Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Way of Weeping

Watching those aspiring Dorothy’s, anticipating Andrew Lloyd Webber additional songs, brought it all back to me … the very first time I saw the Wizard of Ox, in the 1000 seater Picture House on Leicester’s Granby Street. It’s funny how you associate certain films with certain cinemas – Jason and the Argonauts with the Saturday morning cinema club at the Cameo in Leicester, not that my parents would allow me to go very often, The Planet of the Apes at another flea pit, the City Cinema in Bangor – complete with a patch on the screen, Ben Hur at the 2000 seater Odeon Cinema, can’t remember the film but do remember the double seats at the other cinema in Bangor, and then there was my first visit to what was a brand new idea – multi-screen cinema – the intimacy of a small cinema, large screen … and at Leicester’s CineCentre Franco Zeferrelli’s Romeo and Juliet. I was I think in the sixth form and I went with my cousin John.

That particular occasion sticks in my mind and has become for me a bit of a benchmark. As the film came to its dramatic climax I vividly remember how there were audible sobs first from one person, then another. It seemed half the cinema were in tears. I guess it was the intimacy of the small cinema – it was almost catching. Almost, but not quite. Then someone called out from the other side of the cinema in an inimitable Leicester accent, ‘will someone pass a bucket’.

At that while half the cinema were in floods of tears, I joined my cousin and the other half of the cinema in fits of laughter.

I think over the years I have changed sides. I have become more emotional. When Felicity and I went to see My Name is Khan a film exploring autism and the meeting of Hindu and Muslim post 9/11, a film in which Bollywood meets Hollywood in Hindi with English sub-titles, I found tears coming to my eyes.

I felt quite emotional at the last day of the Day Centre on Friday – it was good to have a good number of folk from Highbury there at the last of a series of services that began 19 years ago at our first Christmas here, that I have shared with very few exceptions with Frank Guppy on the organ. I do hope a good number of people can come to the celebration on Saturday, 17th April when we will say a big thank you to the staff who have worked there.

Though I get emotional, there is still something inside me that feels uncomfortable about those tears.

It is significant for me that tears are at the heart of Holy Week. During our pilgrimage we walked the Via Dolorosa, following in the footsteps of Jesus as it were through the streets of Jerusalem from the place, there or thereabouts, where he was condemned to death, to the place, there or thereabouts, where he was crucified and buried. We are going to create a set of stations of the cross around the church and open the church from 10 to 11 and from 6 to 7 each evening through to Good Friday. I think of it as the Way of the Cross. But the Via Dolorosa is the Way of Weeping.

The women of Jerusalem weep. There are women at the foot of the cross who weep. But it is not only women who weep.

Peter vows to follow Jesus to the bitter end if needs be. He follows as far as the courtyard of the High Priest’s house and there he denies Jesus three times. The cock crows and he breaks down and weeps bitter tears.

He is not the only man we see weeping.

There are two occasions when Jesus also weeps.

He weeps at the death of a friend.

And he weeps at the plight of a city.

Jesus journeys to Jerusalem down the Jordan valley through Jericho, at 1500 feet below sea level the world’s lowest and most ancient city and up to a small village on the heights of the mount of Olives, called Bethany. That was the village of Mary and her sister Martha. There is a wonderful, homely painting by an older contemporary of Vermeer, Hendrik Martensz Sorgh, that is said to have been the inspiration behind Vermeer’s only remaining religious painting. Christ at the home of Martha and Mary. It captures that moment when Martha, busy in the kitchen, loses her patience with her sister Mary who is sitting at the feet of Jesus. The moment when Jesus commends Mary’s prayerfulness. It is a wonderful picture, not at the moment on display in the Art Gallery. The friends of the Museum and Art Gallery have arranged to have the picture brought out of the store and have invited me to do a talk on Wednesday, 12th May. It captures a moment of happiness and joy and maybe a moment of tension in that home.

Drawing near to Jerusalem, Jesus arrives in Bethany, and makes once again for the home of Mary and Martha. There they and their brother Lazarus prepare a meal for Jesus. As you might expect, Martha served and Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard and anointed Jesus’ feet, wiped them with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of perfume.

Not long before, however, the house had been filled with the stench of death.

