Sunday, May 31, 2009

Well, back from an eventful holiday. Great to see my sister and bro-in-law in Manchester (thanks guys) and my grandmother and great uncle in Edinburgh. Some 950 miles driven but a great time had...

I was late to bed and up early to write what follows which is a version of what I preached this morning - Pentecost Sunday...

I recently have finished reading Barak Obama's "Dreams from my Father" which he wrote long before he even ran for the Senate. The book is masterfully written. As I read I was drawn into the story of the President’s early life and the discovery of his Kenyan roots, in a way that novel often does for me. It was absorbing.

A significant chunk of the book tells of his experiences as a Community Organiser in Chicago. He worked in the toughest neighbourhoods amongst communities who had been shunned, forgotten about, and socially and economically abused by ‘the system.’ These stories of the streets and communities of the Windy City ring true with any who've felt the tears, sweat and blood of working urban streets. Most of his time was spent with churches in poor areas even though at that point he was "a reluctant sceptic".

One Sunday morning he goes to Trinity Church. The Gospel Choir enters, clad in white, clapping and singing to quickening drums. The Pastor gets to the pulpit and preaches about the audacity of hope. You have to read the chapter to feel the impact this has on Obama. But as he hears the preacher intone the spiritual "Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Lord. You brought me from a mighty long way" a young boy sitting next to him hands him a pocket tissue. It's only then, as he thanks him, that Obama realises and feels the tears running down his cheeks. And just in case this man-born-to-be-president fails to grasp the impact of this moment of faith, one that will take him from the back streets of Chicago to the political avenues of Washington, the boy's mother whispers softly "Oh Jesus, thank you for carrying us this far".

The events we recall this morning are about the audacious hope of God at work on the streets and the homes of Chicago... and Leverstock Green. They are about seeing lives in those streets transformed by the presence of a God as powerfully present in His seeming abscence. They are about knowing that it is God who has brought us this far, but who longs to take us so much further.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus has drawn people to him, he has built community focussed on the presence of God at work in and through him. As Jesus leaves his disciples, he builds a community focussed on his abscence - a community
that is now well aware that Jesus is no longer with them and yet, as they will discover, clearly still with them.

Whilst with his disciples, Jesus worked on building intimate relationships withe them. In recent weeks we have heard Jesus address his disciples in a new way, as friends. He assures that as his friends they have seen and heard God at work amongst them, but as his friends they also need to be preparing for him to Go away. Not because Jesus is suddenly less interested in an intimate relationship with people he has spent time with, but because Jesus’ ministry in not about intimate relationships, but about mission in which he assumes that those closest to him will share fully in - a sharing of something of the reality of God’s love in our lives and the world. To do this, Jesus needs to be absent so the Holy Spirit can be present in power - encouraging, equipping, empowering and transforming the people he loves most.

Barak Obama discovered a passion for people and the world around him on the streets of Chicago, but he didn’t see a need for a passionate relationship with God until God cam to find him in the pews of Trinity Church. Friends I am fed up of this sort separation of life. Why can’t I be passionate about the world and her peoples and seek justice for them, and be passionate about God? Today of all days, through what God did with the disciples and continues to do amongst us, I have discovered I can...

Today we recall the Holy Spirit-fired apostles bursting on the Jerusalem scene that first Pentecost with the startling announcement that the Good News is not just good news for the Jews. The announcement is to be heard everywhere and by everyone. And they all hear it - in their own languages! The resurrection is a gigantic stone heaved by God into the world, and its ripples are beginning to spread “from Jerusalem, through Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost ends of the earth”. God isn’t just interested in sorting out the Jewish people’s problems - God is in the business of transforming the world! God is not the tribal god of a small nation, but is God of all the nations. The God who broke the power of Pharaoh is the God who will smash all systems that enslave, oppress and kill. And how should we know this? Because the Spirit is being poured out … on all flesh. These are the Last Days. This is salvation time!

God is passionate about me and you, and calls us into passionate relationship with him, but so that through us, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we too can proclaim the news that God is still transforming the world! Today we are thankful that God has taken us this far, because the coming of the Holy Spirit what we recall today, is not God doing something new, but something that Jesus had promised his disciples, and something that God had promised throughout the scriptures. Something that would continue to happen to his church in our day, and yet all too often Sunday mornings can so often feel like a bad zombie movie ‘Church of the Living Dead’, and yet in a way that’s right. We’re seen as an institution past its sell-by date, inhabited by people equally past their sell-by date. Our buildings, hymns and practices are monuments to a past that has long gone: we just haven’t realised it!

Pentecost is a wake up call to the Church. The message of hope - the Good News of what God has done in Jesus to save the world - still needs to be heard. It has no sell-by date! The message of a world that needs transforming is as fresh and needed as ever it was - perhaps more so than at any time in living or recent memory. There is still a missionary task to be completed, and that means that God still has need of a faithful community of witnesses.

