Saturday, November 14, 2020

Being a blessing to others

 We’re in what is now called the kingdom season in the church calendar – I don’t think it’s a season that is particularly useful as I think our focus must every day of every week be on Christ as the king – the king of our lives, the king of our hopes and aspirations, the king of possibilities for the world and indeed the king of the whole world, so that’s a little hobby horse of mine out of the way.

 

Having said that, the readings do offer us a focus upon which to reflect on these things in a bit more depth so that’s what I’ll try and do this morning. 

 

Our gospel reading (Matt 25:14-30) is the pretty well known parable of the talents – it’s often been portrayed as a parable about how well we use our gifts, in other words it’s about us, but whilst that may be part of it, I don’t think that’s the biggest part. 

 

The biggest part comes in the first paragraph of what we heard. The master is going on a journey and he distributes his property to his servants to look after. To one he gives 5 talents, to another 2 talents and to a third he gives 1 talent. 

 

Part of the problem with the understanding of this is that we immediately assume a talent is something we can do, but actually a talent in these terms was something precious in monetary terms – some translations of the bible have replaced the word talent with ‘bags of gold.’ 

 

In these terms we see more of what this parable is about – it isn’t about us primarily, but it is about the incredible generosity of God. It’s about his willingness to give us all we need to live and to live our lives fully, to live our lives with joy, with hope and love. 

 

The first two servants weren’t being commended on their entrepreneurial skills but rather on the fact that they had recognised the incredible gifts they had been given and used them. What the third servant did was make an unfounded and unfair judgement against his master which had prevented him from using what he had been given. 

 

God doesn’t want us to hide our gifts in the ground but to take the risks of living fully, of living with love for others, of living knowing that we are loved by and precious to God – this is a story of God’s incredible generosity to us and our willingness to respond to that.

 

Of course, it recognises that we are given different gifts but that doesn’t change how we can use them. In his parables Jesus was often not delivering a detailed analysis of life but was often telling stories that would intrigue and challenge people, stories that were sometimes far-fetched and yet absolutely relevant to the people to whom he spoke, and to us…. 

 

Yes, the servant given only one talent may not have been able to do all of the things that the others could do, but the gospel is about our relationship with God and our relationship with other people – it’s about how we love and about how we serve other people, and the person with one talent may be able to do less, but may still be able to do life changing things… 

 

An example is a lady who was stuck at home unable to go anywhere – it’s a story which perhaps resonates a lot for people at the moment as we’ve lived through lockdowns and wonder what the future will look like. Anyway, this lady wondered what she could do and decided that each day she would phone one person to encourage them, to check how they were, to bring them a little bit of joy. 

 

It doesn’t seem much but it was potentially life changing for the person that was phoned. 

 

The one who buried the talent in the ground had not recognised the generosity of the master and had done nothing with the gift he was given. In Jesus coming into the world to live amongst us, God took a huge risk on us. He shared with us the most precious thing in the world and he asks us to respond, and that response becomes apparent when we recognise the gifts we’re given and respond to receiving those gifts… 

 

And to think about this a little more I’ll go back to the reading from Paul’s 1st letter to the Thessalonians (5:1-11). Many of us will know the reading from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians chapter 13, the one that ends with ‘faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love…’

 

Well, lesser known are the words from our reading this morning – verse 8 says, ‘put on the breastplate of faith and love and for a helmet the hope of salvation’… It may not be quite as catchy but the words are there, faith, hope and love. And these three things help us to live as God wants us to live. 

 

Just beyond those words it says, ‘God has destined us not for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through Jesus’ and then Paul asks the people to ‘encourage one another and build up each other…’ 

 

Again, we’re reminded not of the picture that the third servant gave in the gospel reading of the master or God being judgemental and cruel, but of God as a generous gift giver who wants the best for all his people, who wants the best for us…

 

And so we’re called to live with faith. We can live confidently knowing that God is with us every moment of every day. We can live secure in the fact that the future God wants for us is amazing beyond words… We can live with love, a love that we receive from God and a love which we are called to share with others. And we can live with hope, knowing that salvation for us is the eternal gift we’re offered, the gift of spending eternity with the creator of the world who loves us and who provides abundantly for us… 

 

So, what might this mean today. Well, we live (and it’s been said so many times !) in strange times and these are difficult times for many people – people who are struggling with illness, with isolation, with missing other people and contact with them, with missing just regular life, but these things, faith, love and hope, remind us that we live in the present very much, but we don’t live without a hope for the future, because whatever the present might look like, God is with us, God is guiding us, offering us strength and loving us.

 

And so these three things, faith, love and hope, are to be used as a blessing for us, but as a blessing for others. As we recognise they are gifts from God, who is generous and loving, we respond with offering those things to others in whatever ways we can. 

 

In coming into the world Jesus took risks for us and so we are called to be risk takers, living our lives fully and living our lives well, rejoicing in faith, in love and in hope…. 