Lazarus had been severely ill. Martha and Mary had summoned Jesus. But he delayed. And Lazarus died. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming she went and met him and she said to Jesus in an almost accusing tone, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” A conversation ensues. And it is to Mary that Jesus says words that have become wonderful words, treasured by those who have followed in the footsteps of Jesus ever since.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Then Jesus looks Martha in the eye and asks her, “Do you believe this?” It is Martha, the doer, who is the one who makes that wonderful profession of faith. “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

So, what of Mary.

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, exactly the same question Martha had posed. The haunting question … if only …’ “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping and the Judaeans who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him? They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”

Then comes in the AV the shortest verse in the whole Bible.

Jesus wept.

If Jesus wept at the death of a friend, we should not be surprised if in such circumstances we find ourselves weeping. Tears are not to be bottled up. Tears are to be shed. More than that tears are to be shared. Jesus came alongside Mary and those many others who had come alongside Mary and Martha and he shared their tears.

Holy Week is important to me at the most personal level. At the heart of my faith is the conviction is that this wonderful world being explored so marvellously by the youthful, David Waters lookalike, Professor in his series on the solar system, is the creation of God. I passionately believe that there is something more beyond the world we can see, that helps me to make sense of life in the world that I do see.

My Christian faith, however, takes that world with all its pain and its suffering seriously. And it says that we must come alongside one another in those times of suffering and share the weeping, share the concern. The reality is we cannot escape the tears. Holy Week is the time to remember the tears, and come alongside the suffering. We can only reach the joy of resurrection victory, the life that is beyond, by going through the valley of the shadow, by going through the tears, by travelling the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Weeping.

That’s the personal dimension to my faith. It is something for each one of us. For each of us there is a wonderful hope beyond of resurrection.

But faith cannot be individualistic.

There is a bigger dimension too.

And that also becomes apparent through Holy Week.

Jesus weeps at the death of a friend.

He also weeps at the plight of a city.

There in Bethany Jesus is very aware that the authorities, the powers that be, those who are colluding with the conquereing Romans who have built up a power base by ‘devouring widows’ houses, are out to kill Lazarus and to kill him.

So it is that he sets off to make his entry into Jerusalem. It was Passover time. That meant that the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate, would have come up from the Roman seaside capital of this unruly province in Caesarea Maritima and taken up residence in the Herodion palace to keep law and order in the city. He would have ridden on horse back, accompanied by cavalry. There is a description of the kind of sight that would be later in Acts as 200 horsemen make that journey. Pomp and ceremony were the mark of Roman power in collaboration with the Herodian dynasty and the powers of Jerusalem.

And Jesus chose to ride in on a donkey. It was a massive prophetic statement. That he was coming not as a warrior king, but in peace … humble and mounted on a donkey, as Zechariah had said, ‘he will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the warhorse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off and he shall command peace to the nations …”

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

It really is so. Coming down the Mount of Olives there is a spot where the ancient city of Jerusalem suddenly appears … coming down a little further there is a church – built in the shape of a teardrop. And on the terrace in front of that church, overlooking the temple mount, is the church of Dominus Flevit. The Lord wept.

Video clip

Bethany is now separated from Jerusalem by the wall.

The East Jerusalem where so many settlements are proposed not for Israeli citizens but exclusively for Jewish people is the part of Jerusalem where Christian as well as Muslim Palestinians live and where we attended the East Jerusalem Baptist Church.

Those Christian people in East Jerusalem through the Kairos Palestine document ask us as fellow Christians to support them in the condemnation of those settlements on Palestinian land, to support them and their church communities where, in their words, ‘most of their young people are active apostles for justice and peace … where their ‘various Christian institutions make their faith active and present in service, love’, where they are engaging in dialogue between the three relilgions and actively working for reconciliation once justice has been restored.”

Through the tears and the pain they look to signs of hope.

As Jesus did then, we too weep, If you even you had only recognised the things that make for peace.

Our commitment must be to stand with those who work for peace.

Jesus wept.

He weeps at the death of a friend.

He weeps at the plight of a city.

And not just that particular city.

I got hold of David Baldwin’s little book, The Holy Land, A Pilgrim’s Companion. It has a photo of that view of the old city taken from inside the Dominus Flevit church.

Opposite that photo is a prayer written by a URC minister, who has often contributed to our prayer handbook, Donald Hilton.

We finish with the words of that prayer …

Lord Jesus Christ,

Today we share your tears for the cities of the world;

-still we have not loved the things that make for peace.

