Sunday, 29 December 2013

Preaching at GMC 29.12.13. Sermon

Sermon 29.12.13 GMC
The last time I preached here on the second Sunday on Advent, we talked about seeing or experiencing the Kingdom of God arriving in great power.  Well, I guess you might agree that this is pretty much what happened to the people in Bethlehem on that first Christmas.  If we look at the accounts from Matthew and Luke, we might well agree that the Kingdom of God had just hit the town and people of Bethlehem square in the face.  A group of Shepherds, minding their own business had had their lives turned upside down.  Suddenly they are given a place at the top table at Jesus’ birth!   And then they get a visit from a diplomatic mission from somewhere near Babylon probably.  These VIP visitors bring a selection of gifts to a young teenage couple who have recently given birth to their first child, in less than palatial surroundings.  Quite literally, the world will not be the same again because God has arrived… albeit in a manger.  What happens next of course is perhaps suggestive of the way this child’s life is going to pan out.  Almost immediately, someone in power and authority wants to kill him.  Mmm…That bit doesn’t quite fit with the tinsel and turkey festival that we have managed to turn Christmas into does it.

I would like to use this opportunity to paint for you an alternative picture of the first Christmas.  One that is light years away from the nice fluffy image we have developed in nativity scenes played out in schools and churches up and down the country in the run up to Christmas.  A few weeks ago someone said to me that they felt angry with people for messing with “our Nativity”.  And there is part of the problem.  It’s just not OUR nativity at all.  At least not the real one.  It happened approximately 2000 years ago in a middle eastern village/town about 5 miles outside Jerusalem.  The story we play out is one our own creation.  Mary being carried in by a giant Rabbit probably gives the game away to some extent!  I have to say that was priceless, but back to my story.  Reality of course was something, well…. Different. 
In the words of Nick Page, “beginning with shame and scandal and ending in massacre”  Probably not really suitable for the Church nativity then.
Mary and Joseph were betrothed, when Joseph finds out his bride to be is pregnant.  Awkward moment for Joseph, and for Mary, who stands to lose everything – perhaps even her life.  Don’t forget she was probably about 15 years old.  Joseph not that much older.  Only a piece of literature written some 200 years after the event suggests that Joseph is an elderly widower, and only made that way so that Mary can be a virgin for ever.  It’s a piece of story telling to explain away the awkward truth of Jesus having brothers and sisters.  They had to come from somewhere, so a previous marriage for Joseph was invented.  No, what we have here is a young teenage couple, coping with rumour and heresay, heading off to Bethlehem for what we are told is some sort of registration by the occupying power – Rome.
It’s not clear whether Joseph had family in Bethlehem, or whether they had travelled to Bethlehem en Masse, but considering that Joseph stood by Mary, it makes sense in Jewish custom for Joseph and Mary to be staying with Joseph’s family.  It’s just what the bride did, she went to live with the grooms family.  So perhaps May and Joseph did have somewhere to go after all.  She went to the inlaws!
Now let’s see what Luke actually tells us.  Tellingly a word that has traditionally been translated as an “inn” is Kataluma.  This is the same Greek word he also uses when he describes the disciples looking for a place to hold the Last Supper.  It was a guest room, or upper room.  In the well known parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke presents us with a real inn or hostel, and this time he uses a different word, Pandocheion.  Well that’s odd.  Could it be that Luke wasn’t suggesting an inn at all in the nativity Story.  Not so much no room at the inn, as no inn.  Sorry to all the little boys, this means no innkeeper.  Well at least the hotel establishments get a better press now.
Lets take a look at a typical 1st century Bethlehem house.
Description: FamilyRoom.jpg

