Sunday, October 17, 2010

Matthew's Manual of Discipleship - the beatitudes

Go into B & Q and you may well bump into Alan Titchmarsh.

Not in person, over here for the Literature Festival, but a life-size cardboard cut-out.

I think it’s a bit of a pity.

Back in May B&Q decided to take off the shelves the books of someone else who has never sought any personal publicity, has little time for garden make-over programmes, and said of B&Q’s decision, “It’s sad for the public. And it’s sad for me. There are celebrities and there are experts.”

Much as I like Alan Titchmarsh, I for one am with Dr D.G.Hessayon. When I purchased my battered copy of the New Vegetable and Herb Expert, ‘an enlarged and updated edition of the world’s best-sellling book on vegetables and herbs’, thirteen years ago, it and its predecessor had already sold 4,870,000 copies. The Garden Expert was first published 51 years ago and by the time I bought my copy ten years ago had sold 5,340,000 copies.

I like ‘how-to’ books. And when it comes to the garden, I don’t think you can find a better ‘how-to’ book.

Of all the Gospels Matthew comes closest to being a ‘how-to’ book. It may not have pictures, charts and diagrams, but it is laid out with a pretty clear structure. And it even has a bit of a blurb on the back cover that tells you what it sets out to do … if you have eyes to see!

It’s intriguing that each of the Gospels tells you at the very beginning or at the very end what it is about and what it’s setting out to do. And each of the Gospels is subtly different.

The clue to Matthew comes in the very last words Matthew records Jesus as saying to the disciples.

It was on the third day after the execution of Jesus on the cross that Mary Magdalene and the other mary went to see the tomb. An angel, a messenger of God, had a message for them to take to the disciples …

“Go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.

They left the tomb with fear and great joy when suddenly Jesus met them, and said, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

So it is that the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.

There it was that Jesus came and said to them,

‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’*

A wonderful promise – I am with you always to the end of the age.

And a powerful challenge …make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

How can they rise to the challenge and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything Jesus had commanded?

Matthew has provided them the wherewithal. He has built his Gospel around five sets of teaching that Jesus gave. In that teaching you can see what Jesus has commanded. It is what you need to know if you are going to obey everything Jesus commanded, and if you are going to be a disciple.

Matthew’s gospel is the manual for disciples.

It opens with the birth stories of Jesus, then moves on to the proclaimation of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus in chapter 3. Then Jesus faces a time of temptation in the wilderness in chapter 4 and then begins his ministry in Galilee where he calls the first disciples. Then he goes throughout Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom and bringing healing to so many people, that crowds flock to him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and from beyond the Jordan.

In chapter 5. When Jesus sees the crowds he goes up the mountain, sat down and his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak and he taught them …

This is the first great bit of teaching Matthew records. And in some ways it is the greatest. Want to be a disciple? You will need to know the teaching of Jesus … and here it is.

The sermon on the mount.

What an opening.

The opening says it all.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven …

As ever with the Literature Festival all the celebrity speakers passed me by. But I feel as if I did have a good Literature Festival nonetheless, but I learned on Thursday that I had chosen the wrong event to go to after all!

On Monday I did a play on communication, a wonderful workshop with a young and very dynamic theatre director on Shakespeare’s sonnets, and went to a poetry reading for the launch of an anthology of poetry by black writers. And I missed a poetry presentation evening at the Playhouse on Monday evening when Judi Marsh was a runner up and read her own poem. So congratulations to Judi and sorry I missed it!

A large part of the Bible is written in poetry. Christ Church visitors and house group leaders had invited me to share a quiet day on prayer with them last Saturday. I shared some of the poetry of George Herbert and used it as a way into reading the psalms as the powerful poetry of prayer.

In his preaching Jesus uses poetry.

There’s something about poetry that makes it memorable. We were asked to memorise a sonnet for the workshop on Shakespeare’s sonnets. I was relieved that we only got through two sonnets so I didn’t need to own up to not having learned them by heart.

It’s doable.

