from the perspective of the manger, this is a God who met the world from the manger, used it as his sign. Share it from the perspective of the Shepherds,as someone who may be unreliable witness to some but chosen by God to share his good news, or the mother remembering her beloveds first day,
Oh and we share a helpless babe, that shows us that when we are at our wits end, when we are lost, clueless, worried, feeling unloved, scared by the future that’s being helpless is Christlike as well.
We have all had our days in 2020 when it all got on top of us, not known the right thing to do. Grappled with seemingly contradictory demands and tried to work out the least worst option. Felt pretty hopeless doing so, 2020 has reduced all of us to the vulnerability of a baby in a manger. Been made feel less than worthy.

Christ shows us its Ok to be vulnerable, to not be able to do everything. To not know whats going on, to just ad-lib our way through strange days. That’s the sign of the way he chose to enter, today he needs his mum, wants simply to be warm, and loved. He is vulnerable, helpless, reliant on selfless love . This is what our lord chose to be like on the day of his birth, reliant on love helped by people who don’t really know whats happening. Not even Christ can sort it out today, not until the time is right.

That’s the sign of the manger as well. Our lord the servant king, who came to love us enough to die , who today needs to be served by Mary and Joseph and has the both the angels and the low born of society as the messengers of his good news .

The only God that fits 2020, and every year
Amen

Sermon Matthew 16:21-end

In certain respects, our weekly readings can be like watching a film in segments, ten minutes here, then minutes there. Like any film if you watched it that way you would either not understand whats going on, or, perhaps get the wrong end of the stick, or it may be because you have seen the film before you know roughly where we are.

I think this week reading requires a long view, see why people have reacted this way. Essentially to get under the skin of todays reading I think we have to work on a little context. 

Imagine it, a chap comes wandering past you while you’re at a steady job fishing, collecting taxes.

He asks you to follow him

You sense something, drop everything, follow him every day for three years.

Eat, Sleep, talk, pray, wander with him as he preaches in town after town.

You learn to love him with all your heart, and all your soul.

You learn that in fact he is the son of God, the Messiah.  

That means different things to different people. The saviour of your people, or the one that is going to bring back the land from brutal oppression.

Messiahs were expected to bring power back to Jerusalem,  deliver political and military victory over the current occupying force.  . You totally believe in this one. Previous claimants had ended up with
with roman justice, roman empire , roman peace celebrated because the Jewish leader had been killed 

Various Prophets all died, having had their say, tried to get the word of God to be listened too.

But this one , this one was different. He performs miracles, feeds 4000 people , heals people, comes out with stuff that makes the world make sense.

He asks you, one of the chaps that’s dropped your steady job, left your family, followed him for three years.

He ask you Who do YOU think I am – you tell him – you’re the Messiah, and you KNOW he knows what that means, what each and every one of you has invested in that word.  You’re going to put it all back, get rid of the romans, put Israel back on top! You’re going to be all that those very dead prophets promised.

He tells you a simple fisherman, the impetuous one, the one that always gets it a little wrong, that you are the rock he is going to build his church around. Hows that going to make you feel, promised that by the Messiah.  That’s trust way beyond anything a fisherman ever expected.

Then he says – don’t tell anyone I am the Messiah.  Which isn’t denying it at the very least, and confirms it in most peoples  way of thinking about that, and you know in your heart that he is, you dropped everything for him, got more than you ever imagined, saw things that will stay with you forever. This is the son of God.

THAT’S where we step into today’s segment of the story, that’s where we restart the DVD, or pressed play on the Netflix movie.

So with this context we move on to todays reading

From that time on he starts telling you he has to go to Jerusalem, the seat of power that hates him, the most dangerous place any of you could go. Then he says and here’s the kicker.

When I get there I am going to suffer and die!

Because your Peter, the rash one , You sort of grab him by the arm and say “God Forbid it lord this must never happen”!!

So many things would elicit that response, Love for the man in front of you, the fact the man you left your home for just calmly said “I am going to suffer and die” 

The man you believe is the messiah, who said your going to be the rock! Is going to die, messiahs don’t do that! They don’t die!

His reaction is a rebuke, Get behind me satan! Then he calls you the stumbling block to him, (the very opposite of a rock your going to build on).

Then he says, the thing that we still struggle to get because we are human.

The only way to follow me is to deny yourself.