The kataluma meant the upper room, where the family lived.  There was no room here for the baby so he was kept in a manger near the livestock that routinely lived inside the house downstairs.  Their body heat would help heat up the area so was a good place to keep a baby safe and warm.  It is not a story of exclusion then at all.  Mary, despite all the rumour and gossip which must have followed her, damaged goods etc, is welcomed in by Joseph’s  family and the population of Bethlehem, as is her child. 
And then horror.
Herod sends out his foot soldiers to kill Jesus and decides that in order to make sure, he will just kill all baby boys under the age of 2.  Just to be on the safe side.  Remember, Herod had quizzed the magi regarding the exact timing of their astrological observations, so he was just covering all the bases really.  Totally understandable in a maniacal dictator sort of way.  He is just using a scatter gun approach. 
The massacre of course isn’t recorded anywhere, which has led some people to question whether it actually happened.  But why should it be.  Bethlehem was a small village, probably no more than 20 infants at any one time, and taking into account infant mortality, probably less.  This wasn’t worth recording, it was just a cull, and in anyway who does the recording – those in authority.  This was highly illegal so are they really going to incriminate themselves?  Anyway it is just a handful of peasants, no one will miss them.
The thing is, today we have almost cleansed this episode totally out of Christmas.  But it is critical.  It is a story of the price paid for being willing to shelter and protect Jesus.  The inhabitants of Bethlehem, perhaps including some of the shepherds, would pay the price for being associated with Jesus.  Would any parent stand by and let their child be killed.  What do you think probably happened to the parents?  If we think this behaviour is so crazy, consider that in N Korea, their beloved leader is currently engaging in a purge.  This has included the execution of his own Uncle.  In WW2, the Nazis destroyed a French village for giving shelter to the resistance.  Women and children were burnt in the village Church.
In the light of these more recent examples of dictatorial atrocities, and I’m sure we could all name more, it is not too hard to see Herod; increasingly paranoid in the final stages of his illness, acting in an out of hand fashion without any regard for human life.
The story of the massacre talks into the cost of discipleship.  When we choose to follow Jesus, we place ourselves at risk because we will be in one way or another putting ourselves in opposition to the ways of the world.  Or we should be.  Are you ready to accept this cost?
The cost of living out a life modelled by Jesus himself, of not seeking power or status for its own sake.  Of seeking peace rather than war.  Of making sure that the poor and the disabled are cared for rather than vilified or patronised.  Of welcome the outcast rather than creating an exclusive club.
As we contemplate our covenant service next week, let us spend some time thinking of the phrase that we will all say; “put me to what you will, rank me with who you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering”.
The first martyrs in Bethlehem welcomed Jesus into their home, and looked after him.  Some of them paid for that with their lives. 
Will you?

In Jesus’ name.    Amen

Preaching at GMC 29.12.13

Today is the first Sunday of Christmas in the Christian Calendar.  It was my pleasure to be preaching again at GMC today where I spoke about the cost of discipleship.  The readings from the Lectionary spoke of the massacre of the innocents, a sermon topic I have not heard abut before.  We included a dialogue piece and the congregation were included in the delivery of prayers for others, with 13 voices from around the Church providing a different verse.

For my sermon I painted an alternative picture of the first Christmas, on of risk and inclusion by the Bethlehem community, a welcome that was to prove costly with Herod's maniacal response.

I linked this to the cost of discipleship and next weeks service which will be the annual covenant service.

During the sermon I spoke at some length off notes, talking about living conditions in 1st century Bethlehem.

I felt inspired during the service, that despite a challenging word, that the Spirit was with me.

The comments received afterwards were very positive indeed, which I am grateful for.  A copy of my sermon can be found on my next post.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

I had the pleasure of preaching at GMC today, for the second Sunday in Advent.  The church was filled with 24 Christmas Trees for the Tree Festival.  Worship was fantastic,  with some really good and uplifting songs, a mix of contemporary and traditional.  The theme for my sermon was Looking for God today with a reflection on Mark V 1-10, the story of Jesus' transfiguration, and considering its relevance for us today in the Advent season when we are preparing for the coming of Jesus. We considered ways that God makes himself present today in peoples lives.  And our challenge was to be ready for Jesus at any time.

 In the prayers of intercession we remembered South Africa coming to terms with the loss of Nelson Mandela this week, the churches in North Korea under threat of persecution, the political leadership of this country, on the day when they have been awarded a disgusting pay award whilst the rest of the country is struggling to make ends meet.

The church was approximately half full with a congregation of @60, of mixed age and gender.  the comments received after were very positive and most encouraging especially as I am waiting for feedback from Methodist House for a revision of my last reflection submitted as part of my Faith and Worship programme.

The heartfelt feedback from an active congregation somehow is more meaningful than an assessor who is an absolute stranger to me and the Church.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Sermon from today 6.10.13
Free to be a Slave.
Lord, let your Spirit reside over us this morning as we reflect on your word, may we absorb your truth afresh and rise refreshed as the morning dew.  Amen.
I wrote this sermon amidst the backdrop of the horrendous atrocity that occurred in Kenya.  That a human can shoot another just because they do not know the words of a prayer defies understanding.  It challenges our call to forgiveness.  How can we forgive such evil?
The first reading today which we heard from, suitably called Lamentations, was initially thought to have been written by Jeremiah, but is now considered to have been written in the years after the destruction of the temple in 587BC by Nebuchadnezzar.  It is likely that a lot of energy and thought had been put into the meaning of the disaster – why did this happen to us?  I am sure we can all resonate with this at one time or another.  Certainly the picture that the author paints for us is bleak to say the least.  The picture is one of complete loss and humiliation – take Chapter 1 v 8. “Jerusalem has sinned greatly and so has become unclean.  All who honoured her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness, she herself groans and turns away”.
However in the midst of all this bleakness, there is the realisation of a solid hope in God, because his compassion and mercy never fail.  Jerusalem has sinned because her leaders have failed to rely on God and instead have sought to rely on their own resources, and they have forgotten that they can ALWAYS rely on GOD.  Within this story from Lamentations is the suggestion that because the compassion and mercy of God NEVER fails, God is showing an ongoing forgiving nature towards a people who hardly deserve it and repeatedly miss the mark.
Our New Testament reading shares some of these themes.  This is no doubt probably why they co-exist within the lectionary.  Our Story in Luke has Jesus giving the Apostles some teaching regarding faith and duty.  If they had faith as small as a mustard seed they might actually achieve something, and conversely if they do they shouldn’t feel as though they have been all that clever.   At first reading, they don’t seem to be immediately related, however, it is a story about power and arrogance.
Jesus intentionally juxtaposes two stories to purposely make the point of just how important it is not to become arrogant in the face of any position of power.  This reflects of course Jesus’ message of servant leadership, and could almost be a curtain raiser to the famous foot washing scene at the last supper (John chapter 13).  There, Jesus, made it crystal clear that the role of leadership within the apostles was to become as a slave, just as Jesus was mirroring the role of a slave in washing their feet, and further when he was crucified on the following day, the traditional form of execution reserved by the Romans for terrorists and Slaves.