 

So may we, as Paul urged people in his letter to the Thessalonians, encourage one another, in good times and in difficult times, let’s build each other up, and may we reach out, responding to God’s love and using the gifts he gives us, to be a blessing to others. AMEN 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Faith, generosity and thankfulness

 As people I think we are regularly tempted to put our lives into different sections, different compartments. Perhaps we have a work life and a social life. Perhaps a church life and private family time. These are just some options of how we might compartmentalise our lives at times and in reality, we may split it down a lot further than this, breaking down each of those sections more… 

 

But our readings today remind us that three very key things in our lives are actually inseparable both from each other and from the lives of Christians in general. Those things are faith, generosity and thankfulness and as we commemorate a different harvest to usual those things are no less important… 

 

In our gospel reading (Luke 17:11-19) we have this amazing account of Jesus being approached by 10 lepers who asked him for healing – perhaps this year more than ever before we recognise the words in the gospel as they approached Jesus ‘keeping their distance.’ Safe physical distancing was something that made sense even 2000 years ago. 

 

And Jesus recognised their faith in asking him for healing and so he sent them to the priests – the priests couldn’t do the healing, Jesus had done that, but the priests were the ones who would pronounce the lepers as clean… Somewhere in that journey of faith that they took to see the priests, Jesus healed them.

 

And so, these were people of faith – they approached Jesus in faith, they obeyed him as they were told to go and show themselves to the priests, but what they missed was any sort of real thankfulness. Only one noticed that they’d been healed and knew that they had to return to Jesus to thank him and this one was a Samaritan, a group who hated the Jews. 

 

And Jesus’ words were interesting – he recognised that only this one person had come to say thank you but wondered where the others were. And he then said to the Samaritan, ‘Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well.’

 

Jesus was saying that the physical healing from the leprosy was only a part of the healing of those people and it’s only the one who came back who found true healing in Jesus. Faith had made the others physically well, but spiritually they had failed to recognise and praise Jesus who gave them healing. 

 

Faith and thanksgiving go together automatically as we recognise that all of our gifts are from God and we need to respond with thankfulness expressed in our words and our actions. 

 

And in the 2nd letter to the Corinthians (9:6-15) which we heard part of, Paul (the writer) takes this even further by explaining the connection between faith, thankfulness and generosity. 

 

He says about the person who sows sparingly who will then reap sparingly. He says about God being able to provide not just adequately for our needs but abundantly but also that when we receive, we are to share, not out of duty but as a response to the gifts of love and grace given to us. God loves a cheerful giver the reading says. 

 

God doesn’t need our giving, but he wants to see it because cheerful giving is an expression of the recognition of God’s incredible love for us. It is a response of thanksgiving for the life changing love of God. It is a response of thanksgiving for the gifts that he gives us day by day… One of the most famous bible verses of all is from the gospel according to John (3:16), ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’ 

 

Think how incredible those words are, ‘God so loved that he gave…’ 

 

God gave and gives to us and we are called to recognise that in faith; to be thankful for it in lives that seek to reflect that generosity and care; and to be generous, not giving just what we can as an absolute minimum out of duty, but giving so that it might even sometimes hurt… ‘God so loved that he gave his only Son…’ 

 

And Paul suggests in this letter that in our giving we will be drawn closer to God who will enrich us. It is a remarkable journey of faith that we continue as day by day we can be drawn into new experience, new challenges and experience new blessings.

 

And that was something Paul knew all too well – Paul whose life had been changed, who knew about worldly hardships. Paul, who dedicated so much of his life in giving to others and what he gave was the invitation to life that he had received and accepted from Jesus. And at the end of this passage, I think the last line sums things up so well, ‘Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!’

 

It’s almost as if words fail him. It’s almost as if he suddenly realises the magnitude of what God has done for him, of what he’s given to him and he has just to cry out these words of thanks.

 

And these words I think, when related to the life of Paul and when considered in the light of the gospel account about the 10 lepers highlight what I said earlier that faith, generosity and thankfulness are inseparable. 


So what does that mean for us ? 

 

Well, it means our lives are changed but just three things to sum it all up. 

 

Firstly, we are to respond to God’s invitation into a closer relationship with him – a relationship that can be deepened every day through prayer, through the bible, through fellowship, through our actions and words. Faith is a huge challenge for us at times, but as we deepen our faith, we recognise God carrying us through every situation. We recognise God as having provided all we need and we trust that, just as he has delivered the possibility of eternal life, so he delivers what we need always. 

 

Secondly as we are drawn into a closer relationship with God then we are drawn even more into the recognition of what He has done for us – he has provided abundantly for us in every way. Again, I repeat, ‘God so loved that he gave….’ 

 

And as we recognise all that God has done for us we are called to be generous to others – it will be in giving of our time and our money sometimes, but it is also in giving a generous heart, a heart that looks for the best in people, that prays for God to change people into his likeness. 

