Sunday, October 23, 2011

How do we keep on caring?

On Thursday evening it was great to meet with visitors and deacons in our twice yearly Visitors meeting, welcoming Tricia as she joined the visiting scheme. Always good to welcome more. In leading our meeting Phil got us off to a good start with some reflections on Caretakers.

After a section on our services, the next section in our church directory is ‘serving the church’ – opposite the page listing the members of our Diaconate we have a page of those who keep the nuts and bolts of what we do together as a church. Among them is our Church Caretaker Bridget.

That’s a title Bridget is fiercely proud of. Unless you are in the church very, very early on a Saturday morning, or at unexpected other times during the week you won’t see Bridget. But we all know that she’s been here. The floors in the back of the church always shine.

Caretakers are very easy to take for granted. But very important for all that we do. In a sense, Phil went on to suggest, that we all ‘care-takers’. The word ‘caretaker’ doesn’t crop up in the BIible, but there are many people who take care of others. The Good Samaritan, those friends with the paralysed man … so many are people who take care.

That’s the task we have. It is just what you do. It’s what we are about. And we share that with many, many people. And yet, taking care of people, giving time to people, simple acts of kindness, graciousness, care … are things we cannot take for granted. Because sometimes they are not there.

Last week I posed the question … why care? What is it that motivates us in our care? There are all sorts of ways of responding to that question. There is something in our basic humanity that makes us care. It goes right to the heart of our Christian faith as well.

I was drawn to the story of Paul as it unfolds in Acts and the moment when he heard the news of a famine situation over in Jerusalem when he was more than 1000 miles away in Macedonia, how he was prompted to organise a collection and take it at great personal risk to himself back to Jerusalem.

Fascinating to re-construct the story of Paul in Acts but then put alongside that the letters – and you see the thinking behind what it was Paul did. And we looked at the thinking Paul has on giving.

Why Care? It’s not a matter of rules and regulations. It is not that we love and work hard at caring in order to please God – it is a response to the love that God has first shown us. Look to the love of Christ – and in response to that love is a longing to share that love with others, to make a difference for good. Each is to do that as they are able, from those who have to those who are in need – a principle of sharing that love that God pours on us.

How do you keep that kind of care going?

How do you keep at it?

How do you keep going in care?

The first thing we do in our church visitors meeting is to think of the people who make up the church family – we work through the visiting districts and think of the people who make up the church family. We have in our church family now 38 people who are over 80, not a few of whom are still very active in visiting in caring in the church family. How do you keep going? How do you stick at it?

The last part of our evening each time we focus on one area of pastoral care to strengthen our understanding of what it is we are about in caring. It was great this time that Kate who is on our steering group for the pastoral care scheme, was able to step in and share some insights in her particular area of expertise as now a consultant working with the NHS in Hereford drug and substance abuse. It was great to share Kate’s insights – help in the littlest of ways is so valuable, every tiny success to be celebrated. Thought-provoking when asked are there addictive personalities, no, was Kate’s response – not so much addictive personalities as addictive substances. Start from an acceptance of people – non-judgemental – that’s where Jesus starts accepting us as we are and working with us from there. Good to be able to refer people on. All sorts of agencies. And among them the ones with a 12-step programme. Not for everyone but helpful to many. We host two groups that follow that 12-step programme that originated with Alcoholics Anonymous – and it was great when they arrived in the church to have Kate’s wisdom in guiding us in the way we should be welcoming of those groups.

It begins by acknowledging the need of help and then moves on to seek a strength and a power from outside ourselves.

That’s an element of that programme I find fascinating. It was moving to be invited to sit in on one of their sessions and to see how seriously they took that turning to a strength from outside ourselves.

But that’s not just something for that situation alone

I think it is an insight for all of us that can be helpful. How often do people in dire circumstances speak of finding a strength they did not think they had.

I think it is a fascinating insight that Paul has in other letters of his that he wrote.

Early on in his ministry, during the very first missionary journey he took he wrote a letter to the Galatians. It’s all about freedom and the way faith, getting to know Christ and all he stands for is not a burden, but it’s a real sense of freedom. But it’s not the freedom that can do what you like regardless of the cost to others, it’s a freedom that honours others and enriches all.

Paul did not want to think of the Christian way of life as a set of rules that places a burden on you. But at the same time he was one for lists. And towards the end of his letter he comes up with a list of those things that go to the heart of the Christian way of life, of Christian values. That underpin the kind of caring that is so important.