Jesus was making it very clear to his apostles that they needed to avoid at all cost any sense of arrogance in their dealings.  He continues this argument with his debate with them a little later in Chapter 22 in Luke when the apostles were arguing amongst themselves about who should be the greatest.  Jesus said to them, “The Kings of the Gentiles Lord it over them, and those who have authority over them are called “benefactors”, but it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest , and the leader like the servant.”
It is an example of the topsy turvy world of the Kingdom Jesus was introducing and has introduced.  This is the set of rules if you like that was instituted at the resurrection.  Bit by Bit, the world is being transformed and changed.  Jesus’ call to us today is to carry on the daily transformation of the world in his image, at home, at work, who knows, even at church!
At the heart of that call is the choice of who we devote ourselves to. Who do we become a slave to.  It is so easy to let ourselves be enslaved by money, status, greed, position, sex, belief, denomination, ethnicity, hatred, the list goes on.  We can be a slave to our own lives or to God.  It is worth remembering that just earlier in Luke, Jesus spoke of the importance of just this point.  The NIV translates it as serving God or money; for money you can replace any of the other human entrapments.  And here lies the key to forgiveness.   Forgiveness of cours is the topic that Jesus is teaching to his disciples about in Luke 17 v 3-4 just preceding our reading today.  If we remain slaves to ourselves how can we forgive others, why should we?  If we are however enslaved to God, who forgives ALWAYS, then we also will be able to forgive those who sin against us.
To put it another way, and this is something that came to me the other day.  Left to our own devices we just can’t do it alone.  We can’t forgive the unforgiveable.  Why should we?  How could we? I have spent two weeks thinking and praying and talking to people about that awful event in Nairobi, when people were allegedly shot just because they did not know the words of a muslim prayer.  I guess it is the modern equivalent trying to understand from a modern equivalent the feelings of a soldier kept prisoner by the Japanese in Burma or perhaps a Jewish prisoner in one of the camps in Nazi Germany. 
I spoke a few minutes ago about being enslaved by God enabling us to forgive.  I want to clarify that because it is really important that it doesn’t sound glib.  Really I am saying that without God, I don’t think it is likely that most people would forgive really bad things.  God knows this, and that is why the relationship with him is so important.  That is why digging the foundations are so important, so that when really bad things happen God can step in can sort them out.  God can forgive when we can’t.  Perhaps all we can do is rest in the arm of God at that point – who knows.  Knowing that we don’t have to rely on our own resources but that we have a deep and abiding live in God.

Which brings us right back to the problem of the ancient city of Jerusalem, in “Lamentations” that we experienced right at the very beginning.
So, here we are, with a challenge for today.  To avoid arrogance and embrace instead an attitude of servanthood.  We need to beware of the pitfalls that surround us in our lives, especially the comfortable ones, embrace instead being grasped by God.  It doesn’t necessarily bring an easier life, but it is the only meaningful life.
May we all have the courage to accept God’s call to us today and walk with him, in courage, in humility, in love, in acceptance, in forgiveness
In Jesus name


south green

Today I was at South Green Methodist Church preaching as part of my on trial status and as part of the preaching plan for the North Kent Methodist Circuit.  Despite there being only 4 people in the congregation, an organist and myself we made a good noise and one of the congregation  - an ex local preacher made the comment that " that was proper worship" at the end of the service.

It remains a thorny issue of how to support these very small rural chapels that are part of the historic fabric of our culture, and are so obviously so passionately supported by the people who do attend them.  In essence they are small groups, though rather expensive ones.

