MESSAGE FROM THE MINISTER
07 November 2020
I pray that they will all be one
Jesus said, in John's Gospel: "I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one".
There is a slight ambiguity about the word 'all' but generally people believe Jesus is referring to Christians. Given that even this is not easy, for me it is still limiting. I believe that Christianity has the challenge to bring together, in reconciliation, all people. A much harder ask! But one, I think, is at the heart at what I see as the Christian message. In times gone passed, it has been interpreted to mean go out and convert people, especially from far away countries, to believe what we believe. I find this most unacceptable.
I understand reconciliation as bringing people together even, and perhaps especially, with their differences. Not to become one block; but as one, even if apart.
Some politicians, as we have seen in recent days, prefer to divide people, one group against another. And there are many reasons why people often stand apart from one another. However for Christians that is not good enough - our role is to show the world another way. I have deeply held political opinions but I still see the need, no necessity, to bring people together and reconcile them. Our churches welcome all; especially those it finds hard to get along with. It is not about making others do what we do but rather for the sake of humanity to hold the world together so all can flourish whoever they are, whatever they believe and whatever stage they are on their life's journey.
As we remember those who fought in conflicts; let us remember all people, so called friends and so called enemies - as people created by God to live together and make God's Reign a reality here on earth.
31 October 2020
While death is a taboo topic among many,
Halloween is 'alive and well' in the community. With restrictions in place, the usual tour by children of the neighbourhood may not happen this year but there will be large numbers still marking the day. The Christian Church also thinks about those who have died especially among the faithful, commemorating the 1st November as "All Hallows' Day" or "All Saints' Day". The United Reformed Church tends not to recognise the day, which I think is a shame. But many communities around the world have a holiday and party with enthusiasm. They remember with some passion those who have gone before, making the memory of past lives part of their own life in the present.
November has become the month of remembering, a dark month to think about and reflect on lives past and the heritage they have left to us. Next week, among the falling leaves of autumn we will remember those who have died in warfare - our 'enemies' and our 'friends'; a chance to ponder on the cost of conflict and pray for peace. It is with thanksgiving we learn to appreciate what past lives have contributed to the lives we live now.
In Judaism, people often say, when they hear someone has died: "may their memory be a blessing". We remember and celebrate them but also give thanks for what their lives mean to us.
25 October 2020
A call to care
When those around Jesus, tried to stop a child getting close to the Master, Jesus stepped in, picked up the child gave them a hug and told his disciples: "whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me!" How we care for our children is of paramount importance; and a sign of a caring community. That's why people from all walks of life are responding to Marcus Rashford's campaign to ensure during holidays, half term and Christmas, adequate food is provided for the very poor in our society.
For churches, food is the sign of God's love for all and a symbol of Christ's presence among us. Jesus shared meals with all sorts of people and at his last supper, presented food - bread and wine- as a sign he 'stands' alongside us. Food poverty is unacceptable to Christians and that's why church members work together with those of other faiths and of no faith, in food banks, ensuring those who have slipped through the net of social care and poor wages, can feed themselves and feed their children.
The book of Proverbs in the Bible says: "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it." We care for our children because they need the love and stability to give them a basis for life ahead. Not everyone can become a professional footballer but the lesson from Rashford's childhood resonates and spurs him on to make sure no child goes hungry.
The young people of the United Reformed Church are urging members to write to their MPs and to support the campaign to end child poverty.
17 October 2020
Open for business - not quite!
We have all struggled with lockdown, face coverings, sanitisers and so on, first waves and now second waves. This new world we are living is very strange and unfamiliar. Yet, as adaptable creatures we are making the best of it and making quite a few changes to the way we live, even if sometimes, hesitantly. The Church too is trying to be 'business as usual'. And yet, we have restrictions and changes we need to make. What kind of God do we see in our present situation? For me, Jesus shows us the nature of God, living among us, challenging, healing, alive and responding to the realities of life. It led him to face the powers and authorities of his time and it cost him his life. And yet, in that death, we still see God working out some sort of transformed life to point the way for humanity.