 

It's so easy to judge others whilst not looking at ourselves. It's so easy to judge others when they do things obviously wrong, but let's be generous - giving chance after chance and praying for people, whoever they are, whatever they’ve done – people, created just like you and me in God’s image…. 

 

And to add to faith and generosity, the third thing has to be thankfulness. Let’s never be like one of the 9 lepers who didn’t come back to Jesus and who didn’t receive the guarantee that their faith had made them well. Let’s be more like Paul, ready to just praise God with or without words, to praise God for his indescribable gift !

 

Because that’s what our lives are – indescribable gifts lived in relationship with people around us, lived in relationship with God… 

 

Be faithful, be generous and be thankful. 

 

Let us pray : Lord, thank you for your love and grace. We pray that you will guide us, strengthen us and fill us with faith to serve you and others as you want. Help us to be generous, not just in giving materially but in giving our time and our patience; and finally, make us thankful. Remind us daily of those things we treasure, those gifts we’re given and with thankful hearts and cheerful giving, may we be used by you to transform the lives of others too. These things we ask through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. AMEN 

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Be transformed, experience joy, know peace

 This week we have entered another period of not quite full lockdown, but a time of additional restrictions. News reports tell us of rising numbers of cases of coronavirus once again and it’s a difficult time for many people who, apart from the worries they may have, may be lonely or feel isolated from family or friends, or may be concerned about family or friends. Again there all kinds of worries about money and about jobs… 


It isn’t an easy time and it isn’t a time for glib answers such as ‘Trust in God and it will all be ok’, but actually there is something to say for that response ! ‘Trust in God and it will all be ok !’


‘Ok’ doesn’t mean everything will be absolutely fine immediately, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we won’t have any problems or worries in our lives at any point. Life may still sometimes be a bit tough but with God everything will be ok because ultimately ‘ok’ means that God is still holding us in his care. God’s love is unchanging and absolute. 


Paul understood this when he wrote his wonderful letter to the Philippians, part of which we heard earlier (3:4b-14). It’s a remarkable letter, written while Paul was in prison in Rome.  


He wrote it with an incredibly uncertain future. He wrote it when things in earthly terms looked far from ‘ok’. He wrote it having basically lost everything in material terms. He understood pain and suffering, he understood what it was to worry I’m sure.


But in this letter the most prominent subject is joy and rejoicing. 

At the very time his whole world seems to have come crushing down around him, Paul writes about joy and this is evidence of someone who has found something which is far more important than his immediate circumstances, 

far more important and lasting than anything that the world can offer.


In our passage today Paul is outlining his worldly credibility – circumcised on the 8th day, a Roman citizen, someone who kept and enforced the law well, someone who had persecuted troublemakers… In short, in legal terms, as he describes himself, blameless ! 


He was also someone who had experienced wealth and no doubt respect from many, but he’d also realised that all of these things meant nothing in lasting terms – all of these gains, as he calls them, he counts but loss, compared to knowing Jesus.


Languishing in a prison cell he knew far greater far greater peace, far more lasting joy… 


As I mentioned a moment ago, he’d recognised that his peace and his joy in life didn’t depend on what was happening at that very moment – current circumstances can be worrying, upsetting, hard, but they don’t ultimately determine our lasting future – that is Jesus…


Jesus, whose gifts are much deeper, whose peace is much stronger, whose joy is much more lasting – and who is much more capable of helping us to withstand the turmoil of any worldly troubles. 


As this reading makes very clear it is in finding Jesus that Paul’s life was absolutely transformed – it was in finding Jesus that he realised he’d been searching for the wrong things all along. And actually there’s a problem with those words, ‘finding Jesus’ because it’s actually Jesus who finds us – Jesus, whose invitation is there all along, to come closer to him, to get to know him better, to understand and feel his peace… 


Paul’s transformation was such that he even saw his present suffering as a gift because he was doing it for Jesus. He was determined to live his life for him, pressing on because he knew the love ad grace and mercy that had rescued him.., that had saved him… 


As Paul put it, he would put behind him the things he had done, the things he was ashamed of and press on for the prize of the heavenly call in Jesus… It didn’t perhaps mean forgetting the things he’d enjoyed or done well or the people that he loved or that loved him, but it meant, putting Jesus as the cornerstone of his life, the very foundation upon which he would seek to live… 


And that’s the invitation to us as well – whatever worries we may have, whatever turmoil might be going on in our minds, whatever struggles and challenges we face, Jesus invites us into a relationship with him which lasts into eternity… 


He calls us, just as we are, with our imperfections and weaknesses, with our worries, with our pains and struggles…


He invites us to know his peace, to trust that he who has conquered death, knows how to offer victory for all of us… And as we know his peace, as we experience his joy, our lives can be transformed day by day as well – we can focus more clearly on loving as he loves, on showing grace and mercy as he does, in being compassionate to those who struggle, just as he is…. 