(which sort of works, because you denied yourself a LOT to get here)

Then he says the real mad strange thing

The only way to save your life is to lose it.

Save your life is to lose it,

I don’t know about you, I like to win at things. Scrabble, Monopoly, win at work, win arguments with the wife (albeit that never happens).  I like my football team to win , albeit I support west ham and winning happens only slightly more often than I win arguments at home…

On one level Jesus just said, the only way you win is by losing.  In Alice through the looking glass, Alice finds out the only way forward is to step back, the only way up to go, is to go down. This is like that isn’t it? It makes no sense, sometimes even to us who have the fact of the resurrection, who are post Emmaus.

 For The disciples following Jesus logic meant he just stepped through the looking glass.

Actually what Jesus did was explain the actual only way Christianity makes an ounce of sense. Without this idea when you boil it down none of it works. Get this idea and everything fits, miss the point and it whooshes past in a whirl of confusion.  Things contradict, and jar with the world and his message. Get it and everything sort of works, what he said , and what we are supposed to do.

My mission today is to try and work towards that point, that Jesus was making.

Don’t get me wrong  I dont think we can relax after we get this; but what Jesus was talking about today we have to grasp to make the rest make sense.

It’s a bit like when I was a kid and I missed a lot of maths classes through being ill.  You cant do Algebra if you don’t know how to add up, subtract and divide.

There’s still algebra to come here, but the essence of this story, the principle is right at the core of our faith

Jesus is the ultimate example of self-sacrifice. Why;  because he is an immortal, eternal God , complete in every way, needing nothing, that made  himself small enough to be a man through love. Dying and resurrecting opens the way to salvation for us all, and he has to do that for us all.  Gave us victory over sin, defeated death. 

The mysteries and models of atonement are another day’s conversation.

But there’s also the question of what do we, here today do with this story;
And that’s the other thing  also he’s showing us the only way the world works; and that’s where I want to spend the rest of my time.

He knows that when everyone gives everything to everyone,  then nobody wants. If we give everything to each other regardless of whether we like them or not, nobody wants for anything.   The only way to reach that point is when enough people break the chain of taking from each other, and share love from the limitlessness of God.

We as Christians are taught the only way to make it work is to give to each other, the only way that we make his kingdom come is when give to each other because then we receive from each other as well; to give when we don’t want to, to give when we would rather hold on to what we have.

Fortunately, Paul takes Jesus point and explains it long hand for us,  what does this giving achieve. That is exactly what Paul is explaining today, what Jesus was doing times a million and what we have to do to replicate that in our small way.



Marks of the True Christian (Romans 12:9 – end)

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.[a] 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;[b] do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;[c] for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 
So when Jesus said “get away from me Satan” its because in protecting life, protecting what we have, we take life, protecting Jesus from Giving was being overcome by evil, and he wanted to overcome evil with good.

The limitless giving of our god,  has as Paul explained to be replicated by limitless giving,  giving to each other?

Limitless giving is how our lord saved us, and gave us salvation and

Salvation most academics think is better translated as making whole or healing

Our lord gave everything to make us whole,heal us to be who he wanted us to be

When we give to each other we make each other whole and he wants us to give without limits

That’s the way the world works, do I think we can do that?

I know I can’t, but I have faith my lord will help me try, and that faith gives me access to grace.

Grace overcomes the shortfall, in my efforts  and Ill rely on that.

Jesus knows we can’t, we aren’t able the worlds too broken but he wants us to try. To try and give as much love as we can to each other to try and lift each other up and make the other whole.

So, to conclude
Peter had Grace when he missed the point, and grabbed Jesus arm and said “no that’s not happening” 

We all have grace when we miss the point, that’s why we need grace so much. We as Christians must keep trying, we try because we have been shown how to make it work, how to make each other whole by giving..

Thy Kingdom come is Jesus asking us to do that, make each other whole.

Grace is for the times we miss the point

Father Jo once said to me if I get to heaven I want our lord to say nice try.

I say
Amen to that.

Sermon on Colossians 1:15-28 and Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42)

To Prepare for this sermon I took a ball of string and passed it through the entire congregation from the back to the choir.

Please sit down

May the words of my mouth

And the thoughts of my heart be acceptable in the sight of he who Protects, saves and redeems

Thank you for having me.

What I want to do today is join two of our readings together Colossians and Luke

To do that I need a piece of string shared out

(start at the back and wind to the front)

Once done ask them to get the notices page and let’s look at today’s readings together.

