Sunday, May 22, 2011

No one comes to the Father except through me

I moved away from Maidenhead when I was 18 months old, which was when I met up with Felicity who at the time was 2 and a half. Ah … I remember it well!!!!

Among the many stories I grew up with was one that seemed when I heard tell of it to be from a distant, far-off age and almost another age. Such are the tricks time plays on the very young! I now realise the story must still have been very vivid in the minds of my parents, for it had happened only five years before I was born.

After all, Maidenhead was just outside London, and very much en route. I wish now I had taken more notice of the stories my father told. But it must have been very exciting when my parents joined the crowds to see the Olympic Torch carried aloft on its way.

8,000 miles from Land’s End to the Olympic Stadium is quite some journey, taking in most towns and cities in the country. But when they announced the Olympic Torch would be stopping over night in Cheltenham and we had been designated one of the special centres, I have to say I felt just that touch of excitement.

I’m glad that only a couple of weeks ago I signed up for a meeting in Bristol by morethangold – an initiative to get churches to play their full part in the Olympic excitement that will sweep the country, not least as in one year’s time on 23rd May the torch arrives here in Cheltenham.

Usually I would wish someone staying overnight in Cheltenham a good night’s rest in the hope they would ‘go out like a light’ – maybe we can hope such a thing does not happen on this occasion!!

There’s something about the Olympic Games that makes it special. Tarnished and commercialised it may have become. But there has to be a buzz as sports men and women of all abilities gather from every part of the globe in a festival of sport.

The five interlocking rings in all the colours of the rainbow bringing the five continents of the world together as one in a festival of sport.

The Olympic Ideal.

But of course the nearer we get to the Olympics the more we will be reminded of all that calls the ideal into question, of the many fault lines and fractures that tear the world apart. There will be the cartoons of the broken rings.

However much we rise to the challenge and get involved in the Olympic excitement as churches, there’s one thing we cannot get away from. All too often we have been part of the problem and not part of the solution.

One set of those fault-lines and fractures undoubtedly has to do with ‘religion’.

In the very week of the Queen’s historic visit to Ireland, surely one of the great personal triumphs of her reign, comes news of an increase in sectarian, Catholic Protestant violence in Scotland.

But more significantly what do we make of what is going on in the Middle East. Excitement at moves to freedom right through the region. But an excitement tempered by foreboding at what is happening between the three great religions of the Middle East.

Since our pilgrimage to the Holy Land I have received regular prayer requests from Middle East Concern.

There was euphoria in Egypt at the overthrow of somenone who this week was described as the last of the Pharaohs. Wonderful to see Christians and Muslims side by side demonstrating for freedom. And then consternation at the news of the bombing of a church and of worshippers. And then hope at the news of Muslims standing with Christian believers in the face of the attacks on their churches.

The prayer requests that come from people caught up in what amounts to persecution are deeply disturbing.

Helping Christians Facing Persecution

Persecution takes many forms – from oppression and discrimination to denial of constitutional and internationally acknowledged freedoms. Essentially, persecution is the deliberate suppression of an idea or belief.

Christians in the Middle East North Africa region have been discriminated against, marginalised, detained, imprisoned, tortured, and even killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. Often theirs is a silent suffering – cut off from family and Christian fellowship and vulnerable to abuse by State security forces and extremist groups.

At MEC we believe that as Christians we are called to stand with those who are persecuted. Persecution is essentially unjust. Therefore, the Christian concerned for God’s justice will either face persecution him/herself, or be faced with having to respond to the injustice visited on someone else. Dealing with injustice is part of the calling of the Christian life. By their very relationship with God and the world, Christians will be faced with injustice.

The Middle East is not the only place, the faultlines between Islam and Christianity not the only fault-lines. It is not long since our CWM Inside Out carried that awful supplement chronicling the experiences of the Christian churches we are partnered with in North East India at the hands of Hindu fundamentalists.

Hatred is shown on the part of some Christians no less. One cannot help but fear that those underneath the bombing that we have been involved in in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya will interpret it as the bombing of the Christian west, not least when bombs had their Christian texts printed on them.

I believe that in this fractured world our attitudes count. Our attitudes matter. Because among our neighbours are Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists and people of many, many different religions.

What attitude do we have towards other religions?