And this is a tough concept for us at times – sometimes we struggle to see people as deserving of God’s grace and love. Sometimes we might struggle to see ourselves as deserving of those things, but that is the whole point… 

It’s not about deserving – it’s about God’s desire to give. It’s all about his grace and his love and his mercy… 


Our hope is in Christ who calls us, who receives us as we are and helps us to be the people he wants us to be… 


Earlier in this week’s collect, we prayed ‘Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you’… If your hearts are restless at this time, hand your worries to God… If you’re struggling with anything, hand your fears over to God… 

If life just seems too much, if the challenges of being transformed seem too much, think of Paul and look at that transformation…. 


Think of Paul and look at that letter to the Philippians and how he had allowed his life to be completely changed, but ultimately look to Jesus and recognise all of the things that the world threw at him, recognise that even death could not hold him down and know that he can carry us through any worry, crisis, turmoil, struggle, suffering and offer peace and joy for all eternity….  


Friday, September 11, 2020

Behaving well

from Helen 

 Well, what a week last week was. It was a week when we saw people’s true feelings and concerns on the news. We heard political arguments, we heard about more local lockdowns including Caerphilly and we heard the reaction of people to this.

Lockdown was not fun and it is still difficult to get used to the new normal, which former Prime Minister Tony Blair described as everything that was not normal before.  Understandably people in Caerphilly are upset. I heard the voices on the news of people feeling unfairly treated because they had done all the right things but others hadn’t which had led to a local lockdown. They were angry and disappointed.

I would love to say that I didn’t get fed up of other people’s behaviour in lockdown, it wouldn’t be true. When we find things hard we can all judge others a bit for not living in the way that we have been living.

In our readings from the epistle to the Romans (14:1-12) and the gospel of Matthew (18:21-35) we heard about behaviour. In Romans we were reminded that we are not to judge and in Matthew that we are to forgive.

Nothing difficult, nothing that will be hard for us then.. Ahem ! In this week amidst all the news there was one news story that will have an ongoing commentary on behaviour. Yes, Eastenders is back. When Ian and I were in college one of our tutors always said that if you want to know what is really happening in the world, and the kinds of things that trouble others then you should watch Eastenders.

We don’t watch Eastenders, but we used to. One of the things that always seems to happen in Eastenders is that people thrive on gossip and emotions. To be honest from that point of view I think our tutor was right because we all thrive on a good chit chat and on our emotions. This is why it is so hard not to judge and to always forgive.

In the reading from Romans, Paul who wrote the letter made it clear that the community of believers needed to support each other, not to gossip behind each others backs. One of the big problems was that there was food in Rome which would have been sacrificed to pagan gods, and there was a big problem over what a Christian should do. If someone ate the food then others might judge their faith and accuse them of getting involved in pagan life. Some would see eating the food as fine, and judge others for not eating it in case they were seen as rude. Paul pointed out that the main thing was not to judge but to do everything for Jesus. This meant that everything was to be done for God and so it would all be good. We live for Jesus he pointed out, and so we are to live lives were we put Jesus first. If we do this and don’t judge then everything else will fall into place.

It’s not easy being a Christian at times precisely because we aren’t to judge, but whenever we think of judging we need to remember that everything we do, we do for God.

This applies to forgiveness as well. When we forgive someone then we feel better as long as we have managed to forget as well. Bizarre things come along in life and a little while ago I read about a twitter row that came about due to judging. Jim Corr, who was the brother in the band the Corrs some years ago had gone to a protest about having to wear face masks in Ireland. He was questioned for his thoughts by none other than those other great Irish singers, well not really great but … Jedward.

Using lyrics from their songs Jedward and Jim Corr had an argument and they got down to finishing this by using a line from a Corrs song which was, “you’re forgiven but not forgotten.” This can actually be so true of us, we can forgive people but not completely forget. This is not real forgiveness.

In the gospel reading (Matthew 18:21-35) we heard of forgiveness, the need to forgive and to accept that we have been forgiven. In the gospel reading  when Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive he would have known about a tradition from the rabbis. The tradition was that you could forgive someone for doing the same offence to you 3 times but then no more. Peter probably thought that he was being extravagant by going beyond the three times to seven. Jesus’ response suggests forgiveness that is even more.  This is incredible, the answer Jesus gives of 77 times is not meant to be an exact figure. It’s not as if He was encouraging us to keep a forgiveness book where we tally up the number of times we have forgiven someone. The point was that 77 times is a lot bigger than 3, we are to forgive more than any number we can pluck out of the air. We are to forgive and keep forgiving. 

To illustrate His point Jesus told a parable that is laughable in some ways. This is because the servant  went to the King and asked for his debt to be excused and to be given time to repay. The amount he owed was an impossible amount to pay. A writer called Josephus writing around the time of Jesus calculated the taxes in Judea, Idumea and Samaria as coming to 600 talents, which he said would take 150,000 years to pay off. There was no way that the man in the parable Jesus told would be able to pay off his 10, 000 talents. 