I think his list says it all – and makes you think. There are nine things, Paul suggests that it takes if we are to be caring, the kind of people who will make a difference. It starts with love, that kind of selfless concern for others that’s the be all and end all. It’s not a burden. It’s a joy. Not a grudging caring, one that enjoys caring. It’s a caring that has about it a tranquillity, a serenity, a peace. To be caring calls for patience, kindness, generosity. You need to stick at it – faithfulness and commitment are important. You need a gentleness – and an ability to control your own reactions – a self-control.

Think of any kind of caring commitment we need to have and those are the kind of things that we need.

How can we muster them. That’s the insight that to me is so precious from Paul. It is not something we can generate from within ourselves. Important though it is to have the kind of training and deepening of understanding that Kate shared with us on Thursday, it’s not something you can work up. Paul regards these nine things as the fruit of the Spirit.

Our Christian faith directs us to the God of creation who is as close to us as can be. Our faith finds its focus in Jesus Christ who opens up for us a way of life to follow and gives us that sense that God is a forgiving God always there to enable us to start over again. But then God gives us a strength from beyond ourselves – a spirit. Yes, do the training. Yes learn about caring. Yes, develop these virtues. But then rest in God and recognise there is a strength of God working in you and let that Spirit work with you.

Let’s hear what Paul had to say about the fruit of the Spirit.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

I notice that the fruit of the Spirit is one of those collective nouns. Sometimes people talk of the fruits of the Spirit. No. This is the fruit of the Spirit – it is this range of things the Spriit produces in each one of us. You cannot pick and mix and choose which of these fruits you want – for this is the fruit of God’s working in us – the whole range.

All of us as we rest in God’s spirit need to cultivate the whole range of this fruit.

But we are at the same time individual. Each of us is different. And we need to rejoice in that rich diversity that God has given us. So it is much later in the third of those journeys that Paul enters into correspondence with the church in Corinth. There he talks of the rich variety of different things people do – take a church family and we all have different gifts.

The very word Paul uses for gifts is an interesting one – it has a play on words that is lost in translation.

The Greek word he uses for grace –that wonderful free gift of God’s love is charis.

Think of grace as the free gift of God’s love that is given to us.

You can add a suffix, two letters to the end of the word ‘grace’ and that signifies what grace works as it is at work deep wihin our hearts. So Charis becomes ‘charis-ma’

But that’s difficult to translate into English. It becomes just the ordinary –gifts’ or ‘spiritual gifts’.

But it is the simple idea of the grace of God working it’s way through us and out in the things that we do.

And that happens differently in each one of us. For there is this wonderfully rich variety of ways that grace works its way out of us in that rich variety of gifts.

He lists quite a number – other lists are given.

1 Cortinhains 12

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
One Body with Many Members
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Each of us has particular gifts that we are to use … but we are to recognise that these too are gifts that come from God – which then we can develop and enrich – and use for the common good.

The fruit of the Spirit is something for all of us – these are the qualities we need, this is what it takes to live a life of caring for one another, to be care-takers. But it’s not what we generate, it’s what God’s spirit and strength produces in us.

Then let’s recognise we are all different – recognise that again the gifts we have don’t come from our own making, but are the gifts of God – and they are to be honed, developed, built up, and then used for the common good.

Hoe do you make it as a care-taker? How do you keep going? Draw on that strength that comes from beyond ourselves build up those gifts the spirit has given and produce from deep within the fruit of the Spirit in that love, joy peace and patience, that kindness, generosity, faithfulness and gentleness, that self-control that can make all the difference.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Why Care?

The news that came out this week about the lack of care given to so many older people in our hospitals was pretty shocking. One response was given by Joan Bakewell, who has acted as a champion for older people in all sorts of policy-making.

How important it is to have as part of our inner being a longing to care for people, generosity, kindness. Joan Bakewell went on to ask where we get that spirit from. She said she had got that from going to Sunday School. Where do children get it today? That’s what makes what we as churches do with children and young people growing up around us so important.

What prompts us to do what we do is not just because it says so in the Bible. It is not just because that’s what we’ve got to do that. These are not just principles or values that we must uphold.

I think it’s fascinating to see how the Bible is made up the stories of real-life people who were grappling with a very troubled world – and we can learn from their experiences in that very real world principles that we should follow in today’s world.