Imagine that piece of string Is Christ, and as it says in our readings today, he is the beginning and the first born. So although we began our piece of string here in this church it really begins with Adam, the firstborn. And it goes on through creation.  as we say when we  pray as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever

So if you have hold of that string you have hold of eternity

Also like the string which is holding us together it says in scripture in him all things hold together


The other thing about that string is that like all metaphors its not perfect because if that string was really Jesus then it would be IN you!

So that’s what paul means when he says the
Christ that’s IN YOU – Christ in you, the hope of glory

Cos that bit of string starts at Adam and goes on for eternity. Have that string in you and you’re joined to eternity. If I pull this string that’s the pull of eternity.

Also in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. So if that the metaphor that string represents is Jesus, and that string is in you then God is in you, eternity is in you.

Paul uses the term “in Christ” in many ways Union, participation, identification and incorporation.

I think we can see many of those themes in today’s reading.

Also the other imperfection of today’s metaphor is that the string isn’t a living, sentient thing.

Christ of course IS. He is a LIVING LOVING GOD in all things and like that string through him all things bind together. He is the string that makes creation whole.

Also when we feel pain, when we suffer he suffers. People sometimes ask where is God, in suffering?

He’s in that string? He’s in us, he suffers with us because ha cannot suffer, he HAS to suffer with us as he is IN us. He takes that pain, that suffering, that sin and absorbs it into the string that binds us called Christ.

Also, Christ is the cure for loneliness because we THINK we are separate human beings. But I want you to TUG that string a bit.

When you tug it, the person next to you feels it, because the same thing IN you, the Christ IN you is in the next person, so the interplay the action, the reaction is shared by others. 

Christ resolves the incognito of the other, we are ONE with every single human being here today that lives and will ever live.   Our lives are ripples, everything we do ripples along eternity , felt by those around us.


We truly never suffer along, because the suffering lord suffers with us because he is IN us.

He created us, planned us; there is NO break in that string, he knew your place in the string that binds creation before you were born.

Because he present tense  IS  simultaneously in every person that ever lived, and ever will live he knows every person you knew, know and will every know right now simultaneously.  Because the string is unbroken through every single person ever. He knows them present tense.

This string that binds us absorbs our sin, our hate, our anger and shares love.  Makes us right as me move along our place in the story towards the eternity he has prepared for us and knows already.

This string that binds us to eternity knows it and is in us, we know eternity and we feel its pull.

As it says in our reading today, the Christ in you is the hope of glory, attaching you to eternity, presenting you to god mature in christ

Lastly to tie the Martha and mary reading,
I think we imagine ourselves as either Martha or marys, too busy to really be with Jesus. Or happy to sit and listen to him. The active or the contemplative. Truth is we are all mixes of both.  Sometimes we bustle about, sometimes we contemplate, as the rhythm of life slows down and speeds up.

Also we look that this story an almost historic, a thing of the past a bible story.

We cant see Jesus like martha or mary, so it’s a nice metaphor but they had Jesus in the room?

  I want you to do a very unbritish thing.
Take a real look at the person next to you, look at them holding that string, That string that represents Jesus.  Know that string is in them. In every person you meet, will ever meet has ever met, That string created, planned and loves them. And he did the same for you.

so when we contemplate our fellow man we contemplate the Jesus in them.
when we love our fellow man, the Jesus in us that loves us, loves them too,

we can join in that story too real-time. The Jesus that was present in the Martha and mary story is present here today and goes on like a continuous thread through all creation

Let us pray.
Lord help us to know you at all times in everything we do.
We know that you bind us together and are in all your creation, that as it was in the beginning , is now and will be forever .
You Our lord are present,  When we love you, we love all your creation because your love is in all creation for all time. Help us to to take time to notice you in everyone we meet and love them as we love you. In Jesus name  Amen

Jesus for beginners (and those that need reminding)

As you walk through the main entrance of any church , look up and you will see a statue of a man suffering on a cross, look around and you will see him again and again. We hope one day you will meet him in all manner of ways, times and places.

jesus on a cross

If I might take a few minutes of your time, I would like to introduce you to the core character in Christianity.

The man you can see is our lord Jesus Christ the founder and perfecter of our faith, who endured that agony for you (Hebrews 12-2).  To the reader of this guide, please note he did that very specifically for YOU.

