Sunday, February 4, 2018

Going to the heart of the faith - I believe in a great big God!

Text of the week: I knew of you then only by report, but now I see you with my own eyes. Therefore, I melt away, I repent in dust and ashes. Job 42:5,6 

Welcome to our services today and a special welcome to any worshipping with us for the first time. Any talk of spring is premature. So unpredictable has our weather become that we may yet be in store for the depths of winter! And yet snowdrops are out, the crocuses have been in bloom for a fair while and we’ve had the first daffodil in bloom in our garden. The first signs of spring are there. In the lead up to Easter we are going to reflect on what goes to the very heart of our faith in the God of creation, in Jesus and his power to bring about a new creation in the lives of each one of us and in that unseen yet so real power of God, the Holy Spirit who bears fruit in the living of our lives. 

This Tuesday our Explore group will be creative in another craft evening. At the same time if you would like to join in planning some of the services that are coming up then come along for a worship planning evening. 

Then on the 13th February, Shrove Tuesday, we have an evening with a difference as the orchestra and chorus of the Harpsichord Collective present Vivaldi's much-loved 'Gloria'. Louise Cawte of St Luke’s who is the inspiration behind this evening comments, “This jewel of baroque music is a great hymn of praise in a number of short sections, with beautiful melodies and catchy rhythms. The orchestra will also perform some string music by Vivaldi and Bach's magnificent double concerto for oboe and violin.” Admission is free, with a retiring collection for SolarAid.

If you want to see a recording of this service please email to receive a link.

Welcome and Call to Worship
137 All things bright and beautiful
Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
Learning to live with losing!
The Story of Job
Reading: Psalm 19:1-6

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
   and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. 
Day to day pours forth speech,
   and night to night declares knowledge. 
There is no speech, nor are there words;
   their voice is not heard; 
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
   and their words to the end of the world. 

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, 
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
   and like a strong man runs its course with joy. 
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
   and its circuit to the end of them;
   and nothing is hidden from its heat. 

Song: Our God is a great big God
Activities for all over 3

Going to the heart of the Faith - 1 - I believe in a great big God

Forgive me for being personal! But I’m going to be!

From now till Easter I want to share what goes to the heart of the faith that’s important to me. We’ll dip in and out a bit. Other things may crop up.

I’m going to begin with the God I believe in.

The God I believe in is a great big God. He’s higher than a skyscraper, he’s deeper than a submarine, he’s wider than the universe, he’s beyond my wildest dreams …

That’s the way the song puts it. You can put it in more philosophical terms. The God I believe in is that than which nothing greater can be conceived.

The God I believe in is the God of creation. The bigger you release the universe to be the bigger the God I believe in is … for the God I believe in is the God of all creation.

It’s here in Cheltenham that I’ve become fascinated with the world of science. If you were to talk to people in the previous churches I was minister of I didn’t talk much about science at all. It was only here that I was introduced to the wonders of the world of science. And I find it an inspiration.

It’s one of the things I have shared in my assemblies at St John’s – as a Christian I see no conflict between science and my faith. And for the first time I have been invited in to talk with the Year 6 class who are doing science and religion at the moment – they’ve got lots of questions to put me on the spot with … so think of me as I go in on Tuesday morning.

They are going to be asking me questions about Genesis and about evolution. It’s a great place to start.  But it’s not the only place in the Bible that has to do with the world of God’s creation. The Book of Job has to lots to say as well.

One of the CWM mission partners who joined us for a while way back suggested we should read the Bible with our heads, with our hearts and with our hands. Lucy Winkett says much the same in her foreword to this year’s Fresh from the Word – well worth reading again. She suggests we must read the Bible with our heads, our hearts and with our feet.

The Book of Job is one of those books I have come back to at different points along the way of my journey of faith. First, I came to it with my head … as a study of a text. I had studied literature at A Level – and grappled with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, great novelists, Henry Fielding and Joseph Conrad, Mary Barton, George Eliot.

Job is one of a number of books in the last part of the Bible with Proverbs and Ecclesiastes that you can think of as Wisdom literature – they are in a way the most philosophical books in the bible. They make you think about life, its meaning, its purpose and how to cope with its dark side.

And in Job life has a very dark side.

Job is the classic person who has done no wrong and can do no wrong. Everything is right in his life. And so in what I think is the closest you come in the Bible to Greek drama, a fun story sets him up so that everything goes wrong in his life. First he loses his property, then his family and finally his health. Until he is all alone in the dark in abject pain, forsaken and forlorn.

And then in turn come three friends. Each says much the same thing in subtly different ways. And what they say is just the classic religious thinking of the time.

As a generalization it has some truth in it. If you do what God wants you to do then on the whole things will go well and work out. If you do what God does not want you to do then things will go badly. It’s all right as a generalization – you can see it works.

Their mistake, however, is to turn the generalization on its head and work backwards. They look at Job and see that everything has gone wrong in his life. They then reason that it’s when you don’t do what God wants that things go wrong. They then conclude that Job must have done stuff that God did not want him to do. And so their advice to Job is – change your ways, acknowledge your wrong doing and then everything will go well for you.

But Job is adamant.

He has not done anything wrong. He has done exactly as God wants him to do.

And yet, and yet … everything has gone wrong, his whole life has fallen apart. It’s something he cannot understand.

Three times each of the friends comes to Job – and all the time Job is adamant.

A fourth friend comes with variations on the same theme in what he has to say.

And then you reach the climax to the book. A remarkable climax. Job finds himself in the great open spaces – it’s as if he goes out to the wild countryside, to the top of the mountain.  And there he senses the immensity of the God of creation.

And the voice of God speaks to him out of the whillwind

From Job 38 to 41 there are four chapters. And it is simply God putting question after question to Job. The questions highlight the immensity of God.