Friends, that’s the audacity of Hope. What we are doing today is not celebrating something in the past, but turning to God, and saying, go on then, here I am, use me. I am so thankful to God for getting us this far, but by the renewing power of his Holy Spirit, we go further, speak more effectively, love longer the love of God, allowing that love free reign in us to transform us, our community and our world.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Basically, it's a party in the church yard. On 19th July the people of Britain are being asked to stop what they're doing and sit down to lunch together. Why? Well for lots of reasons really but mainly just cos we think it'll be fun.

If you're coming we're doing a bring and share - the proviso though is that if possible what you bring should be locally grown, home made or locally bought... please try to avoid pre-packaged, processed etc. and get on making, growing and baking... enough to share. We need puddings, salads, quiches, cakes, bread etc...

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Wow what a weekend!

This weekend, with christian communities all over the town, we took part in 'Across Hemel' a mission event of social action, teaching and community building. To say that it was good is a complete understatement.

The weekend for us began on Saturday. Many other churches took the decision to take part in social action projects around the locality - litter picking, shoe shining, garden clearing etc. We chose not to do this for all sorts of reasons. Instead we held a FREE community barbecue in the church yard instead. Free is a theme that will run through these reflections...

We catered for about 100 people, and the best guess is that we had at least that number of people sharing time with us, more like 120! The BBQ was an opportunity to invite people, to deepen friendships. The there were two things that impressed me beyond measure. Firstly, many people in the community had seen the advertising or heard about the bbq and came - many who wouldn't normally come to church, which was fantastic. Secondly, many from our own congregation took the opportunity to be evangelists and to invite people themselves. Wonderful weather, a great atmosphere and a good advert for the free love and grace of God.

On Saturday evening, Alex and I were invited to join a team for the quiz night in the marquee i Gadebridge park. The quiz was a sell out - not that it cost to register bu the place was packed with teams of up to 8 people. We had a great evening hosted by Steve Lee - more of him later - and fun as teams, again getting to know on another better. The high point of the evening was hearing the testimony of a local Christian leader - Kerry-Anne - she was nervous! But, when she settled into what she was doing, God's free grace and love took what she said and used it. Very very powerful stuff. The story of a very broken, very angry woman transformed! Incredible!

On Sunday morning, we canceled our 10am service to encourage our congregations to come down again to the marquee in Gadebridge park to share in worship together. There must have been a congregation of about 1000 people. The worship was very very powerful and moving. God was tangibly amongst us. There was a fantastic sense of The Church in Hemel Hempstead worshiping together. real unity. The preacher was Steve Lee again. He kinda has a large Bruce Willis look about him. But what he said and they way that he said what he did about the free love and grace of God was so powerful. He spoke about the parable of the prodigal son, well used, but somehow on that say, at that occasion , fresh and challenging. I was personally moved to tears during the service and was renewed by the all too rare a chance for my family to worship together! Personally, I was delighted to see so many of the members of Holy Trinity there together - a guess says around 60 of our regulars. I would be really keen to hear their feedback - feel free to comment below or to email me...

I don't think we as a church, are in a place to be able to worship like that every week and nor do I think it appropriate. But, I did see many of our people touched and moved by the power and the free grace and love of God amongst us by the power of his Holy Spirit. Amazing stuff!

Then in the afternoon a free family fun day was held in the park with games and face painting plus a free give away - a bit like a car boot sale but without the sale! The afternoon got cold, but was well attended by people who just could not believe that all this was being done free of charge! It reminded me of the scripture - you have received without price now give without price - God has given us so much. Here was an opportunity for His church to show that in action and when asked why, to explain ourselves fully.

In the evening we were in for a musical treat as LOndon Community Gospel Choir came to sing. They raised the roof as they praised God in music and song. Jaw-droppingly good...

Again Steve Lee spoke at this event and offered the chance for people who were there, as he had done in the morning, to ask God into their lives for themselves. Many adults and teens and children seemed to respond and to receive some prayer by other people.

In short - what an amazing weekend. One that has opened my eyes to teh free grace and love of God available to us. It also reminded me of the power of God working amongst us by the Holy Spirit. It also, renewed my trust and relationship with God and I feels so blessed by having attended what I did. Now for the hard graft...

Some people who were there over the weekend from our church, were clearly deeply moved by what God was doing. Some were having their first experience of God personally for themselves. Some had their faith and trust renewed. Others still found themselves, like me, wanting more of God and more of what we saw and experienced in their own lives and in our worship. There is much to do, much to pray to follow all this up.

I pray that we may seek God's wisdom and grace not shy away from the path open before us, but instead would pray, trust, listen and respond to the free grace and love of God for ourselves and for our community.