As it happens the plans we laid down for the themes for the summer take us today to a verse that in my view can be part of the problem and can equally be part of the solution.

‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus maps out a way for his followers to take that involves blessing those who persecute you, loving those you perceive to be your enemies.

Jesus was and remained always Jewish. We who are Christians need always to remember that. But there were fractures and fault lines as much in his day as in ours. There were all sorts of different ways of ‘being Jewish’. For Jesus the heart of his Jewishness lay in love for God and love for neighbour which he extended to love for enemies. IT was a Jewishness that entailed blessing those who persecuted.

There was one particularly difficult fault line between first cousins – with the Samaritans. When they would not receive his disciples, the more belligerent of them wanted Jesus to summon fire and brimstone to come and destroy the whole village. Jesus would have none of it, adamant that the Son of Man came not to destroy but to bring salvation and life. Whether it was the one leprosy sufferer among the ten, the woman at the well or the Good Samaritan – Jesus bridged that divide.

The really violent fault lines lay between Jewish people and the Roman state, a Roman way of life rooted in the religion of the Roman pantheon of gods and in the cult of the Roman emperor. Again, Jesus built bridges, accepting Gentile as well as Jew, declaring forgiveness from the cross such that the Roman Centurion who was steeped in a Roman religion that recognised the Emperor as Son of God, saw in Jesus truly the son of God. It was a fracture Jesus sought to heal and a fault line Jesus again sought to bridge.

So what attitude should we have?

In following the way of Christ there is an over-riding focus on Love, it seems to me.

There is also something unique about our Christian faith.

I want to be firm in my Christian faith in God and in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. It is a faith that I want to share with everyone.

But at the same time I want to have a respect for people of other religions, and indeed for people of no religion. I believe in sharing my faith with others the love I have for them can enable me to find common ground. And in all of those great religions there is common ground to be found.

This remarkable verse in John 14 goes to the heart of it for me in perhaps an unexpected way.

It captures the uniqueness of what my faith in Jesus Christ opens up for me about God.

But at the same time it shows me how I can honour and respect those of different faiths.

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.

I want to begin there. In the context of our relationships and our attitude to people of other faiths fear plays a big role. I say that with some certainty, because as I see what is happening in North Africa and the Middle East it is a feeling I have felt. In the covering letter he sent with his gospel John speaks of God as the God of love, of Christ as the one who embodies perfect love. And he speaks of perfect love driving out fear.

Believe in God, believe also in me.

Or ‘you believe in God’.

I find that an interesting starting point. Jesus is speaking to people who believe in God and he is inviting them now to believe in him also.

He then goes on to speak of his Father’s house and the way to his Father’s house, prompting a conversation on the way and the comment: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life …

No one comes to the Father except through me.

What Jesus opens up for those who already believe in God is the way into a relationship with that God that recognises God as Father in the most intimate of ways.

That for me is the key to getting a balance. On the one hand, I want in my relationships with people of other faiths to recognise in some way a shared sense of believing in God in some way, believing in the divine, in that Something Other.

I feel a fellow feeling with people of other faiths in that sense of having a religious dimension in our lives, a sense of God in some way.

That respect, that honouring enables me to seek to find common ground, maybe supremely in the golden rule shared by so many of the world’s great religions, Do to others as you would have others do to you.

But at the same time, I am a Christian. I am one of those who has followed The Way – I love the way the very first name for the church and those who followed Jesus in Acts is ‘the Way’. I sense truth in Jesus Christ. And I am convinced that in him is a newness of life that begins now in all its fullness and is not bounded by death.

I want to respect people of other faiths and say, ‘You believe in God’.

But I passionately believe that Jesus has opened up a way to follow, a truth that goes to the heart of life and indeed brings life in all its fullness, and so I want to share the story of Jesus with people of other faiths. Jesus is unique in bringing about a relationship with God as Father. And so with no disrespect to people of other faiths, I want to take my stand on the conviction that Jesus expressed so powerfully, that “no one comes to the Father except through me.”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What it takes to be a Good Shepherd

It is one of the loveliest of all images.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.

It’s lovely to use as we welcome friends into church membership.

I am the Good Shepherd.

It brings to mind the 23rd Psalm and the power of its comfort.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
He leadeth me beside the still waters
He restoreth my soul

It takes us into the fields and the pastures, the strength and the gentleness of the shepherd tending the sheep.

