Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Podcast

Here is the podcast of this morning's sermon based on the story of the feeding of the 5000...

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Augustine, feed me!

What do you do? It’s often one of the first things we ask people when we meet them. It helps us to identify them along with asking them their their name. I am trying to meet as many of you as I can in the first few weeks that I am here, so I can identify you and build a relationship with you.

What about Jesus? People identify him as all sorts of different things: prophet, teacher, good man. But only Christians identify him as the Son of God. And if he is, then he’s very important. Because it’s easy to ignore a great teacher – you can take or leave his teaching. Or a prophet – you can interpret his prophecies in different ways. But if Jesus was the Son of God then he can’t be ignored.

The feeding of the 5,000 is an incredibly famous story. It’s very important – the only one of Jesus’ miracles to feature in all four gospels. The reason it features so prominently is because it tells us who Jesus is.

We need to set the story in context: Jesus has been teaching about what having God in control of our lives is like in parables about the Kingdom of God and healing the sick. We then have the story of the death of John the Baptist. And then we get this morning’s Gospel reading which I believe friends, clearly shows us who Jesus is and the implications for each one of us.

In Mark’s version of this story, the crowd is described as like sheep without a shepherd – directionless, clueless, helpless, vulnerable. So often in life we can feel like this too.

Jesus is like a shepherd. It’s the shepherd’s responsibility to provide food and protection. In Jesus we find everything we need. We can rely on him. We want to be self-sufficient, but Jesus says actually we do need him, and he is everything you need.

A shepherd doesn’t look after one sheep on its own but a flock. Our society has privatized morality and religious belief and says ‘if you want to follow Jesus, great go ahead, I’ll believe what I like.’

Sometimes people say that it’s possible to have a Christian faith without going to church. Well, on one level it is, but the Bible doesn’t give us a picture of God’s people worshipping him each on their own. It gives us a picture of the church: God’s people worshipping him & being cared for by Him together, like sheep with a shepherd.  Jesus is a shepherd, we should follow him and rely on him.

What did Jesus do when he saw the huge crowd and had compassion on them? He actively demonstrated the love and presence of God amongst people - he cured the sick.

Jesus is compassionate. He calls His church to love others - to demonstrate the presence and love of God. Jesus reminds that the greatest commandment is to love God with all that we are and to love others as we love ourselves.

Time and again we are called by Jesus to love others but to allow our love to go the extra mile - not just to those we like or who are like us - but beyond those boundary lines, to love and forgive our enemies, those who persecute or deride us, those who sit on the outside and on the margins of our society or social grouping, those whose very existence challenge our values, codes or beliefs.

In fact we are called to live out that love that called creation into being and called Jesus the Son to come and demonstrate the length, breadth, depth and height of that love in word and action in his life, death and resurrection.

Jesus’ love shows compassion - a deep understanding of what it means to be human. An empathy that puts Him firmly in our shoes. Sometime people wonder where God is today in the face of disaster and personal crisis, and yet Jesus lives the love and presence of a God who knows us intimately as we are made in His image and He loves us no matter who we are, where we are or what we do in or with our lives.

The key to understanding this story is that Jesus is indeed a leader and lover of people but so what? But the most dynamic and charismatic people, the most self giving of people are simply not able to divide five loaves and two fish and feed so many. Some people have suggested that once the bread started to be passed around, people got their packed lunches out. So it was a Mini Babybel here, a Geo bar there, here, have half a banana… No! All four accounts make it clear that this was a case of divine intervention. They all ate and were satisfied.  I can only conclude this is God’s work.

5000 people are fed - so what. So Jesus is God - ta da! But that’s not the end of it.  They are fed, but notice what Jesus says to his closest friends when they ask him what to do with this this hungry crowd - hungry physically and spiritually, you give them something to eat. There is an expectation from Jesus that the disciples will respond. Is this Jesus being facetious and awkward? I think not.