Perhaps in the end it is the community and companionship between the people that is important rather than the chapel or the church.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Sermon from today's service 08/09/2013 at GMC

Message  08/09/13
Holy Father, let this message be all that you want to say and none that I want to say.  Lay your Holy Spirit on this place, open our hearts and minds to your Good News, and stay with us as we go into our own  mission fields, wherever they may be.  Amen
At first reading, the verse from Mark can be awkward, to say the least.  Let’s face it, Jesus just sounds so rude.  There is no getting around it.  Here is a person who has been telling the temple authorities that they are too exclusive, they have too many rules on cleanliness and as a result they are excluding people from society.  Jesus has been saying those on the outside, the tax collectors and sinners are welcome to the Lords table.  And then this.  Jesus is telling a woman that she is no better than the dogs.  It is so cringeworthy and embarrassing it just has to be true.  What Gospel writer in their right mind would include it if it wasn’t.  So we need to accept this scene, wrestle with it and try to make sense of what Jesus was really saying and doing, of what Mark the gospel writer was saying, and of what God is saying to us today through this piece of scripture.
Let us take Jesus first.  What we sometimes forget is that Jesus was a Jew.  His image has been so anglicised and photoshopped over the years that it is easy to forget that.  But we do need to remember that the word became flesh within the boundaries of a 1st Century Jewish nation.  He spoke Aramaic, not English, and it was his custom to attend the local Synagogue (Mark 1:21, Luke 4:16), and he wore a cloak with tassels – traditional male Jewish attire (Matt 9:18-26)
This scene from Mark has Jesus outside of the influence of the temple authorities.  He has made his way to Tyre.  It is a gentile town.  It seems that his fame has spread even to here, since as soon as her arrives, he is sought out by an anxious mother.  This is Jesus outside of the borders.  What follows makes more sense if we remember that Jesus was Jewish.  However, the really shocking thing is that he heals the daughter anyway.  It is shocking because this is a story that cuts to the very heart of the clean/unclean debate that was so prevalent at the time.  In fact, the story sits towards the end of a chapter in Mark (Ch 7), where Jesus attempts to clarify what makes people clean or unclean.  He has to use some very basic language with his disciples to get them to understand.  He reminds them in no uncertain terms in vv 17-18, that what you eat goes in by the mouth and comes out when you use the toilet.  The Greek word Mark used was “aphedron” which means latrine.  Jesus was being just about as clear about this as it is possible to be.  He was making the point that what goes in passes through and cannot be seen as a reason for making you unclean, a classification that really meant making someone unsuitable to be included in worship.  It is other things that defile people, not genetics, or food or disease.  These other things Jesus then lists according to Mark “sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
In the 1st Century being deemed unclean meant that you were effectively shunned by a significant proportion of society.  It was a big deal.  Jesus was trying to cut through what he saw as nonsense, powerfully dangerous nonsense.
So let us take a look at Mark, he gives us this vignette.  This story of Jesus in Gentile country, beyond the borders.  First of all, he is in a Gentile country which is by very definition  unclean.  He is probably in a Gentile house – which would mean unclean, though Tyre admittedly is a mixed area so we can’t be sure about that.  He is approached by a Greek, Syro-Phonecian woman.  Double unclean.  Greek means Gentile, which we already know is just plain unclean,  Syro-Phonecian in 1st Century Rome actually equates to being possibly a prostitute.   Just how unclean can this scenario get.  As usual, the Gospel writers are painting with rich colours; we should really get the hint. 
Jesus’ response initially is to quote tradition.  He is Jewish after all, their faith is for those within their society, not to be shared with anyone and everyone, certainly not with the unclean.  Her reply, (another example of the shocking way Jesus treats women for 1st Century norms – normally she wouldn’t have a voice), implicitly states that the rest of the world is still there, despite Jewish traditions.
 So human tradition has no power here at all.
 This enables us to see the outcome in Mark in a different light.  Jesus is the word of God, Mark tells us in the very first verse that Jesus is the Son of God, that he is the Messiah, and so God’s command, in an unclean city, in an unclean house (probably), to an unclean woman is active and powerful in healing her daughter.  In other words, Jesus makes clean, the unclean daughter (she was gentile anyway and demon possessed to boot), of an unclean Gentile prostitute.  Nothing that is unclean cannot be made clean by the word of God.
This is the power of God’s word as opposed to Man’s.
For the 1st Century, this is really shocking.  And I think you will agree with me, no longer rude at all.  Actually, I think it remains shocking in the 21st Century.
What is God speaking to us today through this event?
How often do we rely on our own resources, ignoring what God has to offer?  How often do we get to the end of the day without making time in the day to really listen to what God is trying to say to us?
In our Old Testament reading this morning, the Psalmist reminded us not to rely or put our trust in Princes or men for they cannot save.  Only the LORD can truly save,  The power of God’s word against the power of Man’s word.  He is the one who sets free those who are stuck in ruts, who gives sight to those who are blind to what is happening in their lives and lifts up those who are dragged down by circumstance.  He forgives our past and helps us reclaim our future.
This word of God reminds us to lift our eyes to the LORD, for he can do wonders can’t he? And will do wonders if we just let him.
So what shall I leave you with today? 

