Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Mission Focused Church

Felicity and I will be starting our sabbatical on 1st May and returning on 1st September.

That means this will  be the last of my sermon posts until September.   Some of our visiting preachers may well share their sermon notes with us ... you can have a look to see some of those sabbatical sermons by clicking here.

Our sabbatical was planned a couple of years ago as part of the process of re-structuring the church and moving towards a ministry team in church life.  With that team now in place for more than a year the hope and prayer for this time is that the church family can come together and grow together. 

Our Worship ministry leader, Shirley Fiddimore, has planned Sunday morning services that are going to focus first of all on what it takes to be a missional church, and then to focus on the people who are an inspiration to us in the faith we share. 

During May we have asked those taking our services to reflect on what it takes to be a mission focused church. 

Paul Davies will be speaking from his perspective as a retired GP who has entered into ministry and contributed especially to the work of the Congregational Federation’s Pastoral Care Board.   Suzanne Nockels is the minister of two churches in Sheffield and also spearheads the Federation’s Learning Church initiative.  She will be spending Saturday, 16th May with our Ministry Leadership team and then joining us for services on Sunday.  

Pam Dix is an old friend of Highbury and has played a big part in inner city mission through our Stapleton Rd church in Bristol.  Dee Brierley Jones brings her experience as a head teacher and in different forms of ministry, not least sharing with Shirley in taking communion into care homes and doing a regular programme on Cotswold Hospital Radio, Radio Winchcombe and elsewhere. 

While she was training for ministry at Mansfield alongside Mark  Evans, Elaine Kinchin did a short pastoral placement with us at Highbury.  Elaine has been in our prayers as she has had to take early retirement on health grounds.  Her son, Oliver, is minister of our Padfield church in Cheshire and getting involved tutoring on the Congregational Federation’s courses. 
Nick Gleich is an old friend of Highbury. 

On Sundays in June we will again be thinking about what it takes to be a mission-focused church.  Wayne Hawkins is well-placed to get us thinking about that challenge, working as he does as Regional Secretary for the European Region of the world mission partnership we are part of, the Council for World Mission.  He will be leading a Parade service in the morning and staying on to share in our evening service too.  Wayne’s wife, Lesley, is Diana and Dick Adams’ daughter and, all being well, we look forward to welcoming Thomas and Samuel too.
By the time she joins us this month Barbara Bridges will have finished her time as President of the Congregational Federation.  As Minister of our Morton in Marsh Congregational Church Barbara is one of our near neighbours.  Nigel Lindsay will be joining the Hy-Speed team on 21st June and staying on for the evening service too: Minister of our church in Wimbledon, Nigel is a former social worker who now spends two months of each year out in Kenya supporting a mission project his church is committed to.

Adrian Wyatt spent a life time in the police service before training on the Federation’s course for ministry.  He is a mission enabler in the South West and will get us thinking about being a mission focused church.  We will also be welcoming Dee Brierley Jones once again this month and also Kev who twenty-five years ago with Jenny was instrumental in getting Hy-Tec, our youth group, off the ground.
Do remember those who will be joining us this month in your prayers and may the thinking they share help to shape the life of our church here at Highbury.

Karen, our Discipleship ministry leader has put together a course asking a question that goes to the heart of our faith, “What’s so amazing about grace?”

He couldn’t get by without it.  His followers noticed.  They wanted him to teach them how to do it in the way he did.  And what he shared that day goes right to the heart not just of the Christian faith we share but of the mission we are called to, the mission we support in our Gift Day.

For all the differences there are between Mark and Luke there’s something about the prayer Jesus taught us to pray that gets to the heart of what our Christian faith is all about.

Call it the Lord’s Prayer and there is the realisation as we pray it that we look to Jesus as our Lord and our Saviour.  For me more and more the Christian faith hinges on Jesus and his way.  At a time when religion seems to be at the heart of so many of the conflicts raging in our world, I don’t want to hold a brief for the religion of Christianity.  I want to focus on Jesus, the way of life he mapped out, the healing he brought to hurting people and the window he opens up on to the God who is love.

Call it the Family Prayer and there is a very real sense of belonging to the world-wide family of the church that stretches down through the centuries.  That means when one part of that family rejoices we all rejoice and when one part of that family hurts we all hurt.  We cannot help but feel the hurt of those in the world-wide family of the Christ who are facing such difficult times at the moment. How important to be with them in our prayer.

Call it the Prayer of the Kingdom and there is a challenge in these words to the mission that is at the heart of all we do.  It’s not used much, but it’s the one that catches my imagination.  After all, the whole of Jesus’ message is about the kingdom of God … and this prayer goes to the heart of that message and in a way says it all.

No matter what we call it, the call to us all is to pray it!

It gets to the heart of what it means to be a mission focused church ... it gets to the heart of the Christian faith.