Nothing stands still. Life, for all of us, has its ups and downs. We are forced to change, very often against our own wishes and dreams. The church, and its buildings, have been part of our communities for a very long time and yet now that position is being challenged like never before. We in the Church will respond. Looking along our High Streets, we see shops we have known all our lifetime, closed and boarded up. Will that happen to the church buildings we know so well? They too may have to close. But the Church is not about buildings, no matter how beautiful they are and how much we love them - but about the community of God's people - in and of the world, working out God's vision of love, hope and life.
The challenge for Christians today is to be that healing community amongst the people, bringing all people together in love and hope; thus offering everyone a life in all its fullness.
10 October 220
A vision of peace and reconciliation
Bullying and discord are two recognisable features of our world. With social media and political discourse emphasising disagreement and the championing of the self over everything else, many ordinary people are feeling bullied and distressed. The second wave of the pandemic, much predicted, adds fear and isolation into this heady mix. For followers of Jesus, this world of disagreement is not a foundation on which to build. For us, Jesus was Prince of Peace and a reconciling figure, bringing people together - yes, he often got mad, especially when he saw a misuse of power or the self-righteousness of some leaders - but his ministry was to those who got a bad deal in life, the ones crushed by the powerful and made to feel like losers; in place of this, Jesus offered life in all its fullness.
Jesus shows us God's vision for the world; and the church, in our local setting, seeks to live out that vision. The church desires to build community bringing all different kinds of people together, listening out for the voices 'crying in the wilderness'; it offers a way of life which seeks out meaning and direction. It's not always clear but in all it does that vision is before the church leading it on and encouraging members to be agents of peace in all relationships.
This is not easy. We are human after all, and we often make mistakes, are argumentative and let our needs come first, over those of others. The challenge is to work hard at building up communities and to foster a spirit of cooperation and relationship. Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God." The church's aim is to live up to that vision and 'turn weapons into welcome signs and the lust for power into a desire for peace' (Wild Goose, Wee Worship Book 1989). If you find this a message of hope, why not take up the challenge and learn more about Jesus and his vision for the world?
3 October 2020
Jesus, the perfect host
When Jesus held a party, it was a very special event. He didn't invite all the important people in the community but those who were unseen, dismissed. They were the new 'special'. They were the people who never normally get invited to any feast!
Jesus had a keen eye to uncover the injustices in the world. As he went about his ministry, wandering around the countryside and visiting Jerusalem, the chief city where worship at the temple was a prize and the political power base was focussed, he sought out those who were not part of the elite but victims of the policies of the powerful. The blind, the infirm, women, children, the sick, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the poor, the homeless. Jesus made visible those who were invisible. For Jesus's celebration, these were the guests and these were given pride of place. Jesus often said: the first shall be last and the last first. What does that mean for us?
Jesus welcomes us into the realm of God. He invites us to make a difference to the world by turning it upside-down. The church is a place were you should be able to see this upside-down world in action, a place that, in miniature, we can see God's plan made real. And like a mustard seed, the church believes this vision, once formed, will grow and prosper.
The church shares bread and wine, the feast of God, representing, the body of Christ, sign of God's spirit, reaching out beyond the walls of the church into the community. And Jesus invites us all to share in that life-giving opportunity. I think the church today is only too aware of its failings but each time we meet in Jesus's name, we renew our vision of a different world where everyone is seen and recognised, and where everyone has a place.
27 September 2020
Jesus, the nightmare guest
People are often asked if they could choose anyone - dead or alive - to invite to a dinner party, who would they like. Occasionally people suggest Jesus would be a good choice. I think they underestimate how uncomfortable he'd make them feel. To my mind, he'd be a bit of a nightmare.
I imagine it was the Victorians that turned Jesus into a meek and mild sort of guy. Someone, surrounded by loving lambs, who cares for children and offers healing to the broken and comfort to the rest of us. And in many places, that image of Jesus lives on in their minds and in the church today. But have they been listening closely to the sermon or read their Bible? If Jesus brought comfort, he also brought discomfort - a challenge more often than not to the way we live our lives. When I read about some preachers who are constantly asking for money to buy big houses and fast cars, I wonder if they're taken Jesus seriously.