On Thursday we shall have our visitors meeting which is what underpins the pastoral care we share as a church family. Today we start our commitment to Operation Christmas Child.. At communion we support Listening Post, Gloucestershire’s Christian counselling service.

Why? Why is giving time to pastoral care important? Why do we need to support a Christian counselling service open to anyone and everyone? In a time of austerity why should we bother with children on the other side of the world that don’t have anything? Why should we be passionate about our care of older people and committed to the care of the youngest?

What is it that motivates us?

I draw the principle that that is important not just from what it tells me in the Bible –I draw it from the way in which the people of the Bible grappled with just the same kind of problem.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the story of Paul.

It’s a story powerfully told in the book of Acts. From his first appearance on the scene at the martyrdom of Stephen as he stands by as Stephen is stoned to death, through his conversion on the Road to Damascus, to his travels spreading the wonderful good news of Jesus Christ all around the Mediterranean world, to his arrest in Jerusalem, his imprisonment in Caesarea and then his final voyage to Rome under arrest. At which point the story ends in mid air.

That’s a story told in the Book of Acts. But then the next 13 books of the New Testament are the letters that Paul wrote. What’s fascinating is that you can tie in the letters to the story that unfolds in Acts. Do that and in the end it becomes quite an exciting and tense story.

It is as Paul is visiting and re-visiting the cities of modern-day Greece in Macedonia, and Corinth that he becomes aware of terrible hardship that the followers of Jesus and many other people are experiencing on the other side of the Mediterranean in and around Jerusalem and Judea.

Paul is galvanised into action. And he determines to organise a collection around the churches in and around Greece. Someone is delegated as the treasurer who will look after the money.

Then it is that Paul has cause to write to the Christians in Corinth … and he talks about the collection he is making. He is thrilled to bits at the response the churches in Macedonia has made … and now he asks the churches in Corinth to match it.

2 Corinthians 8:1-7

Our brothers and sisters, we want you to know what God's grace has accomplished in the churches in Macedonia.

2 They have been severely tested by the troubles they went through; but their joy was so great that they were extremely generous in their giving, even though they are very poor.

3 I can assure you that they gave as much as they could, and even more than they could. Of their own free will 4 they begged us and pleaded for the privilege of having a part in helping God's people in Judea.

5 It was more than we could have hoped for! First they gave themselves to the Lord; and then, by God's will they gave themselves to us as well.

6 So we urged Titus, who began this work, to continue it and help you complete this special service of love.

You are so rich in all you have: in faith, speech, and knowledge, in your eagerness to help and in your love for us.

And so we want you to be generous also in this service of love.

You can almost hear them asking the question why? Why should we bother? They wouldn’t have known any of those other people at all.

Paul notices a joy they have in spite of themselves living in poverty and being sorely tested. He notices they are ‘extremely generous in giving’

But Paul goes right back to what is at the heart of the Christian faith for him.

It is Jesus Christ.

First, they gave themselves to the Lord.

That’s the starting point for what motivates us – we see something in Jesus Christ, not just his life and ministry way back, but his presence with us now.

First they gave themselves to the Lord, then they gave themselves to us as well.

What they shared was ‘a service of love’.

They may have lived in poverty but there was something in their spirit that made them ‘rich in all they had: in faith, speech, and knowledge, in eagerness to help and in this ‘service of love’.’

2 Corinthians 7:8-9

I am not laying down any rules. But by showing how eager others are to help, I am trying to find out how real your own love is.

You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; rich as he was, he made himself poor for your sake, in order to make you rich by means of his poverty.

What is important for Paul is not the laying down of rules. You must do this, you must do that. But it is being drawn to Jesus Christ and then channelling the presence of Christ to others.

He thinks of the way Jesus who was one with God, humbled himself, gave up everything and become a slave – he came alongside us so that we with him could be raised up to God.

The way Jesus lives his life gives us a model for living ours. So, Paul urges the people in Corinth to give as much as they can. And that is the operative word. These are not people in Corinth who had grown up with the Hebrew Scriptures where the principle of the tithe was common. So Paul goes back to first principles. And the principle he works out is one that is very much to the fore right through to today.

2 Corinthians 7:10-15

My opinion is that it is better for you to finish now what you began last year. You were the first, not only to act, but also to be willing to act. 11 On with it, then, and finish the job!

Be as eager to finish it as you were to plan it, and do it with what you now have. 12 If you are eager to give, God will accept your gift on the basis of what you have to give, not on what you haven't.