We weep for the divided cities:

Where brother fights with brother,

Where anger feeds on hatred,

Where prejudice blinds the eyes of compassion,

And even religion divides,

Where children are taught to hate

And old men relish ancient wrongs.

We weep for the cities of oppression

Where iron law imprisons freedom,

Where thought is curbed and conscience stifled,

Where the questioning spirit is called a traitor,

Where art and civilising truth grow barren

And each must think in manner as his neighbour.

We weep for the cities of poverty:

Where children live, but die too soon,

Where eager hands can find no work,

Where hunger rules and aid is short,

Where mothers clutch uncomprehending young,

And where the little we do, we fail to do.

We weep for our cities, for our town, and for ourselves;

We have not learned the things that make for peace.

Lord, turn tears to love,

And love to work,

Turn work to justice,

And all that makes for peace.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

What would Jesus pray?

“I think of you every night in my prayers.”

When I heard that said by someone not so long ago, I found it humbling. In a strange way I find difficult to describe it is good to know that someone is thinking of me in their prayers each night.

One or two people say that to me from time to time. This person had said it before. As it happens they are as often as not people who don’t get out, because they can’t get out, are not so active because for various reasons they are not able to be active. But they have a special gift that is particularly important in the life of a church family, in the life of this church family, and in each of our lives. They have a gift of dedicated, committed prayer.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we knew of someone who remembered us each night in their prayers. The good news of our faith is that we each of us have someone, someone very special who comes alongside us, a soul-mate, a particularly close friend … and who prays for us constantly.

You can dress it up in the high-falutin words of Christian doctrine which tells us that Jesus was crucified, dead and buried, on the third day was raised again to life and sits at the right hand of God the Father – and there he intercedes for us.

I prefer a simple picture … of Christ praying for us day by day.

What would his prayer be.

I want to go back to that Last Supper. It wasn’t the brief re-enactment that has become for us the Lord’s Supper, it was a whole evening – a celebration of the Passover among a group of friends who had become an extended family. After all Passover to this day is a family gathering where all the family come together.

The meal goes on through the evening. Luke describes some of the different cups and the bread that is shared.

But as the conversation goes on unexpected things happen. No sooner has Jesus shared the cup than he speaks of the one who will betray him. Then, Luke tells us there is an argument among the disciples as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest.

25But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Was this the moment when as John tells us Jesus got up and washed the feet of the disciples?

He then speaks highly of the way he treasures the friendships he has built up with this set of people …

28 ‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Then Jesus singles out Simon Peter. The big fisherman disciple Jesus has given the nickname of Rock – dependable, solid as a rock. But he doesn’t use the nick-name – he uses the name Simon.

There is a tone of lament in what he says as he recognises that following Jesus is not straightforward, that times of testing come … and those times can be bleak and fearful.

31 ‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, 32but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’

I find that a remarkably moving moment in the course of the supper Jesus shares with his friends.

First, is the realisation that no one can escape the times of testing. They come. They are pretty bleak. Satan has demanded to sift all you like wheat.

What time of testing do you experience?

What time when in that footprints poem it feels as if the footprints are yours and yours alone – that you are on your own.

Think for a moment of that time of testing. Maybe it is something that is happening now, maybe it is something that has happened recently, maybe it is something has happened a while back.

Jesus suggests that time of testing, that time of sifting, that painful, dark time is something that comes to all.

Then comes the moment that is, it seems to me, to be so treasured.

It is a moment that is to be treasured by Simon Peter, to be treasured by all the others around that table, to be treasured by each one of us.

I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’

I think that is a remarkable prayer.

It is not that you will escape the testing times. It is that your faith will not fail. There are going to be moments over this testing time of passion tide when faith is tested to the limit. Jesus himself experiences that testing. Later that night in the Garden of Gethsemane when he knelt down and prayed, 41Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed,42‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’

Luke tells us that Jesus found strength in that moment of praying …

3Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. 44In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.]]

This is his prayer for us … that our faith not fail.

One of the great things of this Passion tide is simply to re-live the story, walk with those disciples and with Jesus on the way of the cross. It is what we are going to set up through Holy Week as we invite people to follow in the way of the cross and reflect on this story. It is powerful.

Powerful, not least to see what happens after a prayer like that is said.