And this is one of those great passages to memorise.

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

The repetition of the word blessed. So much stronger than the Good News Bible rendering of the word ‘happy’. It is as if it is drumming the message home.

The Hebrew Poetry Jesus had grown up is a poetry where it is not so much rhymes and a beat that counts, but instead it is a poetry of ideas.

The rhythm is not so much in the words, definitely not in any rhyme, but it is there in the rhythm of the line.

Blessed are … for theirs is
Blessed are … for they will be

And there is great comfort in these lines.

Feeling poverty-stricken in your faith, as if the springs have run dry – blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Felling alone in bereavement, know that you are never alone,
Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.

Feeling browbeaten, taken advantage of, bottom of the pile, take comfort in the words of Jesus …

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

But make no mistake about it Jesus is not offering his would-be disciples, us included, sugar or saccharin to sweeten our task.

There’s more to these words than meet the eye!

The word translated Blessed is not the easiest of words to translate. That’s why the Good News Bible opts for the word ‘Happy’. But it doesn’t really work. Especially as you move on through the beatitudes.

You might just about get away with Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice, for you will be filled. Is it ‘happiness’ that the peacemaker looks to. And what about those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, or better for the sake of justice, theirs may be the kingdom of heaven … but can you really say such people are ‘happy’?

A long time ago I came across a reference to someone who spoke the Aramaic language that Jesus would have spoken and who had a very interesting take on the translation of this word. Whenever I have preached on or taught on our course about the beatitudes I have quoted that ‘someone’.

You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when earlier in the year, I heard that someone speak and give that very explanation that I had quoted time and again in marking umpteen pieces of written work as students on our course write their own paraphrase of these words.

Elias Chacour describes himself as a Christian that goes back 2000 years, an Arab, a citizen of the state of Israel, and he grew up in a village in Galilee. He and his family were expelled in 1948 by soldiers accompanying Jewish people settling in that area with the establishment of the state of Israel. His story is a wonderful one as it tells of his return to the villages of the Galilee, how he became priest and then Bishop of one of the ancient churches of the Holy Land, and how he has run schools, camps for Jew, Muslim and Christian in a life-time’s work for justice and reconciliation. His great book is called Blood Brothers.

And he was over here to speak a special lecture of the Bible Lands Society in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.

It wasn’t long in his address before he turned to the Sermon on the Mount, and to the Beatitudes.

I pricked my ears up.

I was converted to Christianity not long ago. Not long ago, for us Palestinian Christians, we count time differently from you. We never forget the Swiss for putting this age in our arms, for us we still feel it in our body that time, oh my goodness, one thousand years are like one day before the Lord, so what are two thousand years?

It’s the day before yesterday that the younger boy from Nazareth was hanging around with our boys and girls, with our elderly, with our shepherds, sharing our weddings and our funerals.
Watching everything – our clouds, our water, our flowers – and he took all of that and made of them the parables of the Kingdom of Heaven.

He spoke with such authority.

He did not say to those who followed him ‘Ah! Happy you are because you are persecuted; because you are hungry and searching for justice.’ That man would never have said that.

We have two texts of the Sermon on the Mount – the one says ashray and if there is any Jew who understands Hebrew he would vibrate to ashray that’s taken from yashar and from osher v’osher and the second text says to varwhom (? phon.) and both of them mean literally straight, straighten up, straighten up yourself you hungry and thirsty for righteousness. Get up – go ahead, move, do something if you want to be a peacemaker.

Peace never requires contemplators, peace requires proactive people who get their hands dirty, to build peace and justice for every human being.

That was the teachings of that young boy from Nazareth. Some of my ancestors – my forefathers – listened to him, followed him up to Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the bloody Jerusalem where all the prophets died – were killed – because they protested against the injustices of the then authority in Jerusalem.

These words take on the feel of a really challenging – how to obey the commands of Jesus. This becomes a very real manual for discipleship.

Are you poor in spirit, in mourning, meek … straighten up!

Straighten up yourselves, stand up and be counted as you hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness and you will be filled.