Some Christians imagine they are very blessed by Jesus and that entails prosperity as a measure of how blessed they are. But Jesus had no bank account and challenged his followers to give everything up to follow him. He lived hand to mouth, reliant on the generosity of others, sharing everything they had in order to create something close to the Kingdom of God. And there was also the issues of justice and peace to contend with.
If we are truthful, most of us Christians rather like our comforts, our warm homes and expensive holidays. If this year, with COVID 19, has taught us anything, we might see the great challenge of our age: the simple life, love of neighbour and respect for life, all life. It's a start but Jesus demands yet more from us - love our enemies, give our riches away, walk the path of sacrifice and cost.
A friend of mine posted a quote on line this week: "We are spiritual contributors not spiritual consumers. The Church does not exist for us. We are the Church and we exist for the world." What a challenge!
Jesus is a guest who not only turns our lives upside down, but demands we think less of ourselves and more of others. A nightmare guest, indeed!
20 September 2020
At this time of the year, Harvest preparations would normally be well in hand; but, this year life is very different. With the possible reintroduction of a lockdown, churches are nervous about what it might mean for them in the coming weeks. One thing is for sure, gathering produce from the garden, greengrocer or supermarket to bring to church and to share it with local charities, is not going to happen. It is all rather gloomy especially as Harvest is one of those festivals that make us feel glad to be alive, puts us back in touch with nature, and is a hopeful sign of the goodness of God. And, not least, churches like singing "We plough the fields and scatter..." which is normally sung with gusto.
It would be easy to feel downhearted.
But churches have a responsibility to explore the message of hope in the gloom of disaster and even pandemic. Although we are not able to sing yet in church, we can reflect on the words of hymns. One of the great church hymns - sung to a great variety of tunes - is "Now thank we all our God", and when it is sung the congregation is uplifted. It was written by Pastor Martin Rinkart during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) as a table grace for his family, as the Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann reminds us in his recent publication, "Virus as a summons to Faith". The hymn was written not just during the long war, but at a time of great pestilence when Rinkart it is said to have often buried as many as forty or fifty people a day. Although his wife also succumbed, Rinkart himself survived.
His prayer of thanks is set against a time of great trouble and relentless death, and yet he counted his blessings and still gave thanks to God. I'm not sure I have that kind of resilience in the face of such tragedy but I am reminded, with all Christians, that we believe in a God of Hope, a hope against hope!
Now thank we all our God,
with hearts and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom his world rejoices;
who from our mothers' arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us in his grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
in this world and the next.
13 September 2020
Is church more then a building?
For the past six months, church buildings have been closed and people have found it hard to take. Members have been grieving for their regular, sometimes weekly, visits; not just missing their friends and the routine of worship, but the very bricks and mortar that make up the signs to the world that Christianity happens here.
Villages, towns and cities are often identifiable by buildings we call 'Church' - sacred spaces that in the past have acted as gathering places, locations to bury the dead, to celebrate weddings and christenings. On the grander scale they have been places of national importance where events and celebrations have taken place in the name of all the people.
To Christians they are perhaps the location to meet with God. Of course there are other places where people meet with God but the church is that special places reserved for the encounter with the Almighty.
So, Christians have missed their familiar places where they have always experienced the sacred.
Now, the people are once more able to pass through the doors, metaphorically remove their shoes, and gather together finding God in the congregation, in the specialness of ritual and in the holiness of a building reserved for the encounter with God. And so, after months of absence, Christians can gather again in the holy space, albeit in line with government guidelines. We appreciate the moment even more because of the privation.
But of course, God has never been absent; our perceptions of God changed perhaps. We are called into God's presence only to be sent out into the world to discover Jesus working in and through the world all of us inhabit, as always.
6 September 2020
The adventure of loving life...
The history of Christianity is a story full of adventure, comfort, battle and peace. On the one hand there are those who experience the faith as a source of consolation and encouragement, personal and private; and on the other hand some see it as a challenge to convince others of its rightness and opposition to the way of the world, public and corporate. For most, it is probably a mix of all of this. Although the media like to portray the Church as a single monolithic entity, forbidding alternative views, the truth of the matter is Church is a complex mix of many different and differing views; just as those attending, our congregations and worshippers, are a wide variety of people from all walks of life and from all kinds of backgrounds.