What happens is not an instant cure, an instant answer. It is a journey, a process, and a very difficult path to tread.

45When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, 46and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’

But the time of trail comes … and the party arrives to arrest Jesus in the garden.

Some strike out in his defence – but Jesus says, no more of this and heals the ear of the slave of the High Priest one of the disciples had attacked.

54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance.


That took some doing, it took some courage. Maybe that prayer of Jesus stuck with Peter.

I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail;

Peter had been adamant in response.

And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’

So here he was.

55When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’ 57But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ 58A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ 59Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ 60But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. 61The Lord turned and looked at Peter.

What a look that must have been!

A look that sees into the deepest recesses of the heart.

And then Peter remembered.

Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’

At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. 61The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ 62And he went out and wept bitterly.

Passion tide is a time of weeping.

These are the tears of a faith that has failed.

It had seemed to be the structure that would hold his life together. A direction, a power. And now it had crumbled.

It had collapsed.

At that point Jesus is mocked, beaten, blindfolded, struck, and insulted.

And then comes a brief phrase. In verse 66. When day came.

In other words Jesus is mocked, beaten, blindfolded, struck and insulted and left alone over night.

Within sight of the Temple mount, the dome of the rock glistening in all its gold in the distance, is a house reputed to be the High Priest’s house. And beneath the first century ruins a dungeon.

You catch the solitariness of Jesus – at that moment.

The words of Psalm 88 have a power to them.

O Lord, God of my salvation,
when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.

For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I am like those who have no help,
like those forsaken among the dead,

You have caused friend and neighbour to shun me;
my companions are in darkness.

One of our number pointed out a connection. It was by the fire that Peter betrayed Jesus, heard the cock crow and broke down in tears.

It was by the fire that Peter met with the risen Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee who three times asked him, Do you love me.

Coming out of the dungeon we found ourselves beside a wonderful sculpture of Peter and two servants, and on the pole beside him a cockerel. With the gold of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple mount in the distance it was a very moving moment.

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We come back to the prayer.

There is a second part to the prayer Jesus prayed for Peter … and maybe that’s the second part we need to take to heart.

I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’

That’s the power of this prayer.

It is the power of this prayer for us as well.

We do let ourselves down, Christ down, God down … but there is someone praying for us. The prayer Jesus prays for us is so special. He knows us as we are … and he loves us. His prayer is that we once we have turned back we may then strengthen our brothers and our sisters.

Maybe it is the one whose faith has been sifted, who has faced trials, who has been through that time of testing is then hen better able to be a strength to others.

So thank you to all those who have said to me … I pray for you each night.

Though the one I was thinking of at the start was our friend Maurice.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A church that prays


An open church, a quiet space


I often hear a hum.

Is it the heating? Is it the lighting? Is it the sound system?


I hear it now.

It’s not the heating. It’s not the lighting. It’s not the sound system.

It’s something else.

It’s no bad thing to repeat the 10 commandments, not least on Mothering Sunday. Honour your father and your mother is something that comes right to the fore this year! Though this year in particular it has occurred to me that we ought to add an eleventh commandment ‘Honour your grandfather and your grandmother’.

There are lots of things you can add to the 10 commandments. As he writes to churches Paul is fond of lists. He often comes up with lists of commandments that he is convinced a church family needs to take to heart.

I like lists. I like the 10 commandments. And I like those lists Paul comes up with too. As he comes to the end of the first letter he writes to the church in Thessalonica Paul comes up with just such a list. There is something timeless about it. It speaks very much to any church family, to every church family and to our church family.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

12 But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise the words of prophets, 21but test everything; hold fast to what is good;22abstain from every form of evil.

23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

25 Beloved, pray for us.

26 Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. 27I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them.

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

They are wonderful principles. Let me go through them again. But this time I am going to take three away. A bit like Kim’s game where you take things off a tray and see whether you can spot what is missing.

  • Respect
  • Be at peace among yourselves
  • Admonish the idlers
    • Encourage the fainthearted
    • Help the weak
    • Be patient with all of them
  • See that none of you repays evil for evil
    • But always seek to do good to one another and to all
  • Do not quench the Spirit
  • Do not despise the words of the prophets
  • Test everything
  • Hold fast to what is good
  • Abstain from every form of evil.

There are three things in the middle of that list that stand out. A couple of them are given entire verses – which make them rank among the shortest verses in the Bible. Paul adds a comment to these three which somehow captures for him their importance.