It is one of the loveliest of all images. And it is one of the most challenging.

I am the good shepherd

Becky and I had mapped out our readings and themes for this summer session well before I had a look at the Christian Aid material for this year. Imagine my surprise, therefore, to discover that today of all days when we had chosen to focus on the Good Shepherd, the readings for today’s service at the start of Christian Aid Week point point us to this wonderful saying of Jesus.

As do we all, I know the passage so well. I have read it so many times. But only reading the notes for today’s service did I notice something that hadn’t occurred to me before.

The chapter division is in a very arbitrary place.

Take away the chapter division and the narrative of the Gospel flows on from chapter 9.

That’s all about a man who was born blind being healed by Jesus on the Sabbath of all days. What was worse was that Jesus called in question one strongly held religious view of the time that the man’s blindness must prove he or his parents had done something dreadfully wrong. Not a bit of it, was Jesus’ observation.

But that was something those hidebound by that particular religious way of looking at things couldn’t stomach. As the story comes towards an end they drive the man out.

Jesus, on the other hand, seeks the man out. And elicits a wonderful statement of faith from that man, who makes that very simple confession of faith that for us is still very much at the heart of belonging to Church. “Lord, I believe.” He says, and he worshipped him.

He goes straight on to talk of sheep and shepherds. In particular he draws a stark contrast between the thieves and robbers who only break in and steal, and the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep, and cares for them to such an extent that he is willing to lay down his life for his sheep.

I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.

It is wonderfully comforting. But remarkably challenging.

To that blind man in 9:35 Jesus had spoken of himself as ‘the Son of Man’. That phrase is used in the Old Testament in two particular books of significance to Jesus. One is Daniel the other is Ezekiel. Ezekiel is the book that contains one of the great passages about Shepherds in the whole of the Old Testament.

It is not comforting at all. It is challenging in the extreme.

Ezekiel thinks of the rulers of the people, the great Kings of Israel and of Judah as ‘shepherds’.

The tragedy is that too many of those who had been king, too many of those in positions of leadership and authority had been such bad shepherds they were more like thieves and robbers.

Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.

What an indictment.

Writing at a time when the last of those shepherd kings had been defeated, the kingdom laid waste, and the people carried off into exile in the far-off land of Babylon, Ezekiel held on to a conviction that God was still shepherd of his people, that God’s Kingdom would prevail.

He Ezekiel looked to God as the Good Shepherd.

But for Ezekiel the Good Shepherd acted in a particular kind of way.

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

I am the Good shepherd, said Jesus.

In him God’s Kingdom has come. And this is what God’s rule is like. In Christ God himself is the shepherd of the sheep – he has come to seek the lost, to bring back the strayed, to bind up the injured and to strengthen the weak.

Maybe the next words make you feel uncomfortable.

It was the way Jesus echoed those words in the way he so forthrightly rejected the religious way of thinking of those who had driven out the blind man. In the way he condemns that view it is as if he sets his stall out to bring down the fat and the strong. His task is to feed them with justice.

Those religious leaders recognised the allusions.

They are divided. Many of them considered Jesus demonic because of these words about being the Good Shepherd. Others said, that someone who was demonic would not have treated the blind man in that way.

The whole story then coes to a climax as Jesus speaks of the life he will share with his sheep –

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.

And in case anyone has not got it yet - he makes it clear that he and the Father are one.

Those who had a vested interest in the power they had and the control over people’s lives that they exercised, the very ones who had driven the blind man out take up stones to stone Jesus, tried to arrest him again – but he escaped. And the whole narrative that had begun way back with the story of the blind man comes to its climax.

Many are convinced. ~They believe in Jesus. But those who are against him do all they can to destroy him.

The story of Jesus now gathers momentum. He confronts death itself in the next story of the death and raising of Lazarus.

Then he enters into Jerusalem, shares in that last meal with his followers, is betrayed, arrested, three times denied by the closest of his followers Peter, taken out and executed on a cross.

And on the third day he is raised.

Then it is that Jesus comes back to the shepherd imagery in that wonderful encounter with Peter on the shores of the sea of Galilee.

Three times he asks that question …

Do you love me? Feed my sheep.

Through those words comes the great commission Jesus gives.

That we who follow the Good Shepherd, are called in turn to feed the sheep – to be the Good Shepherd to others.