Straighten up, get up – go ahead, move, do something as peacemakers and you will be called children of God.

No longer the saccharine of reassurance, it’s electrifying as it challenges us to the task of discipleship.

Eight times the phrase is repeated. Each time Jesus ups the ante. At the eighth call to straighten up he thinks of those facing persecution for the sake of righteousness, for justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

There are wonderful balances as the second half of this line now echoes the first of the beatitudes.

Then one more is added in.

Up until now each of the beatitudes is impersonal …

Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are those who mourn

Then neatness of the eight so memorable for their repeated form, is broken with a ninth.

No longer impersonal. Jesus suddenly is direct. He looks those would-be disciples in the eye …

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

To be a disciple we need to straighten ourselves up get up, go ahead, move, do something …

It’s the same with any manual –

After all, it’s no good just reading Dr Hessayon’s books to make a difference in the garden you need to straighten up, get up and do something!

What it takes to be a Christian - Romans

Since the beginning of the year Richard Cleaves, our Minister, has preached a series of sermons on Paul's Letter to the Romans during our Sunday evening services.

The sermon followed a reading from Acts 28:11-31. In that final chapter of Acts Luke tells of Paul's arrival in Rome and leaves Paul "proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance."

Although Paul wrote his letter to the Romans a number of years before, in all likelihood during a three month period when he was staying at Coring that is referred to in Acts 20:3, it makes sense for Romans to follow straight on from Acts. It is as if Romans contains the summing up of Paul's preaching of teh Kingdom of God and of this teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Richard suggested that the whole of Romans can be summarised in two words that Paul uses in Romans 1:7 and again in Romans 16:20 "grace" and "peace".

Paul's account of the Christian faith in chapters 1-11 can be summed up in the one word "grace"

Paul's challenge to living the Christian life in chapters 12-16 can be summed up in the one word "peace".

For this final sermon Richard took as his text Romans 1-16 in its entirety.

It is not insignificant that the sermon was preached on Sunday, 17th October 2010 only days after 33 miners had been rescued from a mine in Chile, in a historic mine rescue. The miners had returned to the mine that Sunday to share in a service of thanksgiving.

Grace and Peace
What it takes to be a Christian
Paul's Letter to the Romans

“The word Christian today is more of a soporific than a slogan. So much – too much – is Christian: Churches, schools, political parties, cultural associations, and of course Europe, the West, the Middle Ages.

I read those words more than thirty years ago and they still ring true today.

They were written by Hans Kung in what was then a best seller, On being a Christian.

It was a book as he said at the very outset written for all those who, for any reason at all, honestly and sincerely want to know what Christianity, what being a Christian really means.

It is written also for those
Who do not believe, but nevertheless seriously inquire;
Who did believe, but are not satisfied with their unbelief;
Who do believe, but feel insecure in their faith,
Who are at a loss, between belief and unbelief;
Who are sceptical both about their convictions and about their doubts.
It is written then for Christians and atheists, Gnostics and agnostics, pietists and positivists, lukewarm and zealous Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox.

And somewhere in that long list was me more than 30 years ago.

What Hans Kung had to say captivated me … and I feel it even more so now.

What is special about Christianity? He asks early on in the book.

Many seek to answer that question by looking for abstract axioms, concepts, principles, ideas.

But Hans Kung was convinced – and he persuaded me.

It is not possible to find the answer there since Christianity, as its name alone suggests, cannot in the last resort be reduced to any kind of eternal ideas, abstract principles, human attitudes. The whole of Christianity is left hanging in mid-air if it is detached from the foundation on which it is built.

The foundation upon which Christianity is built is Jesus Christ.

With the eye of the historian we can uncover the Jesus of history. With the eye of the believer we can see through Jesus to the God who is love.

Jesus Christ invites faith and demands obedience of those who would follow him.

He offers us the free gift of love reaching out from God into our innermost being – that’s to say ‘grace’.