You may wonder how a man, who lived a long time ago, had you in mind, long before you were born. You see that man; Jesus of Nazareth is both man and God…

In Psalm 139 it says “In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed”.  That psalm says just how inescapable the God who made you is.  To truly separate you from God would be like trying to take the milk out of your tea, after it has been poured in. He said “He is in God, You are in Him and He is in you” (John 14:20).

The implications of him being a God and dying a horrible death for specifically you are quite clear. He let that happen to him, he chose that death. He wasn’t guilty of any crime that he had committed, he was paying for yours.    Peter who was one of his disciples said that he never sinned, he never told a lie (1 Peter 2:22).   So that’s an innocent man up there, who chose to die for you.

So why did he decide to do that, and why did he need to do that for you?
The why

The why? Because of love for you, a love that means he wants to be alongside, in you, around you, every step of the way. Not just in this life but for eternity.
Every sin large or small, every time we mess up, every time we hurt each other, are angry, or deceitful, every time we are unkind, uncaring, or just not caring enough.  That man is paying the price for all those moments so that you can join him one day in his kingdom.  Can you see how broken he has allowed himself to be?  How he has allowed himself to become the object of ridicule by those that don’t understand him, or know who he is? That is entirely consistent with who he was in his 33 years on earth.

In his mortal life he kept company with the marginalised, had those most reviled by society as his closest confidants.  He healed the lame from the poorest parts of his society, showed love to the people who society starved or threw stones at. He spoke to those that nobody would speak to. Indeed he often held those same people up as examples, templates etc.

Unforgivable would mean that you are beyond the reach of his love, and nobody is, because you are his creation, and you are in him and he is in you, right now.
He is naked because, the people who did that to him stripped him of everything, drew lots and sold his clothes, then on the way to being put on that cross they pushed a crown made of wicked thorns on his head.
They ridiculed him, and they laughed at him as he died slowly on the cross.

The crown was due to the fact they had come to the conclusion that this man thought he is the messiah, and the world couldn’t imagine that someone who is the messiah, both God and Man would let that happen.  But he did, and he does.   He had committed no crime, and went, willingly.   The crime he was paying for, the punishment he was making atonement for is yours and mine.

He does the same today. He loves you and me, despite any shortcoming you or society may think you or me, ever had or will have. Nobody is beyond his love and he accomplished that by being made as low as you see him on that cross.
The him and you

If you ask him into your life, he will make you the best “you”, you can ever be, he will also change you, and build you,  so that you can become that person, he will live every step, every moment of that journey.  He will forgive every stumble and spur you on again.

Your world will change, maybe only how you think about it, maybe in reality.  His constant love will transform you from the inside out; you can’t stay angry or bitter, or afraid, or scared, or jealous when being given such love, and support and a foundation for your life.

He does ask that you ask him, that you choose him, you have free will. Ask him into your life so that he can transform it by transforming you.  He asks that you believe his words and try to follow them, and he asks that you believe in things you cannot see, but can feel and interact with in your heart and through prayer and see in your life.

In return your life will be transformed by love.  Your life will be truly changed in every possible way for the better. We don’t do the prosperity gospel in this house, so don’t think your bank balance will explode, but your wealth will be in the joy and contentment, the end of searching for the next big thing, or following the herd.  Why, because you have found the biggest, best thing of all.  The things he will give are not destroyed by moths or rust, or indeed anything this world has to offer.

There’s loads of other stuff that he did that you may feel drawn to do,  help the oppressed (Matthew 6:1-34),  share your bread (Matthew 25:37-40),  show love to everyone (Matthew 22:34-40),  clothe the naked (Luke 6:29-30), feed the hungry (Matthew 25:37-40), never lie, let your yes be yes (Matthew 5:37),   don’t be greedy (Luke 12:15), don’t judge others(Matthew 7), etc.

But honestly all those things happen a lot easier with his help, and he helps you lots. Indeed you try willingly because you can see when you share his love, and help those he created he creates a new you, in you outside of you, all around you. He creates in you a joy at seeing these things, a new lens on the world, his lens.

This building is populated in the main by people that try and share that lens, they share his love, and wobble along fallibly trying to be like him, and follow him and they are part of the “body” of Christ. They are Christians, and they are as unique, as precious, as broken and wonderful as you.  The fellowship of that body of Christ is a wonderful, enabling, supporting, aspect of being with him.