Many people are still looking to make sense of their lives. They have huge questions about it’s purpose and plan and they fill the holes that those questions generate with stuff - success, money, gadgets, sex, celebrity living. St Augustine described it well when he said ‘our hearts are restless til they find their rest in thee.’ He knew well that only a relationship with a compassionate God could satisfy.

The crowd that Jesus fed with bread and fish were hungry, but for more than food. To their longing, Jesus offers the disciples - you give them something to eat. But how can we Lord? We aren’t equipped. We don’t have the words. We’re scared. We’re not ordained - just the sentiments of Jesus’ first disciples. The crowd are looking for ultimate answers, for deep longings to be satisfied and Jesus offerers them us.

The story reminds us that God can use ordinary things like bread or fish to demonstrate his extraordinary compassion and love. He offers us to a searching world because the people searching for meaning in life are just like you and me, they are you and me. We can only offer them what we ourselves have received. Jesus has takes each one of us, and like bread and fish, blesses us filling us with his very self each time we encounter him in Word and Sacrament and then shares us, ordinary people filled with the extraordinary life of God, with the world. He offers us not to give glib answers, but lives lived in relationship with Jesus the compassionate shepherd, the Son of the Living God. Amen.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Rush - Cygnus X-1 10-13-2002

In honour of Geddy Lee's birthday, and prompted by Gerrarrdus, here is part of Cygnus x-1 by Rush. Quality music for a Friday :) Read his blog about it here :)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Parish Blog

Evening all, it's late so I'll keep this brief, but just to say that we now have a new Parish blog which you can read and follow here. It will run alongside this blog and the Parish website (which will be due an overhaul fairly soon.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Prayer for the people of Norway

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has sent his prayers and sympathy to the people of Norway following the tragic events in Oslo and Utøya last Friday.

His message is as follows:

"Along with all the faithful of the Church of England, I want to express my deepest sympathy with the people of Norway in the wake of the appalling events of recent days. Norway has played so great a part over many years in international reconciliation as well as developing its own distinctive national ethos of openness and fairness, and it is a special tragedy that it should suffer this outbreak of senseless carnage. Our prayers are with all those who died and all those who mourn them; and we are grateful for the many signs of strength and spiritual maturity that the Norwegian people have shown in their response to evil and destructiveness."

A prayer for Norway
God our saviour,
we pray with those in Norway
who are shocked, grieving or in pain.
In your mercy, look on this wounded world,
and hold us closely to your promise of hope
in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Word as a Wordle

Here is a wordle of next Sunday's Gospel reading, a well known passage...

Matthew 14:13-21

Feeding the Five Thousand

 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Sunday Podcast

Here is my sermon from this morning's parish service at St Thomas' in West Hyde based on Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Johnny Cash - Hurt

This sums up the last 24 hours in some ways...

Change? No thanks. Transformation? Yes please!

The red and blue of the Norwegian flag are in some way said to symbolise freedom. The flag is a blue cross on a red background - historically linking Norway to both neighbouring Denmark and Sweden and yet ultimately marking her out as a distinct and free nation in her own right.

It is a beautiful country - politically open, warm people, a low international profile all which has been smothered into silence by the tragedy in Oslo and on the island of Utoeya. Last night’s unfolding news coverage was was captivating, overwhelming, disarming (no grim pun intended) and humbling. Already Norwegians are asking big questions about their national life - how can this have happened, how can the far-right groups likely to be behind this still have a place in Norwegian or indeed in any other society?  If we place that national soul searching alongside the nation-building in Libya, Syria, Tunisia, Bahrain and Egypt, it feels like there is need for change in the air.

All politicians talk about working for change and the good of all, and yet the only change that seems to come all too often is no change!  That's because all politicians wield power self-interestedly whether they are Colonel Gadaffi, Barak Obama or David Cameron. As this overarching political change is being fought for in the Middle East and is being questioned in Norway, Jesus reminds us this morning that this sort of fundamental change it is not only desirable but also possible.