And he challenges us to live in the peace God gives and become peace-makers in a world too often divided. Romans 1:1-7

I want to say a big thank you to the likes of Hans Kung who have been an inspiration to me down through the years, and many others starting from my parents, through my Sunday school teachers, to my school teachers, lecturers, the many people in the churches I have belonged to through the years, not least this church and those I have shared with in the fellowship of our Congregational Federation, especially on our training course. Romans 1:8-15

Some criticised the BBC for sending so many to cover the Chile mine rescue. I wanted to say thank you! Wasn’t it wonderful to have so much of the news bulletins filled with Good News! What a remarkable rescue!

If that’s Good News how much more does our Christian faith rooted in Jesus Christ deserve to be called ‘Good News’. It is good news that we have received, and Good News that we are called on to share.

This Good News is nothing less than the power of God for salvation for all who believe, whatever background they come from. Romans 1:16-17

Mind you, it is not possible to get away from the bad news. It is our responsibility as Christians to turn the spotlight on the world we live in.

Where we see injustice, where we see immorality, where we see what is wrong we must speak out. Romans 1:18-32

We stand by the ten commandments, narrowed down to two Love God, Love your neighbour, summed up by Jesus in the Golden Rule do to others what you would have others do to you.

That sense of justice, the essence of that morality, that golden rule is not ours alone. On the wall in the Tantur Institute seminar room in that conference on reconciliation I attended a couple of years ago in Bethlehem was a poster with that Golden rule quoted from all the religions of the world.

There is something that is common to humanity, call it conscience if you will, that at rock bottom can tell the difference between right and wrong. Romans 2:1 – 3:20

How tragic that there is within us all, each one of us, the capacity to get it wrong. And it is the sad tale of the whole of humanity that we get it wrong.

But that is not the end of the story.

Jesus Christ presents us with a way out.

In that Chilean mine they called that pod that brought about that remarkable rescue ‘the phoenix’ – so-called after the bird that is destroyed but then arises again out of the ashes of the very fire that destroyed it.

For us as Christians Jesus Christ is nothing less than the phoenix – he is the one who offers a way out, a way to break the impasse.

The reality is that all of us, all of humanity, each one of us, without exception falls short of the ideal. We do not live up to it.

It can feel as if we are trapped in a world that is so destructive. Jesus shared with our humanity to the point of the cross and utter devastation. Through his resurrection we can share in his victory and see that destruction does not have the last word. That is liberating.

It can feel as if God has to be against us because we have so let him down. We can look to the cross, hear again Christ’s words of forgiveness and know that he has restored the closest possible relationship we could ever hope for with God.

It can feel as if we have to carry the weight of the world’s evil on our shoulders. We can look to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and see that he has shouldered that burden. As we see in him the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, we know that he has taken away the sin of each one of us and God accepts us as we are.

Look to Jesus. Believe in Jesus. And there is a transformation. Romans 3:21 – 4:25

It must have taken some doing to step into that pod, into that Phoenix. Stepping from it was the most wonderful step of freedom anyone of those men had taken. The second to step out, Mario Sepulveda, leapt and sang and handed out stones and later explained the spiritual crisis he had experienced underground: “I was with God and I was with the devil, he said. They were fighting over me and God won. I grabbed on to the best hand. I held onto it and never thought for one minute that God wouldn’t get me out of there.”

The 17th miner to be set free Omar Reygadas, knelt on the ground, clutching a Bible as family and friends, and President of Chile looked on in silence.

What a difference their faith made to those miners in that ordeal.

What a difference our faith can make to us in any ordeal we face.

Jesus draws us into the embrace of a loving God who takes us by the hand and enables us to stand in that grace, knowing that we are forgiven. There is no escaping the world with its sufferings: as we journey through that world God holds us by the hand and enables us to face that world with endurance, with patience, and with a hope that will not disappoint us.

How can we be so sure? Because through Jesus Christ it is nothing less than the love of God that is poured into our hearts by that unseen yet very real strength and power of God that is his Holy Spirit. Romans 5:1-21

For those miners buried for 17 days before they were discovered and for another 49 days before they were set free it was nothing less than a burial and a resurrection.