Where is he?
This God is with you, alive and helping you right now, every second, every moment.  Not a God to punish, and judge, but to assist and care and help you come to him. Not a God shocked into anger by your sin, and unwilling to help. Not a God cowed by whatever your burden is, or whatever the world has burdened you with.
Not a God who wrote the instruction manual and wandered off.

Albeit, he is shown up on high on a dais in our churches, he with us and all his creation high or low, alongside lifting you up. Not up there, down here, a servant king right he in the mess and muck of life. Wherever it gets the most horrible, sinful, oppressed, messy, nasty, brutal, poor in whatever way you can be poor, angry, etc. That’s where this God is found.
There’s no place in your soul, he can’t lift up through love. His forgiveness becomes yours. You are forgiven, in turn, in time you will forgive.
This is a God who wanted to lift your burden from you 2000 years ago and he wants you to give it to him so that he can carry it. He wanted that SO badly he died to do just that.
An even more amazing thing is that although he is shown clearly dying up there on the cross, he isn’t dead. That is why I keep speaking in the present tense about a man clearly dying an agonising death?

He did die, on that cross, and they brought him down, and covered him with sheets and put him in a tomb and rolled a massive rock over that tomb. Three days after he had died, they looked in that tomb and the man that was dead had gone.

He then showed himself and spoke with his disciples, and when many people had seen him, spoken to him, even examined the wounds inflicted on his body, he rose to join his father in heaven.

The Father had sacrificed his Son on the cross, so that you can be with him today and forever. Jesus is that Son. Death has been defeated, love has conquered evil, your debt is paid and your life however lowly or broken, however wrong it has been or will be is loved by the man you see right up there.

Death will become an illusion, a stage, a transformation, a chance.  All the errors you or others have done in your life can be forgiven; you can start afresh, born again into a new you.

However, as I have said, the essential step in all of the above is asking.

How you ask him to help, is through prayer, he is waiting right now for you to make that prayer, and the second you do he will rush to help. Doesn’t matter where you are, or where you have been. He will rejoice, and bring you close, with a love that has no memory.

Billy Graham had the prayer for the moment that you decide to do this.
If you’re feeling ready sit yourself down in one of those pews, and maybe look up at the man suffering for you, waiting for you right now.  Then say words something like this…

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow you as my Lord and Saviour. In Your Name.

 

Amen.
I pray that whoever reads this guide to who that man up their does just that.

Join me in the body of Christ. It’s wonderful.

 

References

 

Billy Graham “Sinners Prayer” Various Youtube recordings of him.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTX9DctytUk

 

Biblical Quotations and References From

Holy Bible with Apocrypha, New Revised Standard Version [Anglicised edition) (Cambridge University Press 2007, (Reprinted 2015)

Are you feeling useful today?

Are you feeling useful today?

Have you done the washing, the ironing, mowed the lawn? Do you feel like you are contributing? What does your internal dialogue about how you value yourself, what does IT say about you? That voice we all have that “judges” what we say and do and what we think we are?

Does your value depend on what you do?  In France when redundancies occur for any reason they suffer the highest rates of suicide in any developed nation?  What they “do” and what they “are” it seems have become so inseparable from their own self-worth that divorce from your job becomes unbearable.

When I see Kim Kardashian and the media inspired celebrities do something more and more desperate to become the cause celebre of the moment, I wonder what it is that makes them need that, and how and why the fleeting light of peoples ever shrinking attention spans matters so much?

Those are extreme examples but sometimes through parenthood, financial constraints, physical constraints we cannot perform the duties we feel make us “useful”, or the perceived lack of other things that that we use to measure our own worth. Mobility, disablement, isolation, separation, weakness (internal or external), money, skill of some sort that we lack or used to have perhaps?

However these value systems we hold and create and need so badly it seems has very little to do with how God see’s us.  Using this value system the bird’s song that he created is only useful for warning or attracting a mate? A peacocks plumage the same?  Churches with LARGE congregations are successful and those with smaller ones less so.  People who have more of X or Y have or are worth more.

However I think God shows us through scripture repeatedly that his value system is totally at odds with this utilitarian view of the world. His love is not as a result of our usefulness.
We so earnestly try as Christians not to judge others and we can be so harsh on ourselves.

Does God see the single earnest prayer offered up as less than a row full of pews perhaps wondering where tonight’s dinner will be? Even if that entire church is full of people in earnest prayer are they valued less than the single one from a less full church?