13-14 I am not trying to relieve others by putting a burden on you; but since you have plenty at this time, it is only fair that you should help those who are in need. Then, when you are in need and they have plenty, they will help you. In this way both are treated equally.
15 As the scripture says, “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

Giving is not a burden – it is something to be ‘eager’ about.

Then give ‘as you are able’ – give with a real eagerness of heart ‘on the basis of what you have to give, not on what you haven’t’.

It is not a matter of placing a burden on people. ‘Since you have plenty at this time, it is only fair that you should help those who are in need. Then, when you are in need and they have plenty, they will help you. In this way you are treated equally.”

Isn’t that a great principle!

One thing more I notice when I read through this story.

At the heart of Paul’s message is a little word. Grace.

It means the free gift of God’s love.

That’s the exciting thing at the heart of our faith. Loving others isn’t the way you win God’s approval. God first loves us. And that is grace.

So we as Christians receive God’s gift of love, God’s Grace.

That little word is one of the most important words in the whole of the Christian faith. But if we receive God’s gift of grace, the free gift of love, we should be people of grace – who give our love freely and make very real expressions of that love.

That becomes a work of grace.

All that those churches in Macedonia have done so generously is seen by Paul in verse 1 to be what God’s grace has accomplished.

God’s grace starts with Jesus Christ – you see that in verse 9. For us as Christians what motivates us is not any end product, not the thought that if we do this then the world will change. What motivates us is that this is what Jesus Christ has done … “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; rich as he was, he made himself poor for your sake, in order to make you rich by means of his poverty.”

What we do then is to share the free gift of God’s love in every practical way we can. Because this is the very nature of the gift of God’s love that we have received. As we have received so freely, so we are to give freely.

In this way all are treated equally … and as the Scripture says, The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

Sunday, October 9, 2011

From Darkness to Glory via the Cross

There is something wonderful about colour.

Colours capture the imagination; colours touch us deep down; colours stir the emotions. They can move us in strange and wonderful ways.

I found myself on Tuesday evening in a church full of colour. The Greek Orthodox Community in Gloucestershire met for worship at St Luke’s church until a few years ago when they purchased a redundant Anglican parish church in the village of Bentham. They have transformed it. Sitting on new, wooden bench like seats with arms, that were not the most comfortable, we were surrounded by a rich explosion of colour - chandeliers from the ceiling, beautiful icons rich with their golds and many colours surrounding us on all walls. We come from a tradition that heeds the word of God and has plain walls in our place of worship. I like the quiet, and the stillness of our place of worship – but gone are the days when I would disparage those of another Christian tradition for their love of colour.

I delight in that colour too.

In the last couple of months the Russian Orthodox community of Gloucestershire have joined the Greek Orthodox in that Bentham church – their reich liturgy adorned by wonderful colour. The colours that draw us through the icon into the presence of God. It is a glimpse of the communion of saints singing their praises in the glory of heaven.

One hundred and more years ago, one of the great artists of the early twentieth century worshpped in just such a setting. In his studio he had icons that were dear to him. He gloried in colour.

Colours filled his life … so much so that he could hear colours.

Exactly 100 years ago he published his treatise ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’ in which he developed his thinking about art, colour and the emotions.

He had, many suppose a condition, or is it a capacity that Richard Sharpe introduced me to, called Synasthesia.

For Wassily Kandinsky there was something profoundly spiritual in the colours he delighted in. Art is not just about depicting a form, in fact it is much more than that. It is something that touches the emotions very deep down … and it is the colours themselves that have that capacity.

At first I was very disparaging about his art. It was one of our own young people then a regular at Hy-Tec, Janet and Steve Brown’s daughter, Jacqui who changed my way of thinking entirely. She was at the time doing an art foundation course and studying Kankinsky. Jacqui prompted me to think again, and to see with new eyes.

I began to appreciate Kandinsky’s art, but had no inkling how much of it was related to the Bible until I went to a remarkable exhibition of his work at Tate Modern.

I want to invite you to stand with me in one particular place in the art gallery.

To my left I could see the what Kandinsky called ‘Composition Number 6’.

It is an enormous canvas, no reproduction can do the original justice.

It is a mass of lines and shapes and above all colours.

But the colours are dark. Menacing. Filled with foreboding. He calls the piece ‘Composition’ because it echoes the composition of a piece of music. The colours can be heard, look at the canvas and they resonate deep within you. And the way they sound is disturbing, unsettling.