“for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

It is as if these three hold the key to the observance of all the others, important though they may be.

  • Rejoice always
  • Pray without ceasing
  • Give thanks in all circumstances
    • For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you

And maybe the middle one is the key to them all … and one of those very short verses. Pray without ceasing.

In seeking a church there are, says the Bishop of Reading, ten things to go to the stake for.

  1. A church that takes God seriously.
  2. A church that takes our humanity seriously.
  3. A church that takes the world seriously
  4. A church that prays

“A church that prays has its priorities absolutely spot on. Prayer is to us as milk is to a baby, as love is to a newly-wed. It’s how we live and thrive.”

Prayer meeting and at house group and at Hy-Way and at Hy-Tec and here in our services – prayer is part of what we do. It is what we are.

The Leprosy Mission works in parts of the world where leprosy is still a major problem. Each year and each quarter they publish a prayer diary. In the welcome notes to Ask2010, this year’s diary, Geoff Warne, the General Director of the Leprosy Mission International quotes from a wonderful lhymn by James Montgomery …

“Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, unuttered or expressed

The motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast.

He goes on to suggest that ‘the motivation for prayer comes not just from having a prayer guide in our hands but from a fire within.”

‘a hidden fire that trembles in the breast’.

“What fire is that?” he asks.

“We are fired up by trusting in the power of God. Prayer is a mystery. We don’t understand why or how the Creator of the universe responds to our prayers. But scripture affirms again and again that he does.

“Our experience in TLM is that God’s response is not always what we expect, and sometimes goes far beyond. In Ephesians 3:20 Paul speaks of God ‘who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.”

He goes on to suggest that it is good for prayer to be informed.

“We are fired up by knowing something of the need.”

So it is that this prayer diary includes suggestions for prayer for each of 365 days. Being informed in our prayer – be it in CWM through Inside Out and the Web site, through the prayer requests we have in Highbury News. The email requests for prayer that Lorraine is now co-ordinating supported by Judi Marsh. If anyone not on email would like to participate have a word with Lorraine or Judi and we can link you in by phone. And the re-issue of Highbury’s Prayer diary – suggestions for prayer in a four week cycle that takes you through the month – with space for personal prayers to be noted as well.

I love that comment on the front cover … “Prayer puts God’s work in God’s hands … and keeps it there.” (E.M.Bounds)

But what is this prayer?

It is a mystery.

It is difficult to understand.

It is not simply a wish list presented to God

It is not simply a shopping list of expectations from God

It is something more.

And Paul gives us the clue. It is at the heart of what we are and who we are … it is nothing less than ‘the will of God in Christ Jesus for each one of us.”

What is this will of God in Christ Jesus for each one of us.

Rejoice always

Pray without ceasing

Give thanks in all circumstances.

Prayer is framed in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving. That does not always come naturally. Praise takes you out of yourself and focused you on God. Thanks acknowledges our indebtedness to God. Rejoicing always is not to put a brave face on it, it is not to smile in the face of adversity, it is to lift our eyes above the awfulness of a situation that may be unfolding and to see God … praise releases that sense of the presence of God.

We rejoice always. We give thanks in all circumstances.

Rejoice and Give thanks frames the middle statement.

Pray without ceasing.

I think that is one of the most exciting insights into the nature of prayer. We know that Paul was an incredibly busy person – his life was action packed. His travels took him all over the Mediterranean world, he preached, he taught, he healed and he got into many scrapes which he describes on more than one occasion .. hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, sleepless nights, hunger – you name it, Paul endured it. He was busy, a great doer.

When he says ‘pray without ceasing’ he does not mean that you have to extract yourself from the real world and simply say your prayers. No, prayer is a greater mystery than that.

Prayer is the life-blood of what we do. It is the air we breathe. It is an attitude of mind that is always there. Often we are not aware of it … but then it will surface, just in a thought, a moment’s reference to the God who is always there.

“Prayer is to us as milk is to a baby, as love is to a newly-wed. It’s how we live and thrive.” John Pritchard is right.

And prayer is at the heart of all we do and all we share in the life of the church. And if it’s there just under the surface … popping up to the surface as and when necessary that makes a difference.