I think this simple question.  
Will you trust  God, let him into your lives, and let him act.? 
Let us Pray
Father forgive us that we so often forget to let you in, we keep the door shut and lock you out along with everyone else.  Help us open our lives to you, fill us Father, with your Holy Spirit, open our eyes and our minds so that we may be ready to listen to your word, feel the power of your word, just like those he worked with and accept your personal healing within our lives.
In Jesus Name

Since my last entry, I have managed to successfully rewrite one of the exegeses required for section B (the second of 4 sections A,B,C,D which make up the entirety of Faith and Worship).  I am now almost ready to submit Section C at the end of this month.  Today I gave an assessed service at my home Church,  Gillingham Methodist Church, which was received very positively.  The comments afterwards were very encouraging, and I am grateful for both assessors for their constructive critique afterwards.  The worship group again sparkled, the sermon was clear and succinct.  The prayers were relevant.  It seemed clear to me that the Holy Spirit was present, especially with the contribution of the congregation and their mood after the service.  One person came to me after, and said he had come to Church this morning fearful for the state of the world, and was leaving re-assured.  Praise God.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Preaching at GMC on Ephesians 1:3-14

Today saw a new experience for me.  I shared a service with our minister who is leaving next week.  She led the worship as I had done for her a few weeks ago and also oversaw the infant baptism and confirmation of members of a family in the congregation.  I preached on Ephesians 1:3-14.  It turned out to be interesting experience writing this message, as I re wrote it yesterday after having my wife proof read it for me.  She was absolutely correct - it needed a re-write.  I think it went well.  I received some positive feedback after the service.  I will attach it to this blog so that anyone who visits can judge for themselves.

On the business of re-writes, I am currently re writing my exegesis for the Faith and Worship.  It seems my writing is sometimes too academic.

I have however progressed through the assignments reasonably well to date, and am on course to complete the course next Spring which is in plenty of time.

Message: (I couldn't link it so here is a copy)

Let us pray
Father, let us humble ourselves as we come to listen to your word this morning.  Unblock our ears and our hearts to you, that your word may rest within us,  healing us and helping us to grow in your image


For the first time, I have found writing a sermon to be hard.  I am grateful to my wife who proof read my effort yesterday, and pulled one of her faces.  The pause said it all really.  The study loomed to listen afresh and to perhaps write afresh.  The reading we heard from Ephesians is challenging to write a sermon about, however when I initially chose the reading, there was something within it that called out to me, so it seemed that the problem was with the clarity of my interpretation rather than the reading itself.

The part of  Ephesians is a reading that is in effect an introductory part of a letter.     This is the part of a letter that acts as an introduction to the main body of the letter, it occurs just after the greetings, in other words just after the Dear Sir/Madam part.  Paul certainly doesn’t waste ink on small talk.    Mind you, he was used to hard work.  When he had lived in Ephesus, with Priscilla and Aquilina, he had been used to hard manual work, living a very hard existence as a tent maker, working full time at a trade whilst evangelising for the Gospel after work.  All this from a one room apartment, something like a bed-sit today, shared between a family.   Paul would have been used to making every minute count and no doubt every word.
It is also worth noting the context that this letter was sent in.  Paul is a prisoner in Rome.  The letter was probably written in the early months/years after his arrival, sometime around 60 A.D.  Paul is still relatively optimistic about the outcome of his time in Rome, Nero has not gone crazy yet indulging his narcissism by finding that slightly kooky group the Christians a useful target for his more sadistic tendencies.  However, Paul is chained to his guard at night, so he is writing this letter from a position of restriction and imprisonment, and yet he speaks of love, freedom and redemption.
I would like to draw your attention to a phrase Paul uses in vv 5 and 11.  In these two verses, we see an almost verbatim repeat.  In V 5, we get “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons… in accordance with his pleasure and will”, whilst in V11 we get “having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity to his purpose of his will”   The first thing that struck me when I read this was that for Paul to repeat a whole phrase almost to the word, then what he was saying must have seemed very important to him.  But what was he saying?  The word predestined, has often caused controversy, but if we focus instead on the Will of God then what we get may be that perhaps all things that are of God and from God are worked out in the world, according to the will of God.

The bulk of the reading focuses on the Praise to God for blessings in Christ, for it is only in relationship with Christ that we can enjoy relationship with the Father.

The first point Paul makes is that we were chosen to be “holy and blameless in his sight”.  In other words; although we may commonly miss the mark, in God’s sight, from his perspective if you like, he sees us as holy and blameless.  That’s quite a thought.  Take a minute to look at the person sitting next to you.  They are holy and blameless in God’s sight.  He has chosen us as his children – and here is the first use of the phrase about praise – to the praise of his glorious Grace.  The Grace refers to Jesus, as Paul tied it in with the forgiveness of sins by the blood of Jesus – all of this so that all things will be as God originally planned them to be.  Our relationship with the Father is made right again by the sacrifice of Jesus, in his life, his death and culminating in his resurrection.