He links Composition number 6 with the deluge, the flood.

It prompts me to turn again to the Biblical narrative. And what I find is very different from the remembered story of Noah and the animals who went in two by two.

It opens in a world torn apart by violence.

Wickedness had taken over humanity. every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually

These stories are not seeking to explain the beginning of things. This is a story on a massive scale that has something to say to every generation. It has something to say to our generation. Because that’s what the world is like. Tragically, there are moments when it seems that’s what humanity is like. It’s dark. It’s menacing. It’s filled with foreboding. Ten years into an unwinnable war in Afghanistan with deaths of young men and women from this country being reported each week, injuries going un-noticed, and 10,,000 Afghanistan casualties in the last four years alone. There is a violence that is deeply disturbing.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth.

And what happens? There is a flood.

19The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; 20the waters swelled above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.

What’s happened is that the beautiful colours of the wonderful creation of God have completely gone – all that can be seen is the darkness and the gloom of the raging waters.

Tragically, this is a world we can recognise. It was the world Kandinsky could see around him. And it is a profoundly disturbing world. Art can bring home to you just how disturbing it is.

That struck me on Friday morning as I was taking a group of Year 6 families around Pittville. We had arrived in the Art room. And on the wall some powerful, disturbing art work. One in particular quite small – a collage depicting the map of Africa and by its side a famine-stricken child of Africa. Powerful enough, I would not have thought again about it. But one of the parents had stopped, and found it hard to go on. The picture moved her almost to tears. And she said so.

Art brings home how profoundly disturbing our world is. And that’s what this narrative from the Bible does in Genesis 6. And that’s what the cacophony of colours in Kandinsky’s Composition number 6 brings home.

Hold on to that picture for a moment. See the picture, hear the disturbing troubled, discordant music.

And now stand on that spot and cast your eye round to the right – and on the wall in the right is Composition 7. The lines, the shapes, the scale of the canvas are all much the same.

But the colours are different. No reproduction can do them justice. There is a glow to the picture, a golden glow of many, many rich colours. It has the feel almost of an icon drawing you into the divine, drawing you into the very presence of God in all his glory. And it is the glory of God that Kandinsky is inviting us not just to glory in but to feel deep down as the most joyful of emotions well up in side us.

Kandinsky invites us to link this picture with the last book of the Bible, with Revelation. For me it is a connection that brings us to glory. There is something wonderfully rich about the narrative of the Bible – from the start it holds u[ a mirror to the reality of a world of violence, a world we know all too well. But it holds out something beyond that world that we can look to. A hope that is firm and real.

And so we turn to the Book of Revelation and what do we see in Revelation 21. A new heaven and a new earth come down from heaven like a bride adorned for her husband, where there will be no more crying, no more pain. And what is this new heaven and this new earth like?

Then one of the seven angels carried me away in the spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It has a great, high wall with twelve gates,

The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls.

The wall is built of jasper, while the city is pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth cornelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass.

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations.

These are the colours of Kandinsky’s Composition number 7.

What a wonderful glory.

Come back with me to that spot in Tate Modern.

To the left we see on the far wall the deluge and the awfulness of a world of violence where all colour is gone.

To the right we see on the far wall the glory and sheer brilliance of a new creation filled with unimaginable colours.

How do we get from Composition number 6 and the awfulness of this world to Composition number 7 and the glory of the new heaven and the new earth.

In front of us in the middle is a cathedral like window, for Tate Modern is in the Bank Power Station designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, architect of Liverpools’ Anglican cathedral. We are looking through a cathedral window down on to the millennium bridge, straight across the Thames, between the houses opposite and over to St Paul’s. And high above its central dome, one metre higher than the chimney astride Tate Modern, is the cross. And it feels as if people are walking from where we stand to the foot of the cross.

It is as God, the God of creation, comes alongside suffering humanity and takes on humanity in all its frailty in Christ, and goes to the cross that we can sense that we are not alone in this world of violence that so often can overwhelm. For as God took upon himself our humanity, so he invites us to take upon ourselves his divinity. For on the cross we see that that violence, that suffering, the sheer awfulness of a world that overwhelms does not have the last word. There is a resurrection victory that as we turn to Christ and put our faith in him we too can share.

How do we move from that world of violence to that vision of glory – only as we come to the cross. And as we do that so we find a path mapped out for us that will lead us through the world as it is to the glory that is nothing less than a new creation.