“A praying church,” John Pritchard suggests “is relaxed, joyful, purposeful. It doesn’t strive. It may agonize but it doesn’t worry. It may struggle but it doesn’t despair. It’s turned towards God like a sunflower towards the sun.”

Through Holy Week we are going to open the church each day from 10-00 to 11-00 and again from 6-00 to 7-00 so that we can have an open church and a quiet space. In the church we are going to focus on the stations of the cross and give people the space to share in the quiet of this place, to share in prayer.


An open church, a quiet space


I often hear a hum.

Is it the heating? Is it the lighting? Is it the sound system?


I hear it now.

It’s not the heating. It’s not the lighting. It’s not the sound system.

It’s something else.

“A praying church is turned towards God like a sunflower towards the sun. There’s a saint in every other pew quietly humming with holiness. This is a good place to be in.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m with John Pritchard. I would go to the stake for a church that takes prayer seriously.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Listening to God ... and Relying On Him!

A sermon preached by Ruth Waddington during a service led by our youth group, Hy-Tec. Ruth is one of the leaders of Hy-Tec.

In the earlier part of our service we looked at the different skills and gifts we have that we can use. We thought of Paul’s picture of the body having many parts, all of which have an important part to play in 1 Corinthians 12 and we thought of circuses where everyone has a different part to play.

We move on now to think a bit more about when God asks us to do things we aren’t so sure we have the skills for.

So, reading from Exodus 3:1-12 in the Good News Bible …

One day while Moses was taking care of the sheep and goats of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, he led the flock across the desert and came to Sinai, the holy mountain. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him as a flame coming from the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was on fire but that it was not burning up.3 “This is strange,” he thought. “Why isn't the bush burning up? I will go closer and see.”

4 When the Lord saw that Moses was coming closer, he called to him from the middle of the bush and said, “Moses! Moses!”

He answered, “Yes, here I am.”

5 God said, “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground. 6 I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” So Moses covered his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

7 Then the Lord said, “I have seen how cruelly my people are being treated in Egypt; I have heard them cry out to be rescued from their slave-drivers. I know all about their sufferings, 8 and so I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians and to bring them out of Egypt to a spacious land, one which is rich and fertile and in which the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites now live. 9 I have indeed heard the cry of my people, and I see how the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 Now I am sending you to the king of Egypt so that you can lead my people out of his country.”

11 But Moses said to God, “I am nobody. How can I go to the king and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12 God answered, “I will be with you, and when you bring the people out of Egypt, you will worship me on this mountain. That will be the proof that I have sent you.”

If we go back a bit in time into the story of Moses – Before Moses was born the Israelites were living in slavery in Egypt and Pharaoh had gotten afraid of the growing numbers of Israelites, so he had ordered for all the male babies to be killed. When Moses was born to an Israelite woman she hid him for three months, but it got to a point where she could hide him no longer, so she put him in a basket and placed him into the Nile. Pharoah’s daughter found Moses, and thought the best thing to do was to find out who the baby’s mother was and get her to nurse him whilst he was little. Once he didn’t need nursing anymore the Israelite lady gave him back to the Pharoah’s daughter, so she would raise him as her son so that the Pharoah wouldn’t find out who he was and have him killed.

As Moses grew up in the Pharaoh’s house he got quite upset about seeing his fellow Israelites being so badly treated by the Egyptians. One day he saw an Egyptian beating up an Israelite. He felt so angry that he went and killed the Egyptian. When the Pharoah found out what Moses had done he ordered Moses to be killed, but Moses ran away and lived in the desert for 40 years.

After 40 years of hiding, and growing older God appears to Moses in the burning bush, as we heard in the reading just now. Moses said in that reading “who am I, that I should go to Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ – not quite the confident fighter he used to be! But as we heard, God said that he would be with him. Later in chapter 4 Moses is still nervous about what God wants him to do, and he says “what if they do not believe me or listen to me?” at this point God teaches him to throw his staff on the ground where it turns into a snake, and other miracles that he can perform to make people listen to him. But even after this Moses is still worried, and says to God that he’s always had a stutter, isn’t very good at talking to people, and really doesn’t think he’s the right man for the job. But God reassures him and says he will help him to speak. Moses then pleads that God sends someone else, in a final attempt, by this point God was getting a little annoyed, but says he will get Moses’ brother Aaron to help him. Finally Moses goes ahead, and saves the Israelites from Egypt - not quite that easily, but I’m sure you know that bit, if not get reading the rest of Exodus!