People in Jesus' day longed for change.  Even though their nation had been occupied for hundreds of years by Persians, Greeks and Romans, they longed for freedom from political oppression, but instead of looking to the ballot box, they looked to God and the coming of his Kingdom.

We have lost not only a belief in the possibility of political and social change but also the sense of power behind the word kingdom.  Our royalty today do not have the authority tied up in the word that Jesus uses.  Perhaps it might better to talk of the Government or Presidency of heaven to give a sense of the worldshaping power that Jesus has in mind.  In these strange little stories, Jesus is giving a sense of what things would be like if God was in control rather than the EU’s leaders.

In the face of the events in the last 24 hours or unfolding in drought and starvation in the Horn of Africa, we shake our fists at the sky and ask God why he allows it to happen.  We know what we think having God in control of the world and it's people might be like.  John Lennon put it so well: 'Imagine there's no countries, It isn't hard to do, Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too, Imagine all the people, Living life in peace, Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can, No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of man, Imagine all the people, Sharing all the world...'

The disciples thought they knew what the establishing of God's kingdom would be like.  The Romans would be swept from power, and God would bring in his political regime with prosperity and dignity for all.  And yet, what Jesus goes on to outline, is no political manefesto, and what he says it is like when God is in control is not of worldshaping proportions.

God in control, Jesus says,  is like a mustard seed.  It starts small but grows large.  When God is in control, Jesus says, there will be an organic growth in power rather than a dramatic confrontation of governing authorities.

God in control, Jesus says, it is like yeast in flour. I have been known to make bread and you know as well as I do the way that it utterly transforms the dough from the inside out..  Yeast lierally corrupts, it changes sugars into oxygen.  When God is in control Jesus says, his government corrupts the current powers, pervading quietly until it's influence becomes visible.

God in control, Jesus says, is like a man selling all he has for a field with treasure in it or a pearl of great value.  There is happiness in this, but it comes from being ready to give up everything in the process.

Is this the sort of God that Jesus' contemporaries, the people of Oslo or any of us think we want?  A God whose rule starts small and works secretly within?  No, they want regime change and oppression to end NOW.  This is not what any of us long for.

But that's the point, this is what it is like when God is in charge, not people.  Time and again we think an overthrow of a regime will change the world for good, but remember how often people have cheered a new ruler on to find the reality cruelly different. God’s government is different, and the disciples will soon realise that. God crowns his king on a cross: a seed as small as a mustard seed winning forgiveness for our sins. The Holy Spirit pervades with the yeast of godliness. Jesus gives up everything for us, as if we are his treasure or his fine pearl, and in doing so shows God’s love to each one of us, even though good and bad is held together in every one of our lives. 

This kingdom is no superficial change of one regime with another. It’s a fundamental transformation; people being changed in hearts, attitudes and minds by the love of God, and through that, changing the world they live in. We see it in the disciples after Pentecost, and in people like you today.

I remember watching Big Brother once, wondering which housemate would be next to leave, and I realised something.  Who stays in the house is about superficial things like personality or looks. God sees past our society's self-obsession,who looks good on tv, and sees us as we really are - which is both daunting and liberating. Daunting because we feel naked before Him - someone else really knows what we are like. It’s liberating because someone knows what we are like - and loves us all the same. He loves us enough not to judge us, but to judge our failings. He loves enough to hold our hands and lead us through to change.

It's a long process, but one I am committed to. I don't want to be a better person. I don't wanting life-coaching and goal setting. I want God-led regime change!  I hope that I might become the person He longs for me to be, the sort of person who clearly has God in control of my life, even with all my faults.

Here is the amazing truth: God in control can be like you or me.  If we are seriously submitting ourselves to the will of God, asking asking Him to change us, God can be in control of & transform our lives.  It begins with simple things – a baptism enquiry, a listening ear, a loving word to the grieving neighbour, I am going to this or that church event, and it's going to be good, will you come with me... and any of these can lead to an encounter with God lovingly in control.  All of us can become people where God is in control, because when we do, that's the most radical change of regime the world has ever seen.  God's loving control of the world is growing, and changing it’s personal, social, political and economic landscapes one heart, one life at a time. Amen

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Word as a Wordle is back!