If we toil away in his duty, or for others, without success but with our hearts fixed on him? Is this of more or less value?

If we at home cannot contribute anything more than earnest prayer, or love for our children, or advice from wise caring heart? What value do you attach?

But it’s even more than that, lots more.

If nobody comes to hear this advice and all the wisdom we have never gets heard except by our father in prayer and nobody but he can see the goodness he has created? If as in the Beatles song Father Mckenzie is writing a sermon that nobody hears.

If our love is taken for granted, as we wash for others, iron, pray, feed.
Does God see our hearts as lesser?

I think it’s even more than that even if we are unwise, our faith weak, our prayer faltering, he knows our heart and knows that how he made us THAT is our best effort.

When a child brings you a picture so BAD (in utilitarian terms) that everything in it has to be explained by the child, our heart leaps because it’s our child and he thought to bring it to us.  I think that is how God see’s even the worst prayer or thought of him.

In St Andrews at the end of each service the kids bring the pictures they have made during the service up to the front. Generally they are on a theme of the season or Star wars or whatever is occupying our thoughts.  We don’t value those pictures any less or more if they are brilliant or bad. All of them are seen as equal and for most it’s one of the best bits of the service.

Children’s prayers are often simple, and nearly ways from the heart, about home, about love about Sylvester the cat and when included in prayers of intercession always contain some truth that we as adults in our quest to go deeper than the shared love between us and our pet misses. A child see’s that of enough value as to be the thing he brings to the front of the church to show the whole world.

God’s love see’s our grown up prayers, and the child’s prayer for thanks for my home, or for my cat as equal and from the same fallible source. Indeed we are asked to come before him like children and there’s something in that.

Also you don’t play a game or colour a picture with a child to show your superiority. God is like that too he made us infinitely simple creatures (compared to him) and enjoys our company. Takes intense interest in every detail of us, as Jesus says “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered”

In the same way “play” when seen as time taken away from useful time, and the arts are all prone to attack from those who see them as commodities.  We at times see ourselves in the same way; we attach a value system that is of the “world” to ourselves.

Jesus said to the Pharisee’s once “”You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts.”

Psalm 139 says “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” That is how well he knows you.  Yet still he loves you.
Someone once asked a prison chaplain “What is the point of loving bad people if loving doesn’t make them change”? God’s answer to that is plain, I think the answer is God loved HIS bad people so much he gave his son to save us from ourselves. As another psalm says “God’s love never fails”.  He Jesus said that he gave us “the way the truth and the life” so that we can come close to him. Jesus gave his very own life for the same reason.

In that case how much of a dichotomy is it that we use a different measuring stick with which to beat ourselves with, when we consider ourselves less than useful, less than worthy,  use the values of a world that sees everything in utilitarian terms to judge ourselves.

God shows us again and again, in his every act that is not how he sees us; his values are NOT attached to what a world that drifts ever further away from him and even we in our sometimes weaker moments perceive as “without use” lesser, weak or unworthy.

In those terms, the world’s terms God made useless beings, and we can do no more for him than a one year old being asked to make dinner.  Yet we as Christians know,  and are told that he loved us so much he gave us his only begotten son, gave us the holy spirit so that we can share those awful childlike drawings of our prayer.

The difference is unlike us who have to “ask” our children sometimes what the drawing is, God knows our hearts and never has to be shown.

So next time you don’t feel of value, of use, if your wisdom is locked away, if you want so much to give but for whatever reason can’t and feel unworthy for that. Remember God’s infinite love and the things he values us for, and ultimately YOUR value in every way that truly matters is neither attached, related or dependant on anything like that.

Its really simple God wants you to offer up whatever you can to him, and he loves you SO much. No matter how broken, no matter how imperfect or how unworthy YOU think you are you are Gods children and he loves that you gave him your imperfect drawing.

Lent Reflection on Sin

This piece was as a result of an experience I had during lent, and the things I learned from it. I felt really quite bad, and then started praying and reading.

When god came into our lives and we gave our hearts into his hands and returned to him his creation. We came home, we came back from the world. Like the prodigal sons that we all are, when we return God’s love enfolds us and we move on.

We aren’t told what happens to the prodigal son after he came home. I think we assume he never left God’s love again and lived in harmony with the father.

Hopefully he did.

