Sunday, November 27, 2011

Unexpected Gifts

An all age service for the first Sunday of Advent when we welcomed Brownies, Guides, Beavers, Cubs and Scouts and their families led by Richard Cleaves and Carolyn Tennant.

Welcome and
News of the Church Family

Call to worship -
Glory to God – a new song for Christmas
Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
Congregational Reading: The Magnificat
Unexpected Gifts for Christmas Sunday 27th November Parade Service 1st Advent

The Unexpected Gift

At this time of year we start thinking seriously about our Christmas plans and this might include thinking about presents!
Each year there seem to be a few ‘top presents’ requested by children and sometimes this leads to all kinds of frantic searching in the shops and online as family and friends try to locate the elusive special, longed-for gift.

I investigated the league tables published on the internet;
Let’s see a thumbs up or thumbs down for the following present ideas…
(Powerpoint slides)

Cookie my playful pup
FurReal Go Go My walkin pup
Transformers dark of the Moon Optimus Prime
Barbie Fashionistas
Rock on Elmo
Lego Star Wars Millenium Falcon
Angry Birds Knock on Wood Board game
Singamajigs Musical Dolls

Some people like wrapping presents and others much prefer unwrapping them!
The new John Lewis advert has won a lot of Brownie points this year with its ‘Gifts you can’t wait to give’ campaign.

If you haven’t seen it, it involves a little boy waiting (not very patiently) for Christmas. On Christmas morning you expect him to rush to open his sack of gifts first, whereas the advert has a very unexpected ending; he dashes into his parents’ room unable to wait any longer to give them his presents.
Has me in tears every time!

We are going to play a well known game now.
It’s called ‘Pass the parcel’ and I fully expect that every person here of every age has enjoyed this game at some point in their lives!
There will be 6 parcels going round the church so keep awake for the next one on its way!
When the music starts, pass the parcel along and keep them all moving.
When the music stops, if you are holding a parcel, stop and open ONE layer.
Now, just to throw in an unexpected rule here, I want you to pass the unexpected gift you just revealed to the person next to you!
When we play ‘Pass the parcel’ we usually understand we won’t all get a present but in THAT game, lots of us got a present we probably hadn’t expected.

Chocolate is something we all like to get and maybe you are expecting to get some chocolate on a regular basis between now and Christmas; in your Advent Calendars!

We are going to tell a familiar story now in a fun way.

The Chocolate Nativity

The Christmas story is so well known that our minds can easily skim over it and we miss the surprise elements. To help you concentrate, listen out for your chocolate bar or sweets to be mentioned and hold them up high at the right time. You will be prompted by the pictures too. We can all join in because the Christmas story is something God wants everyone to know.

The story of the nativity is written in the bible and we have put this version together by reading Matthew and Luke.

A young girl named Mary heard a
from the angel Gabriel that she was chosen to be the mother of God’s son. Now, Mary wasn’t married yet to Joseph and so this awkward situation became a hot
of conversation among the locals. But Mary explained to Joseph that it was all part of God’s
plan. Joseph helped Joseph understand in a
and it all became as clear as a
Joseph had to return to his home town of Bethlehem to be counted in the Roman Census in order to
taxes. It was a
MARATHON (yes, we all know they are called SNICKERS now!)
journey for someone expecting a baby. 80 miles of walking over the stony hills which were

Under foot. They arrived in Bethlehem well
but having tried
there was no room for them to stay. It was certainly no
but one innkeeper said they could sleep in his stable. That night Jesus was born. There was no bed of
but Mary wrapped the baby in pieces of cloth and laid him in the manger. This baby was to show the full
of God. He was God’s own son, unique in the
Nearby in some fields, some shepherds were looking after their sheep. As they were gazing at the
went through the air and suddenly a
row of angels appeared in the sky. The glory of God shone all around them and the shepherds went
at the knees! But the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news that will be a great joy to all people. Today your saviour was born. He is Christ the Lord.’ So, the shepherds went straight as an
to find the baby. They told everyone what the angels had said about the child. Mary treasured these things in her heart and thought about them a lot.
There was great cause for
The shepherds went off, praising God with many a
in their step! Meanwhile, in a far country, there were some
otherwise known as wise men or astrologers. Some people thought they were looking at
but they were serious scholars busy scanning the
and one night they saw a
Was it
No, it was a very bright star shining in the east which they realized signalled the birth of the baby born to be king of the Jews. So they took some
and travelled by camel to Jerusalem to investigate. The road was
and they stopped for a few
on the way. When they found the baby, they gave him their
gifts of gold for a king, incense for worship and myrrh for death. Unusual gifts for a baby? But this was an unusual baby. They bowed down to the child and worshipped him as they recognized who he was.
Jesus wants us to recognize who he is and accept his leading in our lives as a gift from God his father.

