Friday, 27 February 2015

Can we truly be saved by Faith in God

Today is the second Sunday in Lent and we are preparing ourselves for the approaching passion of Jesus.  We are then pilgrims along a journey to our own meeting with Jesus at the cross.  The two readings chosen for today speak directly into the importance, the anchor of faith on our relationship with God. 

Nearly everyone, Christian or not, is aware of Jesus’ apparent anguished cry “ My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  A smaller number may know that it comes from Psalm 22.  A smaller number still will know that Psalm 22 ends with a confirmation of faith and praise.  It is possible, just possible, that some here may not have realized that when Jesus said “ I am thirsty” in John 19:28, he may have had in mind v 14 of Psalm 22 “ My life is poured out like water and all my ones are out of joint” v 15 “ My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth”.  He could have just been really thirsty from the blood loss of course.  Either way we are being given a vision of someone close to death who is suffering from severe dehydration.  It should really come as no surprise that the early church considered Psalm 22 to be a prophetic psalm foreshadowing the horrors of the cross and the coming of the time of judgement.  However it is the ending of Psalm 22 that is really interesting.  From the desolation of the first half, just look at the wording of the second half, “ For he has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy”, “ The poor will eat and be satisfied”, “Their hearts will rejoiced with everlasting joy”, For Royal power belongs to the Lord, He rules all the nations”.  The cross therefore is inextricably part of the process of God’s judgement.  A judgement that leads to healing and reconciliation.

In the midst of abject failure, in the midst of appearing to be utterly worthless, God shows how faithful to us he is.  The standards of the Kingdom of this world will be turned on its head.  People who are in dire need will be listened to.  They will be shown that their needs are just as important as anyone else’s.  The poor will eat and be satisfied.  I wonder if you can hear the echo here  with the first of the beatitudes. ‘ Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”.  The NLT version translates this as “God blesses those who are poor and realise their need for him”.  A clear message to those who are or may be physically poor and who are in a position where they recognise that they are unable to cope on their own.  They need God.  How many of you have been in that place?  Recognising that there is nothing that you can do to change things.  If I may, I think that in a way you all are with the future of this church being as it is.  But here, right here in scripture is message for you from God.  He knows of your feelings of desolation.  He has heard your cry of despair.  Truly, yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is probably worth pondering on that for just a moment.  Yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.  Something good will happen.  Whether this is a resurrection of Rainham Methodist Church via home groups, or whether you decide to meet and worship up at Costa on the High Street, who knows.  But this much is certain.  God listens to those in adversity and will do a great and mighty work of salvation among you.

It is by faith then that we are saved.  It is by the sight of faith that the psalmist could see beyond his immediate sufferings to God’s redemption before him.  It was faith in his Father that led Jesus to reprimand Peter so harshly (at least apparently so).  Jesus even at that point in his life knew what was coming.  You may remember we spoke about this the last time I was here.  You could only push the Romans so far.  Jesus however knew with an even deeper knowledge of what would come next.  Even Jesus may not have been able to see in exact detail the events of that first Easter morning, but his relationship with his Father was such that he trusted him absolutely.  In religious terminology this relationship of absolute trust is called faith.

Jesus himself taught us that if we had faith as small as a mustard seed we could move mountains or trees (depending on whether you read the story in Matthew or Luke).  Personally I don’t think that Jesus meant that to be taken literally.  Imagine the nightmare world of mountains being moved here and there and everywhere.  As often with Jesus he would have been using a significant dollop of hyperbole just to make sure we didn’t miss the point.  Faith is just so important!  Even if we only could muster just a teeny weeny bit, then see what just might happen.  Remember what he said to Jairus; “ Don’t be afraid, have faith”.  For Jesus brings life from death.  And this is the good news; Jesus is alive now and at large, free from all constraints, in the workings of his church and beyond.  What do I mean by the church? Those people who follow him and obey his command to proclaim the Good news that the kingdom of God has truly come.  