Indeed, Christians are keen to show people who have never set foot in a church how varied we are. For our vision is to reflect the world, in all its complexity, not turning anyone away or demanding conditions to being accepted as part of who we are. The fact we don't always live up to our vision is a bit of a truism, the aim is to share what we know and understand of Jesus, in a world desperate for some good news. For in Jesus, we see something of what we believe is the foundation of life itself: to love life and share its riches with those the world reject.
9 August 2020
Please pray for Beirut
If you've seen the footage of the Beirut explosion last week, you may have thought it was another act of terrorism; but as it quickly became clear it was a self-inflicted wound on the face of a once great city. Whoever thought it a good idea to store highly flammable explosives next to fireworks was asking for trouble. But as usual those responsible for the emergency were not close by; rather, the people most affected were the innocent people living and working around the port. The explosion was catastrophic and did an unbelievable amount of damage. In the days following, anger grew at those responsible for leaving the explosives at the port for six years. Nizar Saghiyeh of Legal Agenda, an NGO based in Beirut, told the BBC, "the responsibility for the ammonium nitrate's storage in the port lies with the ministry, customs, and port management." (BBC Website 08/08/2020)
The extent and magnitude of the destruction is mind-blowing and immediately a call went out to the international community for donations. The wounded and those made homeless measure in the thousands. The community hospital was severely damaged and unable to cope with the numbers needing their skill.
There are many organisations needing donations:
• The Lebanese Red Cross Donate here
• Lebanese food bank Donate here
• Impact Lebanon Donate here
• Beit el Baraka Donate here
• Amel Association Donate here
The Guardian newspaper has a visual guide on the "how explosion caused mass casualties and devastation across Beirut"
Please give as best as you can. Please pray for Beirut.
2 August 2020
As some parts of the UK bathe in glorious sunshine, many have been grateful that lockdown took place during an unusually sunny spring. And for a nation like ours, sunshine is seen as good news. But the ominous truth is that around the world, sunshine is the great enemy. Record temperatures are being reached to a level not seen on earth for thousands of years. Rarely reported in our media, cities in the Middle East last week have been hit with their highest temperatures ever, reaching above 50°C; two weeks ago, the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk experienced temperatures of 38°C and the Atlantic hurricane season has already started in July when the previous record of the earliest start recorded in 2005 was August 7th.
Suddenly we are seeing records tumble. We can't say we haven't been warned. But there are still many who deny global warming.
The Bible tells a story not on penetrating and destructive sunshine and heat, but of torrential, devastating rain in the story of Noah. It is clear that the destructive forces seen in our weather patterns are due to us humans acting selfishly, pillaging the earth and destroying so much of it while burning fossils and causing greenhouse gases. Churches have many calls on their time and energy but there is nothing more essential to the world's wellbeing than tackling global warming.
The United Reformed Church supports Operation Noah
, their website states: "Operation Noah believes that the likelihood of runaway global warming raises questions that go to the heart of our Christian faith; that God's creation is a gift that we have a duty to care for and that the wellbeing of all creation matters to God; that climate change is about justice, because the poor of the world - those who have done the least to cause it - are already suffering the devastating consequences of the climate crisis. Acting on climate change is about loving our neighbours: that means those in other countries and future generations too."
25 July 2020
Jesus welcomes us home
There's a hymn Christians sing, about what the church is: it is where God is praised, where we are wanted and loved, where we try to live and to share out God's good news. In all its four verses it never talks about the church as a building. And yet for a great number of people, it is just that: a building. Or if its not just a building, it's the people who go to the building. One of my other favourite hymns is "The love of God is broad like beach and meadow" which talks about the wideness of God's love reaching out beyond our narrow horizons, and always reminds me of sunny summer holidays, walking the dog along the strand, building sandcastles in the sand or playing rounders or cricket with the incoming sea a constant threat to being bowled out.
Many of the older churches around are not very full these days; even at Christmas not all services or worship are as full as they once were.
You wouldn't have thought, six months ago that people are now seeking our church communities, and other communities of worship, and reaching out to the many websites, that have replaced our closed church buildings. Church is now on line, through websites, and on social media; whether it be Facebook, TikTok or Twitter, the need to keep in touch has been profound. Will the churches rise to the challenge and offer love, meaning and hope in these troubled times? I think failure will mean that the good news Christians want to talk about - by sharing, loving, giving meaning and significance to peoples' lives - will be an opportunity gone.