The phrase of for the praise of his Glory, then get two further uses, first in association with the first followers of Jesus, who would be there for the praise of his Glory.  In their living and being, and in most cases, sadly suffering and dying.  The first followers offer a clear link to Jesus, who led the way, in living, suffering and dying for the praise of his Glory.   Jesus leads the way, and the disciples are called to follow Jesus’ example.

Paul then reaches out to the Ephesian community, and reminds them that just as the first followers are in Christ, they too are in Christ, having a seal within them of the Holy Spirit.  Why should this be so?  For the praise of his Glory!  Paul is reminding the Ephesian Church that just as Jesus chose his close followers, and charged them with the great Commisssion, he has also chosen his followers in Ephesus who are called to follow the same path, reflecting the light of Jesus in all that they do and say.  All Jesus’ followers are called to reflect the Glory of God.

All that we do, all that we think, all that we are should therefore be for the praise and Glory of God.  If this is so, then this becomes the acid test of whether we are with God or not.  I find this reminiscent of 1 John when the writer says this, “if we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not live by the truth”.  The author then of course follows this with a gentle reassurance to all of us in “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”.
In John’s letter we find the reassurance that if we are honest with ourselves and God, then God will purify us from all unrighteousness, thus making us holy and blameless in his sight, and in Paul’s ;letter we find encouragement to press on in the knowledge that we are loved by God, forgiven by God and kept by God.  Loved by the Father whose creation is holy and blameless in his sight, forgiven by God through his Son’s sacrifice at the Cross and kept by God via the gift of the Holy Spirit, a living gift sealing us against the evil one.
So we have a reminder from Paul of the way that the creation is planned to be, what it can be now and what it will be, “when the times will have reached their fulfilment”.  Isn’t this a picture of the Kingdom of Heaven as often spoken of by Jesus.  Life in Christ.  Life in the trinity.
Of course, we, as humans, are prone to failure and that special life, when we live in relationship with God is often transient.  The storm then inevitably rises (events in life, someone cutting us up on the highway, a friend hurting our feelings, a row with a partner, an irritating work or church colleague) we lose our place and rapidly sink into our own ideas which separate us from God.  We become like Peter, when he climbed out of the boat.  I am sure you remember the story in Matthew’s Gospel.   Of course, we need to remember, that at least Peter had tried. At least he had got out of the boat.  At least he had stood up for Jesus, and was willing to risk everything for him.   And because of that, you will all remember what happened when he did start to sink.  Jesus reached out for him to save him.

So be reassured that as we go out to our jobs, our families, our schools this week that we are loved, forgiven and protected.  Trust in the armour of God.  Trust in his love, Trust in his forgiveness and grace and let the Holy Spirit speak within you. 
The more we do this, the more we will hear those whispers of God that we have been studying recently and respond in a fashion that reflects the Glory of God.

In Jesus name


Sunday, 16 June 2013

I led worship today at GMC, themed on Bill Hybels "Whispers from God" book.  The prayers were a combination of those sourced from "500 Prayers", and one I composed myself.  As usual at GMC I had the pleasure to work with a very skilled worship group, who are not only musically talented but are also extremely gracious.  The songs chosen concentrated on the theme of praising God as the lord and almighty king of creation, then moving on to reflect on the importance of relying on Christ alone for our strength, and remembering that Jesus came into the world as light within the darkness, with the aim of freeing humankind from the rule of darkness so that we too could become sons of light

Praise to the one true God, for he is always and eternally Good.


Sunday, 2 June 2013

Sermon and Intercessory Prayers 3/6/13

Preaching today at Strood Methodist Church.  The service went well overall and I received some positive and helpful feedback.

Below is the Sermon followed by the intercessory prayers I created for the day.