Of each one of us it can be said,

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

Christian Aid is not a separate charity.

It is not an add-on to the churches.

It is unique in that it is the ‘international development and aid’ arm of all the major denominations of the UK. That’ why we are involved in Christian Aid. And through our Congregational Federation we have just completed one partnership with One Respe and the Dominican Republic and as of yesterday have launched a new partnership with the people of Nicaragua.

Christian Aid video.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Heaven, Salvation and Being Saved

What is the really big religious question for us as Christians?

What is the really big religious issue for us as Christians?

Let me stick my neck out and say it is all to do with heaven, with salvation, and with being saved.

Big words. Big concepts. What do they mean?

Jacob has a vision, a wonderful vision: he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven … there was a wonderful promise of blessing from God, and those remarkable words: Know that I am with you. When Jacob awoke he was afraid and said, How awesome is this place. This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

In the scary world Jacob lives in he has found something that will enable him to get to the place of safety where all is warm, all is well, he’s found the place where there’s a ladder to heaven.

It’s a wonderful image taken up by Jesus … I am the Gate for the sheep; … I am the Gate; whoever enters by me will be saved.”

In a scary world Jesus is the gate, the point of entry into the safety and the security of the sheepfold where all is well and nothing can destroy.

Salvation an escape from the world, the means of getting to heaven. In a horrible world we need a stairway to heaven – great to find a gateway that will lead us from the awfulness of the world around us to the security of heaven – and the gateway to heaven and salvation is Jesus Christ.

See it that way and you have missed something in Jacob’s dream and in Jesus’s saying. What’s missing for me turns upside down and inside out heaven, salvation and what being saved is all about.

Look carefully at the text.

Jacob dreamed there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. The promise of God to Jacob and his descendants has to do with here on earth as they spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed. When Jacob wakes from his sleep he is taken aback and says, “Surely the Lord is in this place … and I did not know it. This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.”

It is a scary world that Jacob is confronting, but what makes all the difference for him is not a ladder that takes him up to the safety of heaven, but a ladder that brings heaven down to earth. Such was the awfulness of the world around him that before he could not bring himself to believe that God was really with him. After his vision and dream he now knows that God is with him where he is, here on earth – and this is nothing less than the house of God, the gate of heaven.

It is not so much the gate through which he can escape to the safety of hevaven, but rather the gate through which heaven comes down to earth and then through him spreads out to the east and the west, to the north and the south bringing blessing to all the families of the earth.

Who said heaven was a place of safety, warm and secure? Maybe better to think of heaven as the domain where God’s rule of justice and mercy prevails, where God’s will is done. Savlation is not about finding the gateway through which we can escape the horrors of the world and get to heaven, but rather us finding the gateway through which heaven comes down to earth and makes a difference here and now.

What about Jesus’s saying. Let’s look more closely at that.

I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Jesus is the gate – whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.

Being saved does not involve escaping from the world, but rather going AND also going out. Jesus has come that we may have life, and have it abundantly. And that life is not something simply in the future when you get to heaven. That life is something here and now and it is something to be lived to the full.

Being saved and salvation has then to do with life, finding pasture, and living life to the full.

Put these thoughts together with the preayer Jesus taught us to pray. And we begin to have a very different way of thinking about heaven, salvation and what it means to be saved.

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

There’s a massive clue there about heaven – not so much a place to go to – but the domain where God’s kingdom is supreme, where God’s will is done. God’s kingdom is all about justice, mercy, faith – the very essence of God is light and not dark, God is love.

So the big religious questions are about heaven, salvation being saved.

Through Jesus we can enter into the rule of God, the will of God, the justice of God, the love of God now – and then through Jesus we take that rule of God, that will of God, that justice of God, that love of God into the world around us. Through us God’s love reaches out to west and to east, to north and to south, to be a blessing for all the families of the earth. We find a pasture where we can live that love of God out in the living of lives here and now.

Being saved, salvation, heaven is about living life to the full God’s way – and that way is not bounded by death for it is a life that nothing can destroy in the present or the future, in life or in death.

Jesus is the gate through which heaven comes to earth and spreads out to east and to west, to south and to north as a blessing for all the families of the earth – he is the one who invites us to pray Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

That has implications for what we do in the world and why we support Christian Aid that has the wonderful slogan We believe in life before death.