Jesus comes with us, alongside us, and shares our humanity at its abject lowest … and then he lifts us into the presence of God in all his glory. A wonderful love that will not let us go. For us that experience is nothing less than a death and resurrection.

It is as if we can go right back to the beginning and begin all over again.
Romans 6:1-23

It is tough, however.

And the doubts and the questions remain.

And faced with some of the awfulness of our world, those questions get tougher.

It’s all very well the preacher latching on to the faith of those miners – but in so many other places the rescue doesn’t come. The suffering prevails.

And even in our own lives evil seems to have the last word.

The good that I would I do not, the evil that I would not that I do. Romans 7:1-25

The reality is that we cannot do it on our own.

I have often felt that if Christianity were nothing more than a way of life to follow it would be a recipe for breakdown and disaster for none of us can live up to the challenge Jesus Christ asks of us.

But Christianity is Good News.

That Good News is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.

And that power of God is let loose in our lives.

Sometimes people say prayer is the key. And it is. How vitally important prayer is. But what about those times when prayer doesn’t come, when prayer doesn’t work.

My words go up, my thoughts remain below
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.

It is precisely at those times when we find ourselves groaning in despair that God is actually with us. Remember the footprints. At that moment when there is only one set of prints and we feel as if God has abandoned us and we wail and groan inside … that’s the moment when God is carrying us. Those very groans and wails are nothing less than God within us in that unseen and yet very real presence of his groaning and wailing with us. The strength of that Spirit bears us through.

We are not alone. There is a strength beside us and within in the unseen, yet very real power of God, the Holy Spirit. Don’t be put off by the excesses of the Toronto Blessing, of speaking in tongues. The Holy Spirit is fundamental to our Christian faith, we cannot do without it – for that’s the strength we need to see us through.

For well over twenty years I have had a plaque on the wall of my study that says, Lord help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that you and I together can’t handle.

In the conviction that God is present with me from day to day in his unseen yet very real power of the Holy Spirit, I can say that I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:1-39

That’s a conviction that is for me at least a very personal one. But for some in the church today it is a conviction to hold on to in the face of very great hardship and even persecution. One of those places where that is very apparent is in the Middle East. And it is focused in the Holy Land.

Jesus offers us the grace of God’s free forgiving love.
Jesus draws us into the peace of the presence of God and asks us to be peace-makers. How important for us to support in our praying and in every way we can those Christian churches who are seeking to live that out in the midst of the conflicts that come especially when the extremes of Judaism and Christianity clash with the extremes of Islam. Romans 9-11

The whole point of faith, the whole point of grace, the whole point of being in this relationship with Christ is that it shapes the way we lead our lives.

That’s what it all builds up to.

In response to the wonderful gift of God’s free forgiving love, let’s offer the whole of our lives in service to God by being of service to one another.

Let’s not go it alone.

Let’s play our part as part of the body of Christ, working together with those who share the faith in the life and work of the church.

Let us above all love one another, with a love that is sincere and genuine, with a love that does not draw boundaries but embraces all, with a love that shows honour and respect, and with a love that reaches out even to those who are our enemies. Romans 12

Alice Brown belonged first to Highbury when it was in Winchcombe Street, and returned to the church at the death of her sister about ten years ago. In her room in Lilian Faithful House she has a book case of 200 books most of which are books of poetry and classics of English literature. I found myself on Friday afternoon reading some of the poetry of Shakespeare and of John Donne.

I passionately take my stand on the insight of John Donne …

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a Clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never sent to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee ….