 

The King had been forgiving and basically excused this man whose response wasn’t good at all as he attacked someone who owed him a lot less and made them go to prison. This reminds us that forgiveness, which is so much more than we could imagine, must be accepted and make us want to act differently.  We have been given the best gift ever, forgiveness and the promise of life everlasting. God has blessed us extravagantly but this means that we are to be extravagant back. Extravagant in our love for God, putting Him first, extravagant in our love of others and extravagant in the ways that we forgive others even when it seems to make no sense to do so.

 

We need to not just accept that we have been forgiven, we need to forgive. It seems so annoying at times but we are called to forgive as we have been forgiven. It isn’t easy. 

 

Back to Eastenders, it would never work if people always forgave and never held a grudge. Our behaviour then is to be non-judgmental and forgiving. This is not always easy but we know that we do it in God’s strength. In the epistle to the Romans it was clear that we are to support those who are weak in their faith. We are to be there for one another, not judging but forgiving, not disliking but loving. Everything we do and the life that we live is for God.

 

To get our behaviour right then is to base it on the one who gives us life and who we live for. If we want to know how to live, well it comes from reading our Bible, following the pattern of Jesus, trying to be more like Him. It means making our lives work by asking the question – what would Jesus do and supporting each other in living that way. AMEN 

 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Take up your cross

 A long time ago I saw a thing on the internet about job descriptions for jobs that are really bad and I looked it up again this week but couldn’t find it – the closest I came was a list of the top 10 worst jobs as voted for by the readers of the Grimsby Telegraph ! At the very top was a sewage worker… 

 

To be fair it’s not the most immediately attractive job on paper at least, and the reason I was thinking about this related to today’s gospel reading from Matthew (16:21-28). Jesus is talking about his followers and what it means to be one of those followers. 

 

First of all he’s described how he has to go to Jerusalem to be killed. Peter argues with him and is bluntly told, ‘Get behind me Satan !’  It seems harsh but Peter was judging things by earthly standards and Jesus had very different ideas and he went on to tell the disciples that whoever wanted to follow him must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow… 

 

It’s not an immediately attractive job description is it ? And in some ways perhaps that was what Jesus intended – he had shown those closest to him some incredible things in his earthly ministry – they had enjoyed fellowship with him, they had listened to his teaching, they had witnessed some miracles and they had known and witnessed his love for them and for others.

 

Although by no means popular everywhere, Jesus was interesting to people. He had what today might be described as celebrity status, albeit in a relatively small area... We’re used to celebrities coming crashing down because of some weakness or problem but then power and strength was incredibly important – the idea of a Messiah coming to die couldn’t be right… 

 

But Jesus continually turned upside down the standards and expectations of the world and offered something different and today he invites each of his followers, just as he did then, to be prepared to take up our cross and follow him. 

 

And maybe that won’t always be easy. Maybe we will be inconvenienced for the sake of the gospel, maybe we’ll have to make tough choices, or stand up for things when others aren’t. Maybe we’ll have to be willing to love those who society seems to be shunning. Maybe we need to look different !

 

And that won’t always be easy. Jesus didn’t lose control by going to the cross but actually exercised enormous power by offering himself for everyone else – by taking the sins of all on his shoulders… He knew that his death wasn’t going to be the end of the story, but rather a new beginning, for the people at that time and for the millions of people since… 

 

Life for all was offered through the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus.

 

But yes, let’s get back to this thought about it not being a great job description for being a follower of Jesus – take up your cross, lose your life maybe for his sake…. What is it about ?

 

Well, Jesus answers that a little at the end of this reading as he tells his followers that he would come back – he would come back to judge people. Elsewhere the gospels make it clear that Jesus doesn’t want to condemn the world but to offer new life, fulness of life. Yes, he offers eternal life to those who trust in him and that puts any troubles of this world into some perspective. It perhaps makes at least tolerable some of the suffering which might have to be undertaken if we’re truly committing our lives to Jesus. 

 

To those early followers these sort of words were incredibly powerful – they understood all too well what it meant to take up their cross, in other words to risk death at the hands of Roman authorities for whom their lives were pretty unimportant. 

 

For Jesus, no life is ever unimportant and when we’re called to fulness of life, to enjoy life here as we wait for the incredible riches and blessings of eternal life, we’re called to discover the riches he has given for us, riches that are often found in the strangest of places. 

 

One of the things that this pandemic has taught people is that those riches are often not found in money or any kind of material wealth, they’re often not found in success in work or any sort of celebrity status, but rather in our relationships with others and of course, in our relationship with God. 