And the questions follow a remarkable structure …

It’s basically, the heavens above, the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea.


Job 38:1-7, 31-33, 39:1-4, 41:1-2,31-34
 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: 
2 ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 
3 Gird up your loins like a man,
   I will question you, and you shall declare to me. 

4 ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
   Tell me, if you have understanding. 
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
   Or who stretched the line upon it? 
6 On what were its bases sunk,
   or who laid its cornerstone 
7 when the morning stars sang together
   and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? 

‘Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades,
   or loose the cords of Orion? 
32 Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season,
   or can you guide the Bear with its children? 
33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
   Can you establish their rule on the earth? 

‘Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
   Do you observe the calving of the deer? 
2 Can you number the months that they fulfil,
   and do you know the time when they give birth, 
3 when they crouch to give birth to their offspring,
   and are delivered of their young? 
4 Their young ones become strong, they grow up in the open;
   they go forth, and do not return to them. 

‘Can you draw out Leviathan with a fish-hook,
   or press down its tongue with a cord? 
2 Can you put a rope in its nose,
   or pierce its jaw with a hook? 

It makes the deep boil like a pot;
   it makes the sea like a pot of ointment. 
32 It leaves a shining wake behind it;
   one would think the deep to be white-haired. 
33 On earth it has no equal,
   a creature without fear. 
34 It surveys everything that is lofty;
   it is king over all that are proud.’ 

The climax of this part of the drama of Job comes in 42-1-8 it is as if Job is able to look from a new perspective with new eyes.

Job 42:1-8

Then Job answered the Lord
2 ‘I know that you can do all things,
   and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 
3 “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
   things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 
4 “Hear, and I will speak;
   I will question you, and you declare to me.” 
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
   but now my eye sees you; 
6 therefore I despise myself,
   and repent in dust and ashes.’ 

And he is able to live with unanswered questions.

in the fun of the drama – then we revisit the original set up and as in the best of stories everyone lives happily ever after.

In my head I could see and it meant something to me that we live in a very complex world, beyond our understanding. In the world of God’s creation we can encounter the other, the immensity of the Great big God I believe in … and realise that we se only a tiny fraction of the much bigger picture that is God.s  And so we too can live with unanswered questions.

That was in my head.

Three years into my first church in Yorkshire, my father had long awaited major heart surgery that we all thought would give him a new lease of life. He didn’t come home from hospital. Before his surgery he passed on to me something his father had passed on to him – timely in the context of what has happened in the medical world this week. My grandfather had said to my father, and my father said to me … we all make mistakes, in your work if you make a mistake you can say sorry and try to make up for it. If a surgeon makes a mistake on the operating table there’s no going back. I wasn’t with my father when he died. But I did have the opportunity to see the surgeon. And I passed on what he had said … though I have no reason to believe any mistakes were made.

I read the Book of Job again … and it went from my head to my heart.

Three years into my ministry here in Cheltenham my mother died in circumstances that have again been in the news this week. She was knocked over crossing the road by a car going 40 mph in a 30 mph speed limit zone. It happens to all of us … but ever since I cannot make light of exceeding the speed limit.

My Mum and Dad were by no means perfect – but on the other hand they still had lots to give – that day my mum had just been to visit a home run by the free churches of Leicester for elderly people – she chaired the committee … and we ended up having her 80th birthday cake that had already been baked at the wake rather than the birthday party.

Again, I found myself reading the Book of Job – indeed shortly after that we did a Bible study series on it, dramatizing it in our imagination.

The world can be a pretty messy place. But delve into the wonders of the world and it puts things in perspective – go up on the mountain top in your mind’s eye – see the super moon, watch the lunar eclipse livestreamed by NASA, see the immensity of nature’s awesome power in the volcano in the earthquake in the storm. There is something beyond our understanding in the world around us …

Encounter this God who is a great big God and somehow, you see the mess going on all around in a different perspective. It’s not that any of the difficult questions are answered … but there comes a point when it is possible to live with unanswered questions.

From my head to my heart. But I was invited to read these chapters from Job again only last September. I met again the great big God I believe in, the God of creation. But this time there was something for me to do.

In these 4 chapters there are 64 questions. In the week of nature watch, the super blue moon, in the wake of those awful storms and news of earthquakes and volcanoes, many of those questions now have an answer.

Such is the ingenuity of humanity. Science has a good idea about what happened at the beginning, what happens in the depths of the ocean, how the weather is formed. Cameras have recorded in remarkable detail the intimate lives of the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea.

But what has humanity done to the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea.

Let’s try an experiment. Let’s give a voice to the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea that are mentioned in these four chapters. What would they say to us, human beings living in 2018?

A time to share

People shared three responses

1.      What have you done to us?!
2.      Don’t eat meat!
3.      There are too many of you!

More than any of his previous series, Blue Planet II highlighted the damage done to the oceans by humanity and our obsession with things plastic. The Prime Minister, Mrs May, presented the President of China with a boxed set of Blue Planet II together with a specially recorded message from David Attenborough.

To believe in the God of creation is to be challenged to care for the creation we have received so that we can hand it on to the next generation. It’s a theme that comes out in Genesis … and here in Job, as I read the verses in chapter 42 I heard something of that message speak to me as well.

I knew of you then only by report
But now I see you with my own eyes,
Therefore, I melt away [I yield]
Repenting in dust and ashes.

Encountering the living God of creation my problems can be seen in a new perspective, but they also prompt me to do something – with my hands, to walk the talk with my feet – and to care for the earth beneath, the heavens above, the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea.

a Hy-Spirit Song
Prayers of Concern
154 O Lord my God!
Words of Blessing

No comments:

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light