Jesus worshipped in synagogues and, at festival time, in the temple at Jerusalem; but more often than not, you'd find him in the streets and in people's homes, ministering in word and action. In the words of the hymn we started with, the church is where everyone is accepted, "whatever their background, whatever their past and whatever their pain." Jesus welcomes us home!
18 July 2020
The women around Jesus
The traditional view of Jesus has him carrying out his ministry surrounded by twelve male disciples. Less emphasis is put on the fact women also followed Jesus. As a man, it makes me uncomfortable to read that when Jesus was in danger, the men around him fled and denied they had anything to do with him. And yet, on the other hand, it was women who remained loyal and were there at the crucifixion and who went to the tomb on that first Sunday resurrection day to take care of his body. If you are prepared to look for them there are hints aplenty to indicate how important the women who followed Jesus were. Forty years ago, Elizabeth Moltmann-Wendel wrote an explosive book, "The Women Around Jesus", and I'm still not sure the church has caught up with her insights.
Most people have heard of the two Marys and the one Martha; but what about Joanna? Moltmann-Wendel has an intriguing chapter on Joanna who, she writes, has been ignored by theologians and biblical scholars. A close reading of the Gospel of Luke uncovers that Joanne is the wife of a distinguished man whom she left - in that society, it was ok for a man to leave his wife but when it was the other way round, it was a scandal! She followed Jesus and cared for him and his disciples by making sure they had enough food and drink. And we read, on the Sunday after Jesus was crucified, this woman, Joanna, was again one of the women who went to the tomb to discover the body was gone.
Still today, when woman have to fight so hard to achieve a place in society, I have read a good number of articles reflecting on the different ways countries have responded to the pandemic. It doesn't take much to see countries with women in leadership positions have had greater success in beating the virus than those led by so called strong men, who have seen the numbers of people affected in their country escalate and out of control. Is there a common theme, I wonder?
11 July 2020
A Jew named Jesus
At the heart of Christianity is the figure of a Jew named Jesus. Over the centuries, he has become the focus of art and architecture, contemplation, debate, social concern, liberation, healing and martyrdom. Followers have given up their lives for him; some have gone to war over him. Some have related well to people of other faiths and religions; others have fought tooth and nail to keep Christianity powerful. It is a chequered history with good and bad springing from that single trust in Jesus.
Churches often play down the political dimension of Christianity, even though in the UK the church has held a position of significance in the running of the nations. Jesus was a great storyteller and someone who disrupted the peace of his times. His followers called him the Son of God, a title given to the Roman Emperor who ruled over most of the Mediterranean world. He was an affront to Roman rule and probably explains why Jesus was executed. Whereas the Emperor ruled with the power of an army and loyal local leaders, taxing the people whose land had been absorbed into the Roman Empire, Jesus spoke out for those who were the victims of the Empire: the poor, the sick, women and children.
I was in London yesterday and in Trafalgar Square, volunteers were serving a hot lunch and drink to anyone who asked for food, mainly the homeless and those who have come upon hard times. There was a sad long line of hungry people. The 'rugged individualism' of our world is here challenged by the sense of community, where we are each important in our own different ways, respected and loved. Jesus would have been both distributer and receiver of such humanitarian aid. In this way, Jesus lives today, not as some stone statue to be worshipped, but as a living experience, in and through the actions of those who share a vision of a just world and who seek to serve those we abandon.
4 July 2020
We need you!
Just as shops, pubs and hairdressers are opening up, there are calls for the church to open its doors too. In fact, the government has already given permission for some to allow private prayer and others to carefully make church buildings available once again. It's not an easy task; many members of congregations are vulnerable and the restrictions that are imposed to allow us to open are very…well, restrictive. So, for a while still, we are keeping our doors closed while busily working on risk assessments and making what are mostly older buildings ready for the rush. 😀
Over these past months, however, churches have experimented with all sorts of inventive ways to bring services into homes. Members have been worshipping through technology and this has attracted a lot of sympathetic views from people who have not recently attended church. It's a new beginning for many churches but is it where we want to be in future? We mustn't forget our buildings are a great resource for the community and all kinds of groups use them as their base. As numbers of worshippers have dropped over the years, churches have turned to all sorts of techniques to attract new members but overall, the church in the UK has continued to decline.