But for some old habits and bad ways come back to haunt us, in weak moments, in rash moments, through all the ways we let the devil lead us astray. All the ways we leave the door open for him to take us away from Jesus desires for us.

We feel ashamed, we pray for forgiveness. Myself I wonder how long before I can feel myself to be back from the distance sin creates, that we create by our sin.

However that sadness and guilt we feel, if it has any positives is us learning by bitter experience what sin does to us. Each time we come back and beg him to repair the damage we need to remember.

We have given ourselves to him and we are chosen. While our bad habits might come back, and we should try every day, every minute never to sin again. To pray for support, and to be made inside the way that he wants us.

Repentance with humility is just one way God works through the chaos of our lives and our weakness.

As he says in Psalm 51

My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

He uses our reliance on his grace and our repeated failures to repair us in his image.
So right now, put on the full Armour of God and try your very best, and always repent with a broken and contrite heart.

Remember , whenever and wherever you wander, god is waiting for you to turn back to him in love and utter dependence on his grace. That realization of that dependence is a critical lesson that our lives simply cannot function without his grace and we rely totally on it for any hope of salvation. Our only solace is that he will use that repentance and through his mercy will bring you closer to him once more.

My First Talk – Be Visible.

I often write on social media about various musings on God, his word and how he affects those that live in him and he in us. But this was my first time in front of a real audience and my parish and those that I love and worship with every week.

First OFF
Anyone who hears this please remember, This is just MY thoughts, and “a” way of expressing things” not the way, every one is just as valid

You are the first bible people meet.
I joined our Parish two years ago or so now without any idea about who or what the church was and is. It was quite hard for me, I had zero church background and knew nobody from the church (or didn’t know I knew anyone from the church).  I had a relationship with Jesus forged from years before when I was very lonely in a flat down in Bournemouth.

Born into a very noisy active family down in forest gate in among the bad boys I got given the chance to move to Bournemouth through work. I decided this was my chance to get out. Change my perspective Change my life.
Thing is being young and silly I bought a flat in Bere Regis right out the back, with nobody around. Beautiful, isolated, and for a city boy from a 24/7 family a very lonely place. I had zero social life and albeit some very good friends came with me I was at the end of each day, alone.
One day in my bedroom I was so lonely I picked up a Gideon’s bible I was given at school and said “Jesus I really need you, if you’re real please help me”

My room at that point was filled with him, his love and it was SO real I could touch it. From that day to as I stand here now I have had an active relationship with Jesus.

He is right HERE (at that point I pointed to my heart)

The years passed and I never went to a church because I never felt like I needed too.  Then after drifting away for a long time I came back, and this time I really did want to join, but again just never knew HOW to join, what the culture was like, what the people would be like, are they the harsh judgmental souls represented by the American church?
Are they leaping round like the charismatic, are they very serious, are they, are they and so on.
Is it boring?
All sorts of excuses, plus how do you choose?
All religions are the same?
What are you good people Like?
I never knew
Then one day (he asked me to say I was Guided by the lord) I met a very outspoken (in everything actually) Christian called Hugh Southon, and we met through mutual love of all things west ham, I am a bit of a west ham anorak, and quite a good blogger and very good on social media, growing a west ham page to about 5000, but it was the non west ham chat that changed my life.
I was telling him that all religions are the same. I was in the position at that time of having spent 30 years arguing with a Jesus I was either trying to prove existed or didn’t, I spent all my time in philosophy and alternate religions seeking him so I could deny him

I’ve tested you out and really I don’t know.

Hugh and his friend Caroline were arguing that Christianity was “the” religion, because Jesus was alive”.  I said it’s the same as all religions.

Caroline quoted John 14:6 “I am the way the truth and the life and nobody comes to the father except through me”.

She said that if that was not true, then Jesus was a liar.

This ultimatum rather stopped me in my tracks, forced me to make a choice, and forced me to find a way in through the church door, through all the stereotypes, baggage, and cynicism of a world that really is increasingly distant.

I sent a LONG email to Jane and here I am.

But it was very clear the final catalyst was because someone in a public place nailed their colours to the mast and said “I am Christian, this is what I think as a Christian”

As I grew into the body of the church I found the problems we are all aware of.An aging congregation was a problem for the church as was a shrinking one.

That’s really sad because once very soon after I joined while getting my ear healed through prayer (story for another day) I was asked “what do you want”  A very deep truth spilled out of me when I said

“I want others to feel like this”

and I do, Very  badly.