Jesus still brings life from desolation.  He still brings new beginnings to areas that seem lost.  So if you feel that this particular group of the Church at Rainham is lost then I urge you to think again.  God has not deserted you.  He has heard you and will yet perform great things through you.  If you are sitting here today and your personal circumstances stink, then listen to the message that God is the God of the living and not the dead.  You are beloved in his eyes and he will not let you flounder and be lost.  He will bring new beginnings and new meaning to your life.  For God is faithful and he keeps his promises.

Praise be to God.


Saturday, 21 February 2015

What do we mean by the Easter story and Resurrection?

I attended a really good CPD event this morning hosted by North Kent Methodist Circuit led by Dr Simon Stocks.  We spoke about the dangers of familiarity with the Easter story, and reviewed 1st Century Jewish beliefs on resurrection and Messiah(s).  We discussed in groups what we believed would be assumptions from non-Christians if they heard us speaking about the Easter message and Jesus' resurrection' including our assumptions that God is real and that the Gospels are a reliable witness.  We discussed the difficulty that some people have in relating to the reliability of ancient documents and the literality of them

In groups we looked at each of the Gospels, and noted common themes that in none of the Gospels is there an eye witness account of the resurrection itself.  No-one saw Jesus being raised; however all the Gospels confirm the existence of an empty tomb. The other main common factor is the lack of scriptural quotations related to the resurrection event, suggesting and confirming the surprise at this event among the apostles, something at odds with Matthew's Gospel in particular surrounding the birth of Jesus

Our group focussed on John's Gospel noting the lack of an apocalyptic nature in contrast to Matthews description of earthquakes and mass raising from the dead, something that we agreed was a piece of metaphorical writing so give the picture of the importance that should be associated to the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

John's Gospel paints a picture of new creation new life.  Links between John's depiction of the resurrection and the beginning of his Gospel, and the beginning of Genesis.  Themes of light and dark, the events happening on the first day of the week (Sunday), and the meeting of the newly resurrected Jesus and Mary happening in the Garden, reminiscent of God walking in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.  The account in John is quieter, with a focus on relationship and the renewal or restoration of relationships, the allowing of doubt in this new world, the acceptance by God of questions in a relationship.  We noted the use of women in being the primary witnesses to the resurrection something that would be highly unusual for 1st Century society, a new way of living.  Finally we noted the sense of amazement and confusion by the authors, this event was shocking to them and one can determine a real sense of confusion - hence in part the differing accounts seen in the Gospels, we have people trying to make sense of something so weird, so unusual but quite obviously to those writing the scriptures so life changing in nature.

We are left with the confirmation that Jesus is raised from the dead with a bodily resurrection, albeit a different sort of body.  Again God arrives in a way that we do not expect, and when we do not expect.
We should allow ourselves to be constantly surprised by what happened at the first easter, shocked and allow ourselves and others to ask questions, to try and make sense of it all.

Comments welcomed

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Sunday School

I volunteered to lead one of our Sunday school classes this morning.  In fact it is a good thing for a local preacher to do, to meet with the youngest of our prospective church members and for the youngsters to get to know your face.

We read the story of Martha and Mary, and despite the young age of my group @4 years, we were able to discuss the importance of listening to Jesus, to treat people fairly, and not to think boys and girls should be treated differently due to their gender.  The children drew pictures of Jesus, Martha or Mary and copied a prayer that I had created.  Some of them managed joining the dots of letters to make the prayer, one of the children copied the prayer by hand.

At the end of the session we joined in a simple prayer.

Often I hear that the Sunday School is a time for play, but today I was really pleased with the 3 young children in my class.  Instead of running around, they focussed on something and achieved something.  I was very proud of them especially when we then went back into the church to join the main church in a time of prayer during which the children sat quietly absorbing the events.

Whilst it is not something that I would say is my calling, I feel that it is something the local preachers should do not only as part of their training but as part of their commitment to their local church