Why has it taken a national emergency to make the churches find new ways to be relevant? There is evidence that people of all ages are finding 2020 a time of heightened anxiety, loneliness and damaging of some community life. People have begun to understand their lives are not just shopping and spending money, even if there was plenty around; retail therapy still leaves gaps in our lives. They've been turning to places of quiet contemplation, to give their lives significance and a sense of direction. No matter what your background, the vision is to welcome everyone to church; we know we have not always been good at living out that vision. You may wish to attend on line or, when we are open again, in person. Whatever it is, we want your help in making meaningful changes to the way we do things and help us to be more relevant to you and the communities around us.
27 June 2020
Fighting for a greener world!
If you think about Christianity at all, you will probably know that the Bible is the book most Christians turn to for comfort and ethical teachings. You may know that the Bible is read out loud in church on Sundays; that it was written centuries ago and very difficult to understand. Even people who have been going to church all their life may find parts of it challenging. It used to be said it is the top bestseller, yet rarely read. And still, many of its stories have become part of the western world's culture and heritage. Many phrases which we take as part of the English language originate in the Bible and the many characters you find there are part of our common heritage.
We use the name 'Jeremiah' to describe a person who is pessimistic about the present and foresees a calamitous future; a prophet of doom. But who was Jeremiah? Did you know he was a 6th century BCE mystic in the Jewish and Christian religions, a Hebrew prophet who said that Jerusalem would be defeated and the people thrown out of their own land. The Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament of the Bible contains his prophecies.
His message was full of doom and defeat in the face of an invasion from other countries. He had many opponents, politicians and other prophets who denounced him for his pessimism; why not, they said, be more positive and get behind the nation - make Israel great again, instead of always running it down. But for Jeremiah it was better to see the world as it is; not through rose-tinted glasses. In the face of disaster, despite his prediction, he was still hopeful and invested in the land; but he was also realistic in his judgements and urged people to act before it was too late.
Today, we face global emergencies and yet politicians are always declaring that everything is good, look on the bright side, they say. Ignore the doomsayers, the scientists. Now more than ever, we need people to call for action. I believe that the Church can be such a voice and join today's campaigners for a greener world.
20 June 2020
Happy Father's Day
To the Fathers this weekend who have not seen their children since the beginning of lockdown, we hope you have a weekend of reunion and loving joy. To others, a chance for celebration of all that fatherhood can mean. Family life for many is the keystone for security and comfort. It is the place where children's characters and personalities can grow and be a force for good in the world. Here, we can learn how to relate to each other and here, amongst those intimacies, lifelong friendships and loyalties are fed and encouraged. The deep blood links are forged in the way we grow up and the way our parents tend and support us; and in later life, how children can care and love their parents. And isn't it a boon recently to have home schooling and time to relate to and treasure our children.
Of course, not all families are the sunny uplands we wish them to be. Tensions of living so closely and with competing demands, poverty and lack of work bring with them terrible pressures when raising children. For some it may even mean the father is no longer a presence within the family; single parenthood clash with other priorities and needs; the death of a father is sorely felt. Fast modern day living with little time for one another has its own pressures creating many casualties within our communities.
It may be a surprise to many that Jesus was rather ambiguous towards family life. Indeed the Bible is full of negative relationships: brother against brother, parents against their children. Here there are more stories of discord than of peace among families. Yet for Jesus, God is portrayed as the loving and forgiving father figure. When he prayed to God, Jesus called him "Abba" (daddy) and taught his disciples to pray "Our father, who is in heaven…" When the son, who had gone off and spent all his inheritance in wayward living, eventually returns to his father, full of shame, the father rushes out to meet him with love and forgiveness.
Our dads might not always live up to the great metaphor for God that Christians cherish but this weekend, as churches, we can wish fathers everywhere: Happy Father's Day!
13 June 2020
Healing the world
During his lifetime, Jesus was known as a great preacher, teacher and healer.