Here is a wordle of next Sunday's Gospel reading from Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52:

'...He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’
‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old...'


These are obviously parables about the Kingdom of God. The thing that strikes me about this wordle is how the kingdom of God/of Heaven lies at the heart of everything, in the midst of mustard and bread and field and treasure and pearls...

Sunday Podcast - Sermon for Trinity 4

The Dying Church Living The Love of God

There was an article from the Telegraph this week which proclaimed that the Church of England will be dead in 20 years. It referred to a debate in General Synod this week where it was speculated that by 2020 the CofE would fail to be practically functional. With the average age of congregations currently around 61, by 2020 we will be in terminal decline apparently. We need to have a very real sense of crisis about this apparently.

This got me thinking. How do we respond to such stark news? Let me give you a sense of what I believe we do not do.

We do not change our liturgy and suddenly dumb down our worship to the ‘lowest common denominator’. We do not put to one side the hymns we have been singing - led by organ and choir for generations - and sing only simplistic new songs instead. We do not take out our pews and replace them with chairs. We do not do away with our robes. We do not change our received traditions and customs... Now, before you wonder whether I am advocating some sort of entrenchment against the odds to see if we can weather the storm or worse still ignore the reality of the situation, I invite you to look with me again at this morning’s New Testament reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Paul does not call the Roman church, and us to entrenchment against the odds or to move the furniture or to change the music, instead he reminds us of something fundamental and obvious.  If we call ourselves Christians, then it must count in an obvious way.  In other words, to be a growing Christian community in some way Jesus' life and death must free us into new ways of living.  Something distinctive.  What does that freedom mean?  Well Paul's answer is compelling: life.  If we call ourselves Christian then we should be living lives recognisably full of Jesus Christ for if we are not, we are living according to 'the flesh' as Paul calls it.

Paul says we can only live true life if the Spirit of God leads us. To be led by God’s Spirit transforms our future as starkly as a turn from death to life and our relationship with God from rebellion to obedience, from being an enemy of God to His beloved child.

To fully help his hearers to get their heads round this he compares the life of a slave with that of a child in a family.  To be a slave is to be under oppression, owned by and directed by someone else, without freedom and living in fear. This is not Christ’s way.

Being a child on the other hand means becoming a heir.  It means being loved no matter what.  It means addressing the head of the house in the same way that the Son does – with the utmost intimacy, as Daddy!  It means God giving us equal rights in the family just as his Son, and for us to see and recieve all the things we might expect too with it.  And the Son does not mind as it is Jesus the Son who has gone out of his way to invite us in – offering us freedom, life and hope.

As Jesus' siblings we have a duty to be a good advert for Him.  We should be finding ourselves so transformed by God's Spirit, that we desire to please our Father by the way we live.  Children usually look up to their parents in respect and love and long to be like them.  As adopted children of God let’s strive to please Him – but let's not romanticize it.  It's not all love, love, love.  Paul reminds us that we cannot pick and choose which parts of the life of Jesus we buy into.

Just as Jesus endured suffering – so will we.  Yet God's spirit in us reminds us of our true nature – in those moments when we question who we are and what we believe, when we forget who we are, when we desert who we are – God spirit says 'You are God's child, now behave like it!'  If we are going to talk like the Son, we also need to act like him and until we do, the rest of the world cannot receive what's on offer from God through His church.

We know how to act like Jesus - He clearly told us - love God with all that you are and love your neighbour as you love yourself. This is the fulfilment of the Law and of everything that God expects of us. Whilst the predictions of the future of the Church of England may look bleak statistically, the one thing that statistics cannot measure is ther quality of God's life enhancing, all transforming love.