Why because I meet homeless people who so need to forgive or his forgiveness, I meet anger and greed and they so need his love.
The world needs his love, the refugee’s and the disenfranchised all need Christian love.

Assad, Isis, David Cameron, Donald Trump, All the big corporates like Amazon, banks, all need it, all the big countries, all need his love and to follow his example. All of the people, in all of those things.
They all need him.

The world Need’s him

However we can be a bit silent, a bit invisible.
The question is WHY?
•    The ever more secular growth makes us feel unusual.
•    The angry atheist, makes us feel vulnerable
•    The people that think Christians are homophobes, or judgmental make us feel   vulnerable.
•    The news where companies that sack people for wearing a cross, that persecute the church and those that speak out.

The problem is, that in a world ever more moving away from us, a world very much LESS exposed to the bible than people have been for centuries, as someone said the other day.

You are the first bible people meet.

All of you,all of us.

We have to fill that gap, and that means being in plain sight?

We have to speak out.

But with our voice an ever shrinking demographic we must speak and go to meet a world moving away from us.

There are ways to do this, when you’re at work and someone asks “where are you going”, Say “off to Christian studies”.

When in a few weeks’ time someone says “what are you doing over
Easter “ Say I am a Christian and that means Holy Week, so very busy in my church”

In the pub, wear a lapel badge, state who you are, be more visible, be where Christian voices don’t normally go.

On social media chat pages, in work, at football, wherever you go.
Maybe pin a line of proverbs up at your desk (good news bible versions of this are good, the use of normal English makes them easier to use)

“The Lord has given us eye’s to see with and Ears to listen with”

Or

“The Customer always complains the price is too high, but then goes off and brags about the bargain he got” (both in Proverbs 20)

Be the first bible people meet.
So that they know a Christian, and respect that example and can ask you for a way into a culture ever more distant from us, ever more needing us, but like me a long time ago, arguing with him, labeling him,

It’s not enough that we think that being a “good person” is enough of an example because, if they don’t know who you are?

It should also be that they know you’re behaving in a certain way to glorify and follow Jesus.

If you are doing these things I apologise, but really its beholden on all of us to find a little of our inner Jehovah’s witness 

Evangelism can be as a result of direct action, as a result of being a special human being.

But to make a real impact to change the tide?

We have lost a little bit through fear of being exposed or ridiculed or by not being a natural extrovert like me it’s just stating it, in conversation, at work, in the pub, at the football, on social media.

I think also we have a thing that makes us not want to “show off”.
I struggle with this too, because we are told not to show off our good works, because we are supposed to be servants, and not raise our profile.

But we must spread the good news, and by being simply “visible” we can enable others to ask, to come in, to see what we are like and what we can offer, what living with Jesus does to us, and what living with Jesus can offer the world, as a voice.

We can explode myths, and open up, and destroy parodies, and stereotypes.

We can be the first bible people meet, and speak openly about it, with love for and too everyone and make ourselves the sign on the church door, and be gods mouth and heart.

The end result of by doing so is to open the door before they come to the door.

Make the world want share in his real loving care

My experience of this, is that at first when you speak into a place where his voice is less often heard you meet anger, and angry atheists.

“He” doesn’t want you there.

However after a while you find other voices, curious, accepting, loving, and helpful.

But we do live a little in fear of being the first voice, Christianity teaches you last first, don’t pray in the open etc. etc.  We think faith without deeds is nothing and all those things are true.

But in simple terms how in today’s world where I once was, HOW would we the body of the church find ME three years ago?

I didn’t know a single Christian, or so I thought, I found them after, and the first openly Christian voice I met brought me home.

I don’t think I am alone or special in a secular world.

The question is how can we move that voice back into relevance and fill our pews again?

Only by moving our voice into plain view everywhere.

Not only in events, or on our good deeds, but in casual, but fearless conversation with our fellow man.

What we do now in some respects is like “quality time” that idea that when we spend less time with people and our kids that we can achieve just as much because we are focussed.

But truth be told we can’t and our families and friends and kids blurt things out over dinner, over the coffee machine, a pint, before the first goal whenever.

Because that’s when it hits them?

As peter said

1 Peter 3:15
“always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”

If we can be visible and open we can be around when it does.

Then because we can open the bible, simply by our words given by grace, clinging to the foot of the cross and open to him.

We can be the first bible people meet.
As they may not meet another.

Be visible.