Perhaps in our minds we equate preaching and teaching with speech, and quite often boring speech, and we hive off healing to the medical profession. For Jesus however, the three activities feed off one another; so, his preaching and teaching were profound because he earthed them in action, in healing.
Jesus calls his church to be agents of healing. On the individual level, by walking alongside those who are sick and frightened. By respecting others and not judging them. By supporting them in their own choices of life. To welcoming them and being their friend.
And the church is also called to be healers of this world - to work with others in preventing further damage to the environment. To fighting poverty and bigotry, wherever it raises its ugly head. To seek for justice and fairness for everyone, not just for those who are rich and powerful.
As Jesus said, reading in the synagogue:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."
And Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
6 June 2020
Jesus didn't have much time for those self-righteous people who thought they were better than anyone else
Matthew's gospel opens what Christian's name the New Testament of the Bible. It's a retelling of the story of Jesus and, for many, the basis of what they believe about Jesus. In the very first chapter, and after a list of descendants, Matthew tells the Christmas story of the angel announcing the birth of Jesus, a birth signifying the saving of the people and the sign that "God is with us". The reading for this week in June, closes Matthew's gospel with confirmation that Jesus is still with us, 'to the end of the age' and a demand for his small band of disciples to go out into the world and tell others about this creative love.
What does this mean for us today? Christians believe that in the story of Jesus we see a person who through his actions reveals something about the love streaming through the universe and the way we should act in the light of that love. But it is not just in his actions, but also in his very being. And so this story connects every person with that creative and loving spirit that is foundational to life not just on earth but throughout the galaxies. It's a brave and bold assertion.
Jesus didn't have much time for those self-righteous people who thought they were better than anyone else. He was about healing and reconciling communities with those at the edge of society; he'd rather eat a meal with tax collectors and prostitutes than with those who claimed to be holy and pious. It's a challenge for us all; to live lovingly with everyone else, to respect people who are very different from ourselves, to build up our communities with a bridge of love, not a wall of separation.
In response to the scenes from the USA recently, the United Reformed Church published a statement, expressing our solidarity with Black Americans. "…As Christians, we heed Christ's call that we should be one, we reaffirm our unity with all people through the love of our one parent-God, and we declare that it is meaningless to claim that "all lives matter" until Black Lives Matter.
We offer this prayer, bringing to God the pain and concern of our fractured world, condemning all violence and yearning for change:
deeply troubled by what is happening following George Floyd's death,
and by too much other inhumanity that doesn't reach the headlines,
we cry to you as the one
whose love was the victor at Easter and
who pours it into our hearts at Pentecost.
As we observe the pain of a fractured world,
use your love to drive us from sadness to compassion;
as we watch the pain of the bereaved,
use your love to move us from pity to companionship;
as we are faced with the pain of marginalised people,
use your love to point us from complacency to your commonwealth.
In our praying,
let us not just talk to you,
but yield to your love;
in our anger,
let us not just rail against injustice,
but manifest your love;
in our actions,
let us not just flail about aimlessly,
but build the civilisation of love.
Until none of us are disregarded for who we are
nor any diminished by what we fail to be,
we keep on praying in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen."
(from the URC's statement published on 3 June 2020)
30 May 2020
Good to talk
This weekend, the Church celebrates with thanksgiving the feast of Pentecost. Sadly not in its buildings but still church together. We remember the story set out in the Bible in the book of Acts, of the coming of the Spirit in a wild wind and in burning flames, resting on the heads of the believers assembled in Jerusalem. As the gift is given, the gathered group is pushed out into the streets and there to preach. I suspect, like me, you might find street preachers a little embarrassing; you give them a wide berth, eager not to be seen to be associated with them. I, too, like the bystanders hearing this group of enthusiasts, ask questions and make conclusions: what does this mean? And, they must be drunk!
I am a preacher. Admitting that feels rather strange. Preachers don't have a very good reputation. We are seen as people who tell others what to do, how to behave, as if we have the key to life and our job is to make everyone else feel small and inadequate. I don't see it that way, you might be pleased to hear. I claim no special insight, no special position. I can behave well; I can behave badly. I am no more moral than anyone else and often confused about what is right and what is wrong. I am a normal person struggling with life and struggling with how to deal with life. I try, I fail.