 

Last Sunday and on Wednesday we were challenged to think about who Jesus is to us and it’s a question that is there again in the underlying message of this gospel reading. How committed are we, not to a particular building, not to a particular tradition, but to Jesus…

 

And in the section of Paul’s letter to the Romans that we heard (12:9-21) we’re given a description of the marks of a Christian. When Jesus talks about taking up the cross, these are the sort of things that he is calling his followers to do, and I’ll just mention some of those that Paul writes about but it’s a passage worth reading over and over again. He says :

 

Let love be genuine, hate what is evil

Love one another with mutual affection, outdo one another in showing honour

Serve the Lord, rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering

Persevere in prayer.

Bless those who persecute you

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty give them something to drink. 

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 

 

It’s a pretty demanding list but it is taking seriously the commandment to love one another, to look out for our neighbour whoever that neighbour might be and some of the words in there actually inspire us to go further than just help when we can – we are to be active in care and concern and love. We are to try and outdo one another in doing what is good. 

 

So often it’s comfortable to think we’ve done enough when we’ve completed something good, but Jesus always encourages us to go further, to go the extra mile for others, to show others what love is about… 

 

Life as a Christian won’t always be easy. The gospel reading highlighted that – “take up your cross !” it said. But as we do that, as we grow closer to other people through the way we live, through displaying or trying to display the qualities that Paul wrote about, we are growing closer to God and as we grow closer to him, we relax into a relationship that changes us, that makes us less fearful of the challenges we face, but more visionary and ready to see the opportunities before us to serve God through loving others. 

 

‘Take up your cross’ is not a warning of a tough life ahead, but an invitation to join a family committed to working together for good, committed to showing love for others and  seeking to go the extra mile wherever we can to try and reveal Jesus to people, and to join a family that will celebrate eternally together the rewards and riches not of money or of earthly success and wealth but of the grace, mercy and love of God.  

 

Earlier I thought about the idea of taking up the cross as a rather unattractive job description, but to do it for Jesus offers the greatest privilege we can ever know. AMEN

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Doubters to believers

 For my text this morning I’m not immediately going to use one of the Bible readings but rather words from the Liverpool Echo from October 9th2015, and the words of Jurgen Klopp who had just been appointed the Liverpool Football Club Manager. 

He said, “We have to change from doubters to believers. Now.

At this moment we (all the LFC family is) are a little bit too nervous, a little bit too pessimistic, a little bit too much in doubt,” he said. 

“They all celebrate the game and there is a fantastic atmosphere in the stadium, But they don’t believe at the moment. They only see five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago.

History is great. But only to remember. Now we have the possibility to write a new story if we want.

At a time when we’re really being challenged to consider our faith and our churches, I don’t think there could be more appropriate words than these and today’s gospel (Matthew 14:22-33) could not contain a more appropriate message. 

Think about the gospel reading – just before the section we heard Jesus had fed the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish and now he wanted to get away and so he asked his disciples to get into a boat and go on ahead over the Sea of Galilee while he spent some time in prayer…. 

And that’s one thing to note immediately – the importance of prayer in what we do, in everything we do. I don’t know how the lockdown period has worked for everyone but I do know that for some people it has actually been a time of real discovery, discovery of an ability to just pray – to pray without formal words or liturgy, just to offer our thoughts to God in simple, heartfelt words… 

We must never under-estimate the need to pray…. 

But back to the disciples. They were out on the water and their boat was getting a bit battered around and suddenly they saw this ghost like figure coming towards them – naturally they were terrified until they heard the words of Jesus, ‘Do not be afraid.’

And suddenly they weren’t – they were excited, they knew they were safe – Jesus was right there with them. And Peter, often the most excitable of all, was first in line to ask Jesus whether he could get out of the boat and walk on the water as well – and he started to do it… 

And it seems that it was going fine, until Peter realised that there was a nasty wind and he got scared and began to sink… 

That of course wasn’t the end of the account though because Peter asked Jesus to save him and he did and eventually all the disciples again praised Jesus for his incredible saving power and care… 

So there are lots of lessons to learn from this one short account. 

The first is the need for prayer – we need to pray regularly. We need to recognise that God is alongside us always, looking out for us, loving us, inviting us to get closer to him – we need to accept that invitation more often… And I can pretty confidently say we need to do it more often because I don’t think any of us pray enough because we’re imperfect and things get in the way and we get distracted or we get our priorities wrong… 

Pray regularly !

The second thing is to remember those words of Jesus, ‘Do not be afraid.’ He says them a lot – they occur in the bible over 300 times… 

Life can sometimes be scary, it can be uncertain. Jesus knew that and he knows that… At the moment lots of people are facing all kinds of problems that they never expected – life is different, but to every problem, to every fear, Jesus says, ‘Do not be afraid.’ 