This way of understanding of heaven, salvation, being saved is something that impacts on our attitudes.

Heaven, salvation and being saved is not so much to do with us getting to heaven, as to do with heaven getting into us, making a difference to us and then enabling us to live life to the full here and now in the knowledge that such life is not bounded by death but is wrapped up in the eternal love of God.

I’ve invited Sharon to share something with us … in a new ‘Real People – Real Lives’ slot.

Sharon spoke of her involvement in Highbury over the last seven years with her family and over the last year as a Deacon.

She went on to speak of doing a job at St Luke’s, our local Anglican church, as PA to the vicar and helping in the parish administration. A good point of contact with St Luke’s as Highbury and St Luke’s do a lot together.

Sharon then spoke of her plans to go to the University of Gloucestershire in the Autumn to do a degree in Religious Studies, Philosophy and Ethics. Ten years ago, Sharon had done an access course to go on to University but then had a family. She now felt it was the right time to do such a course. She had chosen the course she was going to do as it would help her to develop an analytical way of thinking. She was not the kind of person who simply read something in the paper and thought it was true. She wanted to find out whether it really was true. Sharon felt that developing that kind of approach to thinking would stand her in good stead in all sorts of different settings, not least in church where she may some time want to share in preaching and the like.

Sharon went on to say how this week she had found herself as a Christian very disturbed by some of the scenes on the news this week … and it prompted quite a lot of thinking … She spotted something on Facebook that made her think and want to share it with her children. Someone had made a comment and then went on to quote from Martin Luther King, and it somehow spoke to Sharon and was something she felt she wanted to pass on.

‎I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that"
— Martin Luther King Jr.

Sharon: ‎....because I can't say it better myself and am sickened by the triumphant baying to which my kids are subjected every time they turn on the TV or radio. I read this to them this morning.

Another response … I too have been sickened by those of us who hated the crowing of some when the towers were attacked, now crowing because we have revenge. "Vengeance is mine says the Lord".

Sharon … "....If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Another response … Glad to know I was not the only one who felt a bit uncomfortable about all this. I agree with MLK. Well done for posting it.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

God is light and in him is no darkness at all

You can do it in story-telling.

It’s great to play around with light and dark and tell the story of creation, the birth of Jesus, crucifixion and resurrection as into the dark comes the wonder of light. Eyes tight shut. Eyes wide open. And the marvel of light as the darkness goes.

You can do it in music. Haydn’s creation captures the darkness In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the music is dark, filled with gloom, apprehension.

Then into the darkness, into the chaos comes God’s word. And God said, Let … and the music still has the darkness.

Let there … and the darkness seems almost to intensify

Let there be … in the darkness of the music there is yet an expectation

Let there be LIGHT and as orchestra and voices all combine there is an explosion of light.

You can do it in worship. How wonderful, at least for us in the Northern Hemisphere, to be able to have our carols by candle light service. It is special at our Christingle service to turn the lights out in the darkness of mid winter and then welcome the Peace Light that has come all the way from Bethlehem. One so vulnerable flame flickering in the darkness, and yet dispelling the gloom. And from that one flame first one Christingle, then another, and another until the church is encircled with light.

IT is the sadness and the darkness of holy week speaks so powerfully to me. The supper over, they sing a hymn and go out into the darkness of the night. It is in the darkness of the Garden of Gethsemane that Christ pleads with God to let him escape the deep darkness that is to come.

But he is arrested, that night held … in the darkness of a cell, or was it a dungeon.

And at noon the next day?

Darkness covers the face of the earth.

And it is in deep darkness that he breathes his last.

And it is in the darkness of the tomb that he is buried.

For me … there is a darkness on Good Friday.

I capture it in a silly way. A potato. Buried in the soil.

And then you can capture it on Easter morning. Tom, Nicky, Eleanor and Harry were on Bredon Hill for dawn. We chickened out and met twenty minutes later. But it grew lighter slowly. No instant transition. A getting lighter as dawn was breaking.

I noticed in John 20 that Mary Magdalene reaches the tomb ‘while it is still dark’. By the time Peter and John race there it’s getting lighter. When Mary looks in to the darkness of the tomb it is two angels in white that she sees. With gentleness in their voice they ask why she is weeping. But they give her no answer.

