Sunday, January 6, 2013

In a world of change something that doesn't change

Not everyone has in their desk drawer what some would call in the vernacular ‘knicker elastic’.

This, however, is not just any old knicker elastic.

It’s particularly precious to me and I found myself taking it out of the drawer at the turn of the year.  It’s twelfth night and the Christmas Decorations are put away for another year – we have said good bye to the old year and we have greeted the new year.

It’s a time for turning from the past and looking to the future.  In a world of constant change, it is a time to seek a constant.

And that’s where my knicker elastic means a lot to me.

32 and a half years ago we were living in Bradford.   Centre still at that time for the woollen trade in Britain and indeed the world with its wool exchange still functioning albeit not in its wonderful pseudo classical Victorian building.  With the wool exchange went the need for reliable weights and measures.  So it was that in the City centre was a set of measures in brass set into the paving of a small formal square.  Disputes would at one time have been settled and accurate measures taken.

It’s not only in trade that you need a fixed measure.

In life too there is a need for a constant.  And there are particular moments in life when that constant becomes all the more necessary.  One of those moments is at the turn of the year.

For me at that moment it was in the couple of weeks following the death of my father.  Something in my subconscious, I guess, or maybe something led me to a vaguely remembered phrase something about Jesus providing just such a measure – something that remains unchanged.  Always the same.

So, I measured out a metre in knicker elastic – and I marked off 100 centimetres.   I had made myself a tape measure to show to the children.  I got one of the smallest of the youngest children out, and then I got a middle sized youngster to the front and then I got the tallest person in the Congregation.  Quite some contrast.

But with my metre rule I could demonstrate that they were each the same height.  My metre rule wasn’t up to much.  I then produced another tape measure that couldn’t be stretched.  And with the help of that could measure the height of the three accurately.

To be of any use a tape measure must remain the same – just like those measures set in brass in the paving down in  the City Centre.

It was at the last minute going into church that I tracked down the chapter and verse for that saying.  And I found it in Hebrews 13.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

That’s the measure.

That’s the constant.

That’s the standard by which we can measure ourselves and live our lives.

That’s what Hebrews is about … and that’s what we are going to be taking a look at in Open the Book from this Thursday.

Hebrews presents us with a magisterial Christ who is one with God and at the same time Hebrews presents us with a human Christ who knows our every weakness, Hebrews presences Christ as the one who brings God down to earth and raises us into the glory of God’s presence.  It is in Hebrews that faith is defined in the most wonderful of ways as ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’.  It is in Hebrews that faith finds its focus in Jesus as we run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of throne of God.

Hebrews sets out constants for us to follow as we run that race …

  • Mutual love
  • Hospitality to strangers
  • Remembering those in prison, those who are being tortured
  • Honouring marriage
  • Keeping our lives free from the love of money
  • Being content with what we have

And in running the race we have a source of strength from outside ourselves to keep us going … for God has said, I I will never leave you or forsake you.

So at a time of flux and change as one era in one’s life comes to an end and another begins, as one year comes to an end and another begins we can say with confidence echoing the words of Hebrews quoting Psalm 118,

The Lord is my helper
I will  not be afraid
What can anyone do to me?

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

That Sunday, 27th July 1980 I didn’t elaborate the detail in that way – I simply stuck with Jesus and the standard he gave.  All it was was a children’s address.  It was my first time back in the pulpit following my father’s death a couple of weeks before.  I was working a little on automatic pilot.

It was only over lunch in the kitchen at the back of Fieldhead, an old farmhouse complete with Aga Cooker and a water supply from a spring across the road, that Felicity commended me for my choice of reading.

She drew attention to the verse that comes between that quotation from Psalm 118 and the verse I had focused on about Jesus being the same, yesterday, today and forever.

How appropriate, she commented.

But I hadn’t chosen that verse.

When I read it it spoke volumes to me.

It’s a verse I have copied into the flyleaf of each Bible I have used since.  It’s a verse I treasure.

And it’s a verse that also speaks to us at the turn of a year.

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you.

This is not just an invitation to think of those who have gone before us.  It is a specific invitation to think of those who have taught us and spoken to us the word of God.  For me that rang wonderfully true of my father who was also a minister and under whose ministry I had of course sat until that point.

Who might you think of?  Leaders who have gone before us.

Most recently I can think of Joan Lee – she wouldn’t acknoweledge it, but she was a leader here in this church – for many years in partnership with Olga.  She spoke the word of God – promises and prayers that she drew on that were precious to her and she shared.  It took some persuading by all accounts but she did in Friendship  Group.  And in her quiet way with many people.  The importance of faith, the importance of prayer – a faith and a prayer she held on to through the devastating illness she had.

Last year saw the death at 101 of a Sunday School teacher I had at the time when the New Testament of the New English Bible was published – I still have the hard back little note book he gave us for us to do ‘our own translation’ of Luke’s Gospel – making our own commentary.  He whetted my appetite for the study of the Bible – I am glad I had been able to write at length on the occasion of his 100th birthday and express my thanks.

In a funny way I will think of Alice Brown still with us and celebrating her 100th birthday a week on Saturday – one of those many it is good to visit – still the head she was in her teaching days, still the wisdom to share and impart, that kind of humility that’s special – and words of wisdom that link us with days gone by of the Sunday School in Grosvenor Street – hard work of dedicated leaders and difficult times with youngsters often throwing stones at the door and at the windows.  Not the glory days we sometimes falsely imagine.

And next Sunday I’ll be visiting Eric Burton again – wonderful the way he keeps in touch with folk and good to share with him – his wonderful words of wisdom and encouragement he shared when last I visited him about experimenting and change.

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

But it is not to any people we look at the turn of the year at a time of change and flux for our constants.  It is to what they shared with us.  It is to the word of God they spoke.  It is to the faith they had.

And that message, that faith, that word finds its focus on the one who does not change.  For …

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.

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