At a conference in the Tantur Institute in Bethlehem with Christian, Muslim and Jewish speakers on Reconciliation we were told when we arrived to expect the call to prayer to waken us and to give a pattern to our day.  Don't be fearful, we were told.  Take it as a call to prayer.  After all Islam took its pattern of daily prayer from the Christian Church and from the Jewish tradition.

One of the finest introductions to Islam by a Christian is Kenneth Cragge's The Call of the Minaret.  In that book he takes the parts of the call to prayer and uses them to go the heart of Islam.  He suggests we should take to heart the call to prayer and think of the Lord's prayer as going to the heart of our faith.

For me it is one of those wonderful passages that does just that.

Those opening word of this prayer say so much.  Faith is something very personal to each one of us. It’s something for me.  And yet it’s more than that … it’s something I share with others.  It draws me into a movement of people who share the same values, it draws me into a family of people who care for each other.  And so the prayer begins not with ‘my’ but with ‘Our’.

God is the God of creation, the cosmos, the God of the universe.  Awesome and mighty, distant and far, that beyond which nothing greater can ever be thought of.  And yet there’s so much more to God than that.  The God I believe in has a love for us all that’s more intimate than anything.   It’s the love of a parent for their child.  And so the prayer begins Our Father.

Heaven is not so much the place we go to when we die – in the thinking of Jesus and his contemporaries.  Heaven is where God’s rule is perfect and complete.  Read through the Scriptures, especially as the Prophets challenge the kings of the Old Testament to rule in the way God wants … and you have a glimpse of what God’s rule is like in heaven.  Read through the Sermon on the Mount, the parables Jesus told and you get an idea of what this rule of God is like.  It’s where justice is done, those who hurt are healed, where those in need are cared for, where young and old are looked after.  There’s a strong sense of justice in the picture of God’s rule that emerges from the Bible.  And there’s a strong sense of peace – it’s where the lion and the lamb lie down together – in God’s rule.

And the wonderful message of Jesus is that this rule of God is breaking into God’s world.  It’s here and now, not there and then and so we pray

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.

And so we pray God’s will be done, God’s rule be real here and now.

It’s something that some people have to learn the hard way.  In the last few weeks I have found myself in conversation on a number of occasions with people facing the difficulty of an addiction, for whom each day is the day that counts.  Not the record of what happened yesterday.  Not the fear of what may happen tomorrow but this day.

Talking with Robert about the chaplaincy work he does at the Sue Ryder hospice and sharing with people who face the reality of their impending death, suddenly each moment, each day becomes all important.

It’s today that matters … not yesterday, not tomorrow
And so it is for today we pray.

That’s the wonderful insight in that line of the prayer that says

Give us this day our daily bread.

Praying this prayer each day gives a rhythm to our lives.  And it is important.

I like the older words – like the words of the 23rd Psalmm they seem to me to catch something of the rhythm of the English language at its best.  The heart beat is there in the rhythm of the words. 

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses

It’s another passage where you can weigh words.  Trespasses is a long, three syllable word.  Trespass is when someone strays away from where they ought to be to somewhere they should not go.  It’s weighty, it matters.

And the reality is we all do it.  It’s perverse.  We get it wrong.  And so in this prayer is the acknowledgement we do … and the need we have of that touch of forgiveness.

No sooner are we thinking of the forgiveness that is ours that can enable us to have fresh wind and start all over again … than something else comes to the fore.

How important this is in the teaching of Jesus.

The love we receive from God in that wonderful forgiveness is a love we are called on to share.

Forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.

It’s hard, sometimes too hard.  But that’s what it takes … we are called on to share this love of God and so we seek to forgive.

Some modern versions replace trespasses with ‘sins’.

Say the Lord’s Prayer in Welsh or in Scotland in English and the line reads ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors’.

Wow – that’s a powerful challenge too.  Debt has been a problem from time immemorial.  Fascinating to see how the ancient world in the times of the Old Testament responded to it.   Think of everything as God’s – we are looking after the things we have.  Where people get into debt there’s a maximum term – after seven years, the slate is wiped clean and people begin again.  At the fiftieth year a year of restitution.

Do-able?  It was the campaign back in the 1990’s the jubilee debt campaign to wipe clean the debts of some of the poorest nations in the world – it was practical politics.  The work Christians against Poverty do in addressing the issue of debt in our society is helpful – practical ways of managing debts and finances.
It’s difficult to know the way to take – temptation can be very real – to stray into places that are not good to go to – the darker side of the internet is only a click away.

The way of the world seems too often to beckon.
And so we pray for guidance.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

How hard it is to see the goodness of God in a world where evil prevails so much … and so we pray for protection.

The prayer reaches its climax.  And the words sore …

Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
Forever and ever Amen.

No matter what may befall, no matter what may happen, God’s rule, God’s Kingdom, God’s power, God’s glory is forever.

This is the prayer to pass on down through the generations.

This is the prayer to play a big part in the living of our lives.

This is the prayer that shapes the way we lead our lives and the mission we are called to share.

No matter what we call it, the call to us all is to pray it!

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