And in that struggle with life, I am asked to speak. And I try to share in everything I feel and see and hear. And in doing so, I hope that people, whoever they are, will join me in that struggle. I understand in the story of Jesus that he met people where they were, challenged the self righteous and welcomed the excluded. In biblical language, he raised the lowly and put down the mighty. Unconventionally, he eat with people who were regarded as lower than low, he healed the discounted; when others wanted to put him up on a pedestal, he knelt down and washed their feet! He surrounded himself with people who were unimportant, who made mistakes, who betrayed him and hungered after recognition - his merry band of ordinary people. That, for me, is Church and at Pentecost we celebrate its birthday, a new beginning.
Challenging God, stir us up to fight for justice,
to stand alongside the unwanted in our society;
to confront those who 'lord' it over others;
to seek to bring people together, reconciling the world;
and, most of all, to love, in Jesu's name. Amen.
23 May 2020
Through this weekend, churches reflect over the story in Luke when Jesus ascends to heaven. As an image today, it can be confusing as we have for some decades soared into space. In earlier days, the image of a pair of feet disappearing into the clouds was the way they expressed this story; we on the other hand, find this comical and unreal. Perhaps we are more comfortable with images of thresholds and locked doors, as illustrating the gap between the hope and vision Jesus set before us, and our own lives as we live them. During a time when isolation is the experience of many, the way of Jesus tells another story bringing us together even as we are apart.
"As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world" John 17:18
you spoke to those
we find difficult to approach;
you opened doors to new possibilities for them.
you opened the door,
between earth and heaven,
and invited us in
to a fresh relationship with God,
a new understanding of who God is.
Jesus, you crossed the threshold
between heaven and earth.
Breaking down the slammed door,
ignoring the no entry sign,
you smashed the way through
for everyone to come to God.
And so invite us again
to go through your door of new possibilities
whatever our state of mind or health or spirit.
And encourage us to show others the way
through the open door of your love.
©2013 Martin Hazell
16 May 2020
As the world struggles to emerge from lockdown, the Church remembers the confusion of the disciples of Jesus as they face life without him after the crucifixion. Jesus is dead yet risen; how is that? During his life Jesus promised his disciples that he would always be with him and after that first Easter, they knew his presence and yet they were confused about what to do next. It was the promise that Jesus made that helped these lost men and women face a world with courage and not a little determination. The promise was for an advocate, a guide and an encourager. The disciples believed that when they gather, Jesus was with them. It is our heartfelt wish that the church will once again gather, and we look forward in future days to doing that.
But we also believe that God's Spirit of love will be experienced among us at all times.
If you saw the BBC programme, Hospital, you would have seen the daily miracles of love in action. Putting their own lives in danger, nurses, doctors and hospital staff - ambulance workers, porters and cleaners amongst them - all giving of their best under such stressful circumstances. Here are stories from within our community of great love and service. Of course, we saw that not everyone survived in their fight but we also saw the passion and grief each loss meant to the medical team. For everyone mattered and was important. It was inspiring and heart breaking.
We applaud them, not just on a Thursday night, but every moment of the week. They are heroes! And for Christians and all people of faith, we see in these stories of bravery and dedication, the God of love in action. Something of love shines out from their tired and struggling faces. We hope and pray that they will gain strength from their successes in order to help them through their losses.
Please listen on Sunday to the URC service, found below, where along with Christians throughout the nation you can pray and worship. For your own personal prayers please use this prayer:
who speaks through story and people,
we thank you for the gift of the Spirit
who treasures and honours us,
is always with us
offering direction and meaning to our lives;
and so building us up
to offer our gifts and skills to our communities.
We give thanks that, by your Spirit,
we are in communion with you;
that, by the same Spirit,
we are strengthened and encouraged,
shaped by you into keen disciples,
filled with the energy to spread the Good News.
We give thanks for the gift of peace -
the peace which calms the heart
and grows the spirit;
that makes us whole and beautiful
in your eyes.
We give thanks for the medical staff
dedicating their skills and expertise,
to the service of everyone who needs them.
We give thanks for their courage and strength
and pray that they will find they are loved and honoured.
speak through us and through our story.