As Christians we have to be part of society and more than that we have to play our full part in that society. Romans 13

As Christians we have to be part of a community of Christian people that we get to know by name. How vital to the well-being of our church is our visiting scheme and the visitors meeting on Thursday – how important the lists we have of those who belong, diligently kept up to date for our visitors meeting. How important that we know each other by name. Of each other and of others outside we must never be judgemental and we must always recognise that the most important members of our church family are those who are the most vulnerable. Romans 14:1 – 16:24

The God of peace will overcome all evil
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ will be with us.
Romans 16:20

And so to God who is able to strengthen us according to this wonderful good news that is nothing less than the power of God for salvation to all who believe,
To God who is able to strengthen us according to the message of Jesus Christ, a message that contains the key to the very meaning of life.
To God who is able to strengthen us according to those commandments that shape a life of faith
To the only wise God be glory for ever.
Romans 16:25-27

May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing,
So that we may abound in hope
By the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Friendship and Trust

Our X-Stream group for older children, with Judi Marsh, led our Sunday morning service on 3rd October. Becky Hartwell, our Pastoral Assistant, preached on the theme of Friendship and Trust. Leading into the sermon Becky played a wonderful YouTube video clip showing not only the trust two guitar players had for each other but the joy of their friendship too!

Friendship is a huge part of our world, whether it is on television shows about finding your best friend forever or in soaps where friendships can be trouble, fun, involve all sorts of betrayals. Friendship can be a significant part of our work and social situations, affecting the decisions we make in our lives. We can also have the friends we have kept for life, friends we may not see often but have great conversations with when we get together. There are the friendships in the bible, between Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Moses and Aaron, and more.

Friendships can sustain us, they can keep us going in the bad times and mean we have someone to share the fun times with.

There are some amazing friendships at Highbury. From Ceitidh Macleod and Eleanor Archer, they’re 4 years old and they love running around together. There is the White family and Schonbeck family - parents and children who are great friends. Then we have Lorraine Gasside and Janet Brown, and we also have John Lewis and Lillian Watkins, not running around together as much as Ceitidh and Eleanor but I’m sure there is still similar joys. Friendship knows no boundaries.

We can see from our current friendships and those of people around us that friendships are significant things in our lives, whether they are part of a marriage or the bond we share with a neighbour.

This is something important that the X-stream children recognised and wanted to share with you today, which is why they chose this topic. I’m just going to share some words this morning which have come from various areas including the children. Thoughts on this passage, on friendship, on trust and how we can build it in our friendships with others and our friendship with God.

We have the dramatised reading the children shared with us earlier. Jesus and Peter walking on water. We can see a lot of the things we have in our friendships with others are reflected in the friendship between Jesus and Peter.

The friendship between Peter and Jesus took time. It had ups and downs. We may have this in our own friendships with people and in our friendship with God. We see in the two readings just two glimpses in the friendship between Jesus and Peter and we can see things did not always go smoothly. Peter wanted to trust Jesus but it wasn’t always there. Peter did not want to disappoint Jesus but it still happened. Jesus knew Peter cared about him and Jesus cared about Peter, but sometimes things went wrong.

Our friendships with Jesus can have that as well. Sometimes we get angry or upset with God, wondering why things have happened. Sometimes we can feel distant from God, struggling to fit everything in our lives and sometimes we can feel we have disappointed him, wondering how things went so wrong, why we did what we did or not sure what has happened.

In the story of Peter we can see that even in those things Jesus still loved Peter, Jesus was still there for Peter, Jesus still trusted him. Trusted him to go into the world when Jesus was back in heaven and share the good news. Trusted him with an important message, to lead people and to help them in their struggles.

Jesus is still that person for us. No matter what happens Jesus still loves us, he is still there for us, he still trusts us. It’s an amazing thing. When Peter started to fall in the water Jesus could have asked him to leave the disciples, telling him he’d had enough but he didn’t. Jesus picked him up and continued to teach him, not giving up on him.

But then sometimes it is hard to trust God. Maybe we can think of a time where we struggled to do the things we felt God was asking us to do, struggled in how he wanted us to serve him or struggled with a passage of the bible and what it meant for our lives.

Peter let his fear affect his trust of Jesus and this affected his actions, he started sinking into the water, he couldn’t believe that Jesus would sustain him in doing the miraculous.