So, why did God not use Moses when he was younger? When he was living in Pharoah’s house, as the child of Pharoah’s daughter? You’d have thought he’d be in the perfect situation, an influential position there? And he was younger, and much keener to stand up for his people, as you could see from his killing of the Egyptian.

But God chose to wait, wait until Moses had been living a quieter life, hiding in the desert, getting older and weaker. Why?

When Moses was younger he fought the Egyptian out of his own strength, he was upset and angry at what was happening and took his own decision to single-handedly go out and sort it out.

Moses needed God’s help to save the Israelites, but in the enthusiastic and independent way Moses was when he was younger he wasn’t going to be relying on God’s strength for anything.

So God waited until Moses had become a bit unsure of himself, and then he asks Moses to go and save the Israelites. Granted this meant that Moses took a lot of persuading that he was the right man for the job, and that God was going to be supporting him all the way. But when he finally agreed to do it, he went and he did amazing things, through God’s strength, not his own.

This is what I think God wants us to do, he wants us to be listening to what his plans are, and to rely on him for the strength and abilities to do the tasks. He uses the strengths, gifts and talents we already have for many things, as you can see in the church here, we have some amazing people serving each other, we have people who are good at flowers and those who have talents in playing music, and he uses our skills in those ways to do some great things.

But what I want to encourage you to do, is to be praying and listening to God, and if or when God asks you to do something, don’t ignore it because you don’t think you’re able. It was ok for Moses to ask God questions, and even to plead with him to make sure he was the right person for the job, so don’t be afraid if you’re unsure – ask God, question him, plead with him if you want, but if the task is set for you then he’ll let you know for sure, and he’ll give you the strength, the skills, even the people you need to do it, and he’ll be preparing your way and supporting you throughout. We are here to be carrying out God’s work on Earth, so lets listen to God for what he wants from us, and lets support each other through these things.

Now I’m going to put on a song which I really find helpful when I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing or if I’m able to do it. The lyrics will be on the screen, just in case you want to read along.

In the next few minutes I think it would be quite cool, if you had a think about maybe something you feel you might be being asked to do, or think about a skill you have that you aren’t really using, or maybe you know someone who is doing amazing things for God like Moses did. If you feel comfortable, you could pray with a two or three people around you, for whatever they might be thinking about, and support them. If you just want to pray quietly on your own, and just listen to the music, that’s fine as well.

After a while Geoff will then start to play a song, and when you’re ready please join in, standing or sitting, whatever’s comfortable.

Voice of Truth lyrics …

Oh, what I would do to have

the kind of faith it takes

To climb out of this boat I'm in

Onto the crashing waves

To step out of my comfort zone

Into the realm of the unknown

Where Jesus is,

And he's holding out his hand

But the waves are calling out my name

and they laugh at me

Reminding me of all the times

I've tried before and failed

The waves they keep on telling me

time and time again

"Boy, you'll never win,

You will never win

But the Voice of truth tells me a different story

the Voice of truth says "do not be afraid!"

and the Voice of truth says "this is for My glory"

Out of all the voices calling out to me

I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of truth

Oh, what I would do

to have the kind of strength it takes

To stand before a giant

with just a sling and a stone

Surrounded by the sound

of a thousand warriors

shaking in their armor

Wishing they'd have had the strength to stand

But the giant's calling out

my name and he laughs at me

Reminding me of all the times

I've tried before and failed

The giant keeps on telling me

time and time again

"Boy you'll never win,

you'll never win."

But the voice of truth tells me a different story

the Voice of truth says "do not be afraid!"

and the Voice of truth says "this is for My glory"

Out of all the voices calling out to me

I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of truth

But the stone was just the right size

to put the giant on the ground

and the waves they don't seem so high

from on top of them looking down

I will soar with the wings of eagles

when I stop and listen to the sound of Jesus

singing over me

But the Voice of truth tells me a different story

The Voice of truth says "do not be afraid!"

And the Voice of truth says "this is for my glory"

Out of all the voices calling out to me (calling out to me)

I will choose to listen and believe (I will choose to listen and believe)

I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of truth

I will listen and believe

I will listen and believe the Voice of truth

I will listen and believe

'Cause Jesus you are the Voice of truth

And I will listen to you.. oh you are the Voice of truth

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