Message 03/06/12
The book of Samuel describes a situation of political change in ancient Israel.  The descendants of Aaron who had inherited the priestly roles had inherited positions of power and influence.  Eli’s sons, we are told, let this sense of power corrupt them and they became arrogant, bullying the poor and abusing women in the temple.  Against this behaviour, we are given the figure of Samuel, who looks after Eli and carries out his service to the temple with humility and deference.
Samuel hears God’s voice in the middle of the night, but does not recognise it, and thinks that Eli is calling out for assistance.  With bitter irony, it falls to Eli himself, whose family is to be stripped of their position and power, to help Samuel realise that the voice he is hearing is actually that of God.
This must have been extremely hard for Eli.  He had already been warned that a judgement was coming upon his family for the sins of his sons and for the fact that he had proved unable to control them in their abuses.  We are told that he was too weak to control his sons. And this is possibly true as in Ch 3 Eli is said to be very weak and almost blind.  Of course the reference to blindness may be a fulfilment of the prophecy made in Ch 2. Verse 33 says: “Every one of you that I do not cut off from serving at my altar I will spare only to destroy your sight and sap your strength, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life”. 
When I was studying this piece, what struck me was that this was happening in a time when God had apparently stopped speaking, and when he does so it is to raise a servant of his, a person full of humility and obedience to the will of God. 
Perhaps in itself, this stands as a prophetic word for what God would later do in the coming of Jesus.
This is the key point.  Eli’s sons had forgotten their role.  They had been corrupted by the power they held, by the authority and position that they could show.  They had become immersed in a sense of self of their own creation – something that was ultimately false – and in so doing had divorced themselves from the will of God, and thus from the heart of God. 
It is the consequences of this that shows the way to their downfall.  This is as true for us today as it was for Eli’s sons.  To follow the will of God is to really enter into a relationship with Him.  If we truly see God, then we can have no other response than to wish to worship and praise Him.  Not just in songs on a Sunday, but with every breath that we take, and every activity that we do.
Samuel’s parents had given him up to the temple.  For Hannah had promised that if God would hear her prayers for a son then she would “give him to the Lord for all the days of his life”.  Samuel is pictured as accepting this and in seeing to be willing to give up his own wishes for his life, he is opened subsequently to God, who is able to grant him a much richer life than he ever could have attained with his own efforts.
In the Old Testament, this view of God’s will and action is often seen as something that happens outside, often acting on an individual.  Think of Eli’s descendents, Moses and Aaron.  Isaiah who saw the Lord in all his Glory, Jacob who wrestled with God.  With the birth of Jesus and the culmination of his ministry, we see a pouring out of the Holy Spirit to many at Pentecost.  Instead, however of raising up a prophet to be a leader, we see God at work among the poor, the disenfranchised, those without a strong political voice.  So, Paul in 2 Corinthians speaks of his preaching from a position of physical weakness rather than strength.  He is saying that he has no power or influence by himself.  It is only by the Spirit that speaks through him, that shines brightly in the darkness.  This Spirit, is the same Spirit that is one with the Father and Jesus, which is why Jesus can proclaim in John 8:12 “I am the light of the world”.
Jesus never spoke on his own account.  In John 12:49, he reminds us that he did not speak on his own but always in accord with his Father, thus making his witness valid.
Because Jesus did not claim power or position for it’s own sake, we are called to follow his way, the way of servant leadership in the world.  For the simple reason that if we follow our way, we cannot follow God’s way.  We cannot follow two masters (Matthew 6:24).  If we choose our own way, then we risk everything, since everything comes from God.  Thus Paul speaks of being given over to death for Jesus’ sake.  He could have meant quite literally that his life was often in danger, but he could also have been making a theological point – that we daily have to lay aside our own wishes – those that are linked to our self interest and our greed and selfishness for the sake of Jesus.  Just as he really did set aside his own life for our sake.
These changes that Pauls speaks about are internal changes.  They speak of God being on the inside, gradually changing our hearts and minds via the conviction and gentle mercy of the Holy Spirit.
And there is a lesson for us today.  With the privilege of hindsight, we can now see that God acts externally and may call us to follow him just as he called Samuel, but he also acts inside us calling us to put aside our self centred goals for the better way of entering into a living relationship with the author of life himself – a relationship that means true reality- and inevitably doing God’s will.
So when we listen for God, we shouldn’t just listen for God’s voice in the external world, or just listen inside ourselves and thus exclude the world.  We are warned against opposing God and following our will and encouraged to enter Eden and enjoy a full and healed relationship with God.  This will involve a daily sacrifice, but the stark truth is there is no-one else and nowhere else we can turn to but God.  God is everywhere and so both the outward seeking extrovert and the more quiet introvert will both find God if they open their hearts to him in his entirety.  In so doing, we find that we are each other’s neighbour, so that people like you and I can share in the relationship at the heart of the Trinity.  This is the Good News!  This is what we are called to share with the next person.  That we are loved by God and this knowledge is the pearl of greatest value.
When we look at TV shows like the Apprentice, or listen to Prime Minister’s Question time, or perhaps the Jeremy Vine Show, it is very easy to be conned by the seduction of power.  Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can become nothing more than noise and activity – keeping us from talking to and perhaps more importantly, listening to  the one who loves us the most.  Don’t therefore be fooled by the false promises of power and position.  Seek first the kingdom of God, and it truly won’t matter what role you carry out!
So my challenge to you is this.  Where are you in your relationship with God today?  Do you really wish to barter for your own way? Or are you ready to love God with all your heart, your soul and your mind?
May the Lord Bless you and keep you safe in his arms.


Intercessory prayers

Lord, we bring before you those here today;
May your light shine in our hearts;
Lord we lift our lives to you;
At the foot of the cross, we lay our burdens down;
Release us, dear Lord, to live lives full of your Spirit.

Lord, we bring you our neighbours in Strood and Medway;
We bring you the fears and the anguish;
As your light spreads outwards from this place –
Bless these towns with your Holy Spirit;
Wash them anew;
Let these towns become a beacon for your light;
And a living, breathing witness to you.

Lord, we spread our arms ever outward;
As your light spreads across this land;
Bless those who are homeless, those lost or in danger;
Bless those in violent relationships;
Meet with those involved in crime;
As the light shines out in the darkness;
Lord, let there be light.