Friends, in love God sent Christ to call the Church into life and love, not to see it die in ten years or so. He does not and nor do I. Paul reminds his hearers and us this morning that as children of God, our future is glorious, but this hope is not one based on statistics showing doomed decline, or powerpoint displays, or comfy seats but a sure and certain hope that his love will transform us, others and this community just as He done in the lives of many others over the centuries.

If we as a church want to make the most of our status as beloved children of our heavenly father we need to be led by His Spirit into new ways of loving for it is the quality of our love of other and of God that is attractive to others not our seats or songs. We need to spend time reflecting afresh with God on how and where we should express His love most effectively in our parish and their communities.

As churches we will begin to do that over the next few months in three ways: through listening to Him in prayer, listening to each other’s hopes and dreams for the church and listening to the wider community’s needs and longings.  Through that listening, we will begin to determine a few priorities in living out the love of God across our parish and within the homes, shops, schools and lives of people in each community.

The big story that God has written with people over the pages of the centuries goes something like this - God says: I love you, I want to be with you, will you be with me? We are called to respond to that love story ourselves and share it with others by allowing our lives to be transformed by His love. God longs for His church to be growing, thriving, engaged in the community, transforming the community - this morning who do you trust? Gloomy statistics or the transforming love of our Father lived out by each one of us? Amen.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What is a fresh expression of church?

h/t to Kathryn for sharing this thought provoking reminder of what a fresh expressions are - it's not what we do as a church, but the warmth of our hospitality and breeding a culture of welcome...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fresh Starts

And so it begins. Tomorrow I take a new step with my family into a new adventure with God. But the new chapter is not just ours. Tomorrow the parish in which we now live takes a step into a new adventure with God as I am licensed as their Priest in Charge.

How do I feel?

Humbled: why was I chosen to this ministry? I am sure that I have some gifts and skills that will further the proclamation of the gospel in these communities. But why me? God knows or at least I hope He does! Can I carry out the task that I am being appointed to? Do I have the requeite gifts and skills? Can I manage change and handle conflict? Can I discern when to listen to past hurts and dashed hopes and when to challenge people to look to God's future?

Daunted: I have responsability for three centres of worship and three very distinct communities. I knew what I was doing in my previous parish. I knew how things ran. I knew people and they knew me and we worked well together to the glory of God. I know very few people here and I feel uncertain as we launch out into this friendlessness and unknown.

Hopeful:  I feel hopeful as God opens a new chapter in the story He is writing in this parish and these communities. I am looking forward to seeing God transform the hearts and lives of people here and I believe that He will. I am looking forward to seeing people come to faith and have their faith renewed. I am looking forward to walking alongside the people of these communities celebrating their joys and consoling their tragedies - baptising the babies, marrying the loving couples and commending to God the dead.

Committed: I am committed to the ministry that the Bishop will call me to share in tomorrow night. I am aware that it wont all be easy. I am aware that there will be change ahead. I am aware that all that God is calling us to will take time.

As I prepare tonight, I have looked through the service that we will be using tomorrow night and a couple of passages in the liturgy ring loud and clear tonight.

In the middle of the service the Bishop will say,

'...The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In the declaration you are about to make, will you affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making Him known to those in your care?...'

Yes, this is the church of which I am a part of and one that I love, the one for whom Christ died. One phrase catches my eye each time I read though: the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh.

This church, as broken and divied as she may be, it is she that is called to proclaim afresh the Christian faith in each generation. This is our task - as members of the Church, God's church, in this parish in these communities. It's not down to me. We are the church. It is down to God and us.

Towards the end of the service I will pray,

Father, take our hands and work through them;
take our minds and think through them;
take our lips and speak through them;
take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you and your people;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is such a wonderful prayer and one that sums up mission and ministry as far as I am concerned. I may be feeling humbled, daunted, hopeful and committed, but however I am feeling, the ministry to which I am called to is one that I am called to share in - it's God's ministry, a ministry in which the bishop, me and indeed every member of the churches and parish in which I will minister are called to share.

Proclaiming afresh '...good news for men in all the earth...'