And those could be taken as rather glib words except for the fact that time and time again Jesus has proved not just his love for us, but also his power to guide us, to strengthen us, to care for us… 

Jesus, who in his time on earth, gave an example of how to live and love, showed his power through miracles like the feeding of the 5,000, like the ability to walk on water… 

He showed his power through the prayers he offered for the very people who were torturing and killing him on the cross. He showed his power and love in the forgiveness he offered to all those disciples who’d abandoned him when things got really bad… 

‘Do not be afraid.’ These words of Jesus are not empty words, but a promise of eternal love, guidance and protection…

And so we’ve thought of the gift we’re given of prayer, of talking to God, and we’ve thought of the fact that we can trust Jesus who will always be there with us and for us, and finally I want to think of Peter… 

He was excited when he knew it was Jesus walking on the water and he wanted to do it too and so Jesus let him – he called him towards him and gave him the power to do it, and Peter was doing it, until his own doubts got in the way…. 

How often does God give us strength to do things but we allow our own worries and fears to get in the way ?   

More bluntly, how often do we fail to really trust Jesus ?

I think this lockdown period has to have taught us a lot of things and one of them is to really think about our priorities..

Where is our trust being placed ? If it’s in material things, they can disappear very easily – money can’t buy everything. 

If it’s in a particular church building, that won’t last – churches can be locked up as they have been for the past few months. A building, however beautiful and useful as a tool for our worship, will not give us all we need…. 

It is only by trusting in Jesus and building a relationship with him, that we find real life, that we find someone to whom we can talk to in prayer confidently, honestly… It is only in Jesus that we can truly know that we don’t need to be afraid because he’s with us and he has faced the worst that the world can offer and come through it… 

Back to Jurgen Klopp, who in case you’re wondering I’m not likening to Jesus, but back to his words –     We need to turn from doubters to believers, to not just look at the glories of the past and talk about years gone by, but to be confident of the present and the future. 

In other words let’s stop talking about incredible buildings being full of people of all ages with plenty of money to pay the bills and not a leaking roof in sight…   Let’s look to Jesus and seek his vision for us today, for his church today… 

Like Peter, let’s step out of the boat, keep our eyes fixed firmly on Jesusand walk confidently…  

AMEN 

 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Shine like the sun

I wonder how many people in recent times have thought that evil seems to be winning or that God has no control in the world… Perhaps some have gone further by asking how can a loving God have allowed such chaos to dominate not just a small part of the world but the whole world… 

Lots of people will be asking those sort of questions and now it would be easy to say let’s put the past behind us and move on. We’re back in church, even though it’s different !! 
But actually, we need to recognise that things are different and we need to challenge ourselves to consider what in us needs to be different as we move forward and today I want to think of one line from the gospel reading that we just heard (Matthew 13:24-30,36-43) and actually I want to take it in some ways out of context… 

It’s the very last line from the gospel we heard, ‘Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father…’  I’m going to use this out of context because it describes a situation that is to come, a situation when God has judged the people of the world, a situation where death and sin and pain are no more… A situation that finally proves to us, if we hadn’t quite always been sure, that God is in control… 

But I don’t want to think about judgement today and I don’t want to think about our eternal state with God, important though those things are… Today, I want to think about today and about tomorrow and about next week.

And I think those words from the gospel, ‘Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father’, stand not just as a wonderful promise for the future, but as an inspiration for today… 

One of the inevitable consequences of the last few months is that church will look very different at least for a while. Some people will come back, some won’t and hopefully some new people will come as well, but we have an opportunity to make a mark perhaps like never before in our lifetime as the church – an opportunity to reflect and plan ahead and that has to begin with us…. 

And that means that shining like the sun in the kingdom of our Father isn’t something for the future, but it’s a demand of us today. Each of us are called to shine brightly for God, and one of the things that I’m sure of is that amidst the questions from some people, amidst their doubts, amidst their concerns, there is a longing for something, a longing for something which gives meaning to life… 

And I believe, and I hope you do, that we know that meaning in Jesus. He doesn’t magically remove some of our concerns and provide easy answers to every tough question, but he does make that promise to us of an eternal relationship with his people – it is a promise not to leave us alone, but a promise to walk alongside us every moment of every day. 

As we move into an uncertain future for the church, we have some options. We can do it pessimistically wondering what the future might hold and shaking our heads at the problems we face… 

That’s a natural enough response surely… Things are a bit of a mess. Congregation numbers may be down for a while, the money situation isn’t going well for a lot of churches, we’re not going to get a biscuit and a cup of tea after the service for a while. It’s easy to be pessimistic… 

Or we could perhaps just long for the day when things are back to normal. We can wait until we can sing and have that cup of tea. We can wait until we can give people a hug and things will be ok again… 

We can tell ourselves it will be worth the wait.

Or there is a third option and that is to look at this as a real opportunity to think about where God might be leading us in this – we can take this as a real opportunity to pray more, to read the bible more, to think about what our churches might look like into the future… 

We can actually take this as a positive challenge to accept renewal of our churches and our lives, starting out afresh on a journey that isn’t going to be always easy, but certainly isn’t going to bring us down at every moment, but is going to lift us up as we face challenges together that we can overcome, as we can celebrate God’s goodness always, and as we can learn more and more to depend on him for our future, because there is no other way.  