What Peter was struggling with was trust. But when I talked with the children they had some great ways that we could build trust. We know that trusting someone isn’t always easy, we see this in the struggles that Peter had in his moments with Jesus but the children suggested some helpful ways in learning to trust other people.

You can get to know the person better.
This might involve talking with friends, finding out what they love, hate, something about their past, learning all about them. This can also be part of our relationship with God. We can learn about him through reading the bible, talking with others and through prayer. We can share our hopes and fears with God in our prayers and also take time to meditate on his words and being in the silence with him.

One of the things Tabby and Grace do that builds up their friendship is that they play together.
I don’t think Peter and Jesus went on a trampoline together but I think there was some socialising time between them, they ate together, they walked together. But how can we play with God? God is always with us, whether we are watching a film or going on a walk. It is hard to think of this as playing with God but it is spending time with him. We can pray through an activity, telling God about the fun we are having on a crossword or when listening to a particular song, thinking about how it relates to our lives with God.

We talked about testing people to find out if we could trust them. We saw in the bunny story earlier that friends may test each other and in doing so it can lead to great trust or no trust at all. So how do we test God? And should we test God? Well, we can ask questions. Richard reminded us a couple of weeks ago week how important it is to ask questions. Not to test God in going sky diving without a parachute and expecting him to save us but to question who God is, to speak to others, to learn what God is about and what that means to us in our lives.

The children mentioned one other thing when it comes to trusting. Trusting someone isn’t always about them it is about you as well. Trusting someone takes something out of yourself. We have to decide, are we going to trust someone or not? Are we going to trust what God wants for us, that he loves us, that he is with us, that we can have a close friendship with him or not? It takes a leap of faith. We have to make that decision for ourselves.

We also talked about how it is good to have more than one friendship. Jesus is always there for us and he is not a jealous friend, he encourages us to talk to others, to be with other people and one of the many places we can do that is church. I shared some of the church friendships earlier, but these aren’t the only friendships here and there are many more still to grow, with all the ages. But Jesus is our BFF, our best friend forever. Whoever comes in and goes out of our lives Jesus is there no matter what, he doesn’t move to a different area, he doesn’t fall out with us and stop speaking to us, he doesn’t find someone he likes even better than us, he doesn’t get too busy to have us in his life. Jesus is there for us even after we have rejected him.

Jesus saw Peter sinking and “immediately he reached out his hand and caught him.” He didn’t try and decide if the friendship was worth it, was he getting enough out of it, was Peter really good enough to be his friend. Instead he reached out his hand immediately.

When Peter was aware he had rejected Jesus, Jesus didn’t respond by going into a sulk, letting him get some of “his own medicine”, say cruel things or ignore him. Instead, knowing that Peter was still suffering over his actions, he reminded Peter that he still had worth, that he could still serve him, that their friendship was still there – that he knew Peter loved him.

Jesus’ love and forgiveness is never ending and neither is his friendship.

The differences between having a sort of acquaintance friendship to a close bond friendship where you trust the other person are numerous. But one of the differences is that we can have more fun. You may remember from the video earlier that there wasn’t just laughter from the audience but there was laughter from the musicians as well. They weren’t just trying to get through it, hoping they wouldn’t make mistakes, worrying what the other person was doing, they were enjoying themselves. I think the same can be said in our relationship with God.

The times when you see something that makes you smile and you want to share it with God, or when you lead or help at a group that you were nervous about and something great happens and you want to share your joys with God. That is part of a deeper friendship. A deeper friendship with God means lots of things, knowledge, comfort, companionship, hope and joy.

As we go home I’d encourage us all to build our friendships, with other people, with those we haven’t spoken to in a while and with God. To look at the friendships we have and that those around us have and see what we can learn from them.

I hope that our friendship with God this week enables us to helped where our need is deepest, whether it is in needing comfort, needing to be loved, needing to know we’re not alone or needing to see joy in something.

Real friendships aren’t easy, they take time, effort, they take work and they take trust. But we can have a true, deep and everlasting friendship with Jesus.

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