She emerges from the tomb. And by now it must be light … and yet even then she mistakes him for the gardener. Again there is gentleness in his voice as he asks the same question, why are you weeping?

Even though it is light, her tears make it feel as if it is still dark.

Then he speaks her name. She looks and sees.

The other gospels speak of it as ‘dawn’ or better still ‘daybreak’.

The stories unfold – some in the darkness of evening, some in the light of day … all in the light of the risen Christ shining in the darkness.

So many signs done in the presence of his disciples.

But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name

Light into darkness.

Life into death.

Life in his name.

In this resurrection season one saying of Jesus comes to my mind …

‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’

That’s it. Living an Easter faith we have nothing less than the light of life.

It’s the light of life that has been there from the beginning. It’s the light of life that was made real in Jesus Christ – and John knew it. He had seen it with his own eyes, looked at it and touched it with his own hands. Wow – no wonder he wants to share it. It fills him with joy. And he wants us to share in the joy as well.

Then John goes on to make an audacious claim.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.

Is this the Easter hope?

That God is light … and in him there is no darkness at all.

Well of course, there is still day and night.

We can still close our eyes and be in the dark.

Things happen – we are still in the dark.

We do things that are pretty dark.

But the Jesus who burst from the tomb has overcome the darkness. … and we now look to the God who is light and in him there is no darkness at all!

We’ve had a wonderful week at our Minsters’ conference in the company of Roberta Rominger, General Secretary of the URC – that was pretty special – healing going on! IN the company of one David Cook who in a life time working with the United Bible Societies has had a hand in the translation of the Bible into 64 different languages. We had the wonderful company of Bob Harman, the story teller extraordinaire who through his Story Teller Bible is the inspiration behind Open the Book taking Bible stories into schools. And we had the company of Cheryl a molecular biologist working in a Bible Society project, who is going to be Jonathan Rowe’s administrative assistant as he takes up his new post in Truro.

She was prompting us to delight in the wonder of science. So we had everyone watching out for the International Space Station with its enormous solar panels reaching out into the sky and reflecting the light of the sun back down to us on earth. It was gratifying to be asked by some of the older teenagers to go out into the dark and do one of the scariest things imaginable – lie on your back suspended underneatht the planet looking down into the infinity of space with nothing holding you to the surface but for gravity.

And I come back to ask what is light – particles or waves. And I couldn’t help but think of Brian Cox and the Wonders of the Universe.

Isn’t that interesting!

It’s one of those wonderful moments when maybe the insights of science and that sense of wonder accords with the insights of my faith …

This first light is called the cosmic microwave background or CMB. This first light, this CMB … fills every part of the universe. Every second light from the beginning of time is raining down on the surface of the earth in a ceaseless torrent. If my eyes could only see it then the sky would be ablaze with this primordial light … both day and night.

Let’s take that insight into the nature of light. And return with fresh eyes to those words of John.

God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.

That’s quite some thought.

In the face of the darkness that can threaten to overwhelm, the darkness is not darkness at all to the God we believe in with our Easter faith.

Let’s hold on to the joy of Easter – with the eyes of faith in the risen Lord Jesus let’s look to the God who is light and in him there is no darkness at all.

But that has practical implications for the things we are going to do this coming week.

There is still night as well as day. There is still dark as well as light.

So, if God is light, and we look to him, and through this risen Christ find ourselves in a relationship with him, and God in a relationship with us, if we have fellowship with this God, then we are deceiving ourselves if we walk in the darkness, with priorities shaped not by God but by the world and its values. We must be people who walk in the light?

That means seeking forgiveness from God when we let him down and fall short of his way for us … and then drawing on the risen presence of Christ to live in the light.

We do that as we live in love for God and in love for one another. That’s what John goes on to say over and over and over again. It’s what he had heard from the very start of Jesus’ ministry – it’s an age old insight from the ancient writings of the ancient scriptures … and yet for John and for all us as Easter people it is something wonderfully new and fresh each day.

I am writing a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says, I am in the light while hating in whatever form hating might take, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves … in the care for the one who is lonely, or the deed of kindness for the one in need of a visit, or the act of compassion for the one who is filled with sadness, or the stand taken on an issue of justice and peace, whoever loves lives in light.

God is light and in him is no darkness at all.

Or put that another way, as John comes on to do … God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.

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