Remind me, Lord, says a prayer Pat shared with me later that Friday as she anticipated going into Frenchay for major surgery on Wednesday, Remind me, Lord, that real hope is when I can’t see the end of the road, but still trust you to lead me there.

Pause for Reflection

For a few moments I want to pause for us to share in a reflection accompanied by Richard Sharpe on the organ. Look first at the bleakness of Kandinsky’s art, bring to mind the violence of humanity at its worst as in the biblical flood all colour goes from God’s creation. In his organ playing Richard will capture the discordant darkness that we see in the art and sense in the world around us.

Look then to the cross and find in Jesus Christ the One who comes alongside us in our suffering, and draws us deep within God in his glory.

We then move from the darkness towards the glory as Richard takes us to the last part of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony in this centenary year of the death of Mahler. The gentleness of what is described by Mahler as Urlicht, Primeval Light, takes us to the three days leading up to Resurrection.

Our eyes turn to the central view of St Paul’s, and we are taken to the foot of the cross and towards the Resurrection.

With a great triumphant chord on the organ we lead then into the climax to Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony as the words of resurrection would be sung by the choir appear in translation on the screen.

Die I shall, so as to live!
Rise again,
yes rise again you shall, my heart, in an instant!
What you have struck out for, to God, to God,
to God it will carry you!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bringing Heaven Down to Earth

These are rough notes of a sermon preached on Sunday, 2nd October, as we shared in the Sacrament of Baptism as Emma and Carl brough Dylan to be baptised.

How do you get into heaven?

Wrong question.

How does heaven get into you?

Much more exciting.

It’s not about us getting from this life on earth into some life hereafter in heaven, it’s about bringing heaven down to earth, right into the lives we lead here on earth.

So what is heaven?

Not a place

Deep within, all around, beyond … it is where and when all is well, where God’s presence is all around, where God’s will for good prevails

It is a spiritual dimension, it is if you like the God dimension.

How do you know what God is like, what God’s will is, what it’s like when God’s presence is real, when God rules, when God’s will prevails?

The accumulated wisdom of 1500 years in stories, poems, experiences shared by people that have come together in the Bible and culminate in the story of Jesus Christ – in him this spiritual dimension of God –

Teaching – love God, love neighbour
Bringing healing where there is hurting
Alongside us through a hurting world

Opens up for us a way of understanding God - a loving God – spiritual dimension is filled with love.

He gave us words to sum up that experience.

The Lord’s prayer

Our Father who art in heaven

God as a loving father – whose realm is in that spiritual dimension which is deep within, all around and far beyond all space and far beyond all time

Hallowed be thy name

Hallowed – special – this is something different – this is something to honour to make a difference. Someone I can get to know and honour

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.

That’s the exciting bit.

It’s not a prayer – dear God help us to get to heaven


It’s a prayer that God’s rule, God’s will be done here on earth, in the everyday world around us, just as it is in heaven, in that spiritual realm, that spiritual dimension God’s rule, God’s will to be done here on earth just as it is in heaven, all we think of in that spiritual realm, that spiritual dimension – the prayer is that that should be made real here on earth.

It is made real in Jesus …

God’s love is made real for all of us …

Celebrate God’s dimension coming to us – in a babe – but then in the hope that that will shape the life this little one lives.

What will that look like?

That’s where it is the responsibility of each one of us to live out this God dimension in our lives -

In personal living and in family life, in the work place and in the world around us – where each person counts, everyone matters, respect and honouring each person, all based around love for God and love for neighbour.

We are also called to play our part, however small that may be in shaping the world around us - the way society and the world around us works. We play our part in doing that wherever we are – and in whatever way …

Church family in what we do – in August we collect for Christian Aid’s emergency appeal for those affected by famine in East Africa …

But in September we moved on leading up to our Harvest collection to support a fascinating sustainable agriculture project called Send A Cow – enabling tiny-scale farmers not only to build their own livelihood but also pass on all they have gained to others too – in Uganda, Kenya, and a number of other African countries.

And then this month we turn to support a local counselling service run through the churches called Listening Post – meeting particular needs.

This is all about bringing heaven down to earth …

As we then bring heaven down to earth that God-dimension becomes at the heart of all we do and becomes part of us … and that is not bounded by dying – for that God dimension is deep within, all around and beyond all we are and all we do.

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