And that is surely the crux of where we have to go in our lives, recognising God, recognising his presence in our lives and recognising both his love for us and his desire for us to enjoy a life of blessing, a life where our only option as we recognise his unchanging goodness and love, is to shine as lights for him out into a world desperately hoping for and needing good news. 

A theologian J I Packer, died on Friday. When asked what his final words for the church would be, he replied, ‘Glorify Christ every way.’

As Christians that isn’t just what we’re called to do, but it is our greatest privilege and can be our greatest joy as we seek to serve the creator who loves us and who offers us life, true, full life, always. 

Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father, said the gospel. May we be willing to try and shine today, tomorrow and beyond, that our lives may be full and that we may touch others who need to know they’re loved and wanted by God. AMEN 

Saturday, May 09, 2020

The way, the truth and the life 2020

The great American evangelist Billy Graham is quoted as saying, “I've read the last page of the Bible, it's all going to turn out all right.” I think there are some days and some times when we need to hear that a little more than at others… Perhaps for some of you, that time may be now ! 

And the readings from today point us, not to the last page of the bible, but certainly to some words of hope and inspiration. 

In the gospel according to John (14:1-14) we’re told by Jesus, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me’. These are powerful words, and words which can be trusted because they come from Jesus, but it’s not always as easy as it sounds is it ? 

Sometimes, although we want to trust, 
and we want to be sure, 
and we want to know that everything will be ok in the end, 
it just doesn’t feel like it ! 

But Jesus didn’t leave it there. He had more to say, ‘In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you ?’ 

People often think of this life and the next and that’s understandable in one sense, but actually Jesus in these words is linking up these supposed two lives and making one – one eternal life… 

Jesus has lived on earth, he has died and come back to life and has gone to prepare a place for us. We don’t get too many pictures of heaven from the bible but what we get is an image of a place of no pain, no mourning, no tears, a place where we live in close contact with God all the time. 

We get this idea that whatever might be happening to us now, whatever happened yesterday, whatever happens tomorrow, things will, as Billy Graham suggested, ‘turn out all right.’ 

That can be challenging enough for us sometimes, but as the disciples were listening to these words of Jesus, they didn’t know he was going to die and rise again, 
they didn’t understand the power that God would offer his people through the Holy Spirit, they didn’t understand the fact that what would become the church would grow into a worldwide family of millions, as we do, 
and so it was natural perhaps that Thomas would speak up and say, 
‘Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way ?’ 

And Jesus responded with those words, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life…’ In other words, I think Jesus is saying that he’s all we ever need ! 

He is the way, leading us in the right direction in our lives. He is the truth – this is God, who we can trust, who we can follow, who has shown us how to live with love, with compassion, with hope and peace; and he is the life, in other words the giver of abundant and eternal life… 

And so we’re invited to follow his way; and to live, knowing and trusting his truth and we’re invited to accept life, life in all its fulness as our gospel reading last week described it (John 10:10)… 

Again in the gospel according to John we are being invited to make a decision as to what we think of Jesus and whether we should follow him or not… What is our response to his invitation drawing us closer to him ? 

And in the reading from Acts (7:55-60, 8:1a) we heard of a real example of what following Jesus meant as Stephen was stoned as the first Christian martyr. It’s a pretty gruesome account, and at first sight, perhaps following Jesus doesn’t seem the greatest idea ! 

But Stephen reminds us that it is. He doesn’t approach his earthly death with fear but with hope and with trust. His words are almost triumphant, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God !’

The people who were there to see Stephen die didn’t want to listen and covered their ears but Stephen clearly recognised that this wasn’t the end of his life but the start of a new phase – he understood perfectly this bridging of the life before earthly death and the life after earthly death into one life, eternal life with God. 

That is the life into which we are invited. A life that will have ups and downs. A life that will contain some sadness as well as hopefully lots of joy, but above all a life lived knowing that God is right here with us, that God takes our journey of life with us… 

And one final thing to add about that reading from Acts and that came from the last verse we heard, ‘And Saul approved of their killing him.’ Saul approved of killing Stephen.

This was the same Saul whose incredible conversion we read about if we continue the Book of Acts on just a little bit. This was the same Saul who would become Paul, probably the most prolific evangelist the church has ever known. 

Who knows the impact those words of Stephen had on Saul ?

We will hopefully not be called to die for our faith, but we are called to live for it, to live for Jesus, and to share something of his love, and of the peace and hope that he can offer, with others. 

We may never know the power of our words, of our small or huge acts of kindness, of our visible actions of trusting God wherever we find ourselves. 
Who knows what people see and when they will respond to the invitation of Jesus to ‘follow him’, the ‘way and the truth and the life.’  

Adapting some of the words of the hymn that will follow (The Day of Resurrection), 
‘The day of resurrection, let’s tell it out everywhere, 
Christ the Lord is risen, our joy can have no end.’ 
AMEN