The light covers the whole world;
There is no hiding place for evil;
Outside us or inside us;
God is Lord of All


Wednesday, 15 May 2013

All Journeys entail Risk!;postID=5768561744049694598

HTB Leadership Conference

I  have just got back from two very stimulating days at the leadership conference at Royal Albert Hall hosted by HTB.

The two days highlighted such a rich diversity within the church today, such that we really do represent a rainbow church, wearing a coat of many colours with the connecting stream of reliance on Jesus.

the days contained high quality presentations such as the new Anglican Archbiship of Canterbury Justin Welby who spoke of the importance of Grace, of the naturalness of Church Growth but that work is hard, though God will always provide.

Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Church - spoke of how to encourage change/growth, of the importance of the here to there model (conc on the here and illustrate how untenable here is), the straight line model to determine how team members are coping and who needs help, and the challenge line - showing the importance of being overchallenged.

Patrick Lencioni spoke of Cultural leadership and the relationship between Truth and Grace and radical humility. and of the dangers of moral relativity

Christopher West spoke of nakedness without shame, our relationship with the sexual imperative.  If music can reawaken our brains when diseased, can the saviour reawaken our souls.  Yes.  Christ came to reclaim our relationship with God.  When we truly see each other we see beyond our physical sexual identities that are created by us.

The day ended with a time of prayer and worship with Nicky Gumble asking delegates to pray for those around them in healing attitudes.  This was challenging for me, and I remain to be convinced.  Was I seeing mass psychology, why don't I ever follow the crowd?

Day 2 highlights included a Catholic Cardinal who wowed the congregation with confessions of his personal relationship with Jesus, something we don't often hear from the Vatican.  Peter Lencioni spoke again this time about teams, highlighting the 5 dysfunctions and sharing the importance of trust, conflict, honesty, accountability and responsibility within teams.  Elle Mumford hosted another pentecostal feeling session on healing and the Holy Spirit.  One of her case studies involved a child with a cleft palate that allegedly healed immediately whilst being prayed for.  I find this extremely difficult.  Why not all the time?  The explanation was not sufficient for me.  An example of the diversity within the Church both a strength and a weakness.  Though on balance more of a strength than a weakness.

After Lunch, Steven Furtick spoke of our calling being our calling, and of identifying the calling with the person.  This i followed with a complementary seminar by Fr Luigi Gioia who gave a quietly spoken presentation without any special effects that appeared to me to be a true pearl.  he spoke of Leadership in Monasticism differentiating between the secular leader and the Christian Leader.  Humility and a willingness to accept humiliation as a mark of Grace.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

I conducted a service today at Lower Stoke that has been assessed as part of my journey towards accreditation.  The music didn't really work all that well, which was really due to two key factors from what I can see.  First of all, like a lot of small congregations, the music is from Itunes, which is so much harder to sing to that a real live worship group.  I think learning points have to be in communication with the church prior to the service.  I need to chase more at times, even if I feel uncomfortable about it.  It is hard to know if your song selection is acceptable, though at the end of the day, it is the message that is important, and that includes the songs and the sermon.  The other factor, is just that the congregation was just well small, several of us had colds, so the songs did not sound well.

I think a further point will be that the presentation was scripted rather than experiential.  I think that there is a danger when preaching a sermon experientially that one can go off topic, and in prayers, I have sat through really uncomfortably long and grinding experiential prayers in my time so I tend to prepare them before hand.  This in itself does not make them any less real.  In the service today, the prayers of confession and the sermon we totally my own work.  I used liturgy in the prayer of adoration from the Methodist Church UK site, and intercessory prayers from a celtic liturgy site.  The offertory prayer I always carry out experientially. However, I think that that simply reflects my reflective style, and is part of the strength of local preaching where churches will received differing styles of presentation.

A valid comment from the congregation from an accredited preacher was not to include the offertory in a meditative song as she felt that it intruded and broke up the sense of meditation.  I will keep that in mind and reflect on all the feedback I will receive in my ongoing journey.

Allied to this, I have completed my first draft in my assignments that will hopefully lead to certification in Counselling, in the meantime I am reading Thomas Mertons's "New Seeds of Contemplation" and Carl Rodgers'   "On becoming a Person"

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Today I led the service at GMC.  The service really hummed and flowed really well.  The theme was "How do we live in the Spirit?" and I hope that the people that attended this morning were both comforted and challenged in some way.  Feedback has been positive so far.  A couple of learning points to note, practice reading aloud the prayers beforehand in order to note the natural breaks.  Thank you Sara for that.  Carol felt that the sermon was strongly grounded in the Bible which is a positive but I need to make sure that the language does not get any stronger or too academic for fear of losing some of the congregation.  She said that the balance today was correct - so that is good news.  Thanks as ever to the worship group who did an absolutely fabulous job  If anyone reads this who would like to hear the sermon it will be on the following link   later today or tomorrow.

God Bless