He is God’s gift to each of us; the whole
of us are included in God’s plan.
The bible says, ‘God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost but have eternal life.’
So, over the years there have been many
as people receive that gift of God’s love and a place in his kingdom, here on earth and forever.

Thank you for taking part.
Now, you are probably expecting me to say, ‘Put away your chocolate until after your lunch’.
But, unexpectedly, I’m not!
When we are given presents, we react in 2 ways; some of us get on and use or eat them straight away. (I can think of some family members who do that!) and others, like me, tend to keep things in their packaging, save things for later! The trouble with that is, as a child, I ended up with unused bubble bath that started to smell funny so I couldn’t ever use it! And I still have some writing paper sets that are way out of date because I was afraid to use them up! So, lovely gifts went unused.
If we don’t open our gifts we can’t use and enjoy them.
So, I give full permission to open these chocolates and eat them.
What I would like you children (and anyone else who wants to get up and move about) to do is to go and sit by someone new, preferably someone not your age, and have a chat while you eat.
Ask each other;
Have you ever received an unexpected gift?
What made it unexpected?
Who was it from?
Maybe you didn’t think you would get a gift
Or, the gift itself was not what you were expecting?

As I was writing, it occurred to me to add the idea that if we don't get on and open/use our gifts, we won't enjoy them/get anything out of them. Likewise, when considering the gift of Jesus, if we leave him 'wrapped up' (in the manger/in a story/as an idea) we won't get the benefit of him/won't enjoy him. (clumsy language, but you will get the idea!)You could pick up on this idea in your talk too?
The part of the Christmas story that makes me think of gifts is the part that tells of the Wise Men with the gifts they bring – gold, frankincense, myrrh – unexpected gifts, given by unexpected people. They knew just what to expect of a king – a fine palace. And they knew the palaces built by the King of the Jews Herod were among the finest in all the wolrd. No expense spared – a wonderful place to find a king.

But he wasn’t found there … found in a place where there had been no room – out in the squalor of a cattle shed. There they found the child.

The Christ child was the most unexpected of all presents.

A great present – but it’s easy just to leave the baby – wrapped up – in the manger, in a story, as an idea … but we need to unwrap the baby – see the way he grew to set out a way of living that can make a world of difference to anyone who tries it, who shares with us in the suffering of a troubled world, and goes through that suffering to resurrection victory, a victory to share.

But we have to do something … in return.

The greatest most unexpected of all gifts …

John 3:16

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.

1 John 4:7-12

The greatest gift is one we need to respond to – it is the gift of God’s love, and the love we can give to each other and to other people too.

7-10My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn't know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can't know him if you don't love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they've done to our relationship with God.
11-12My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other.

A new song for Christmas – Presents

I want to light the first of our Advent candles and think about the Unexpected Gift – and the gift that we can give – the cubs have put some prayers together … and then get a couple of the Brownies to light the candle.

So through prayer … commitment to others … love for other people – the Cubs prayers …

Green Six

Last night I saw a lady across the street
So I went to meet
her and said, ”do you need help?”

One of my friends was ill;
had to resort to a pill.
So I sent him a Get Well card

These are acts of kindness and love
As pure as a dove.

If we care for other people that means being helpful ourselves – and so the prayer from Yellow Six

Yellow Six

Dear God,
We will cut the grass
Wash up,
Help other people by making breakfast,
Walking the dog,
Wash the car,
And make lunch.

And then we need to be concerned for other people, and to help others at Christmas especially ...

Blue Six
Dear Lord,
Please help us to share with others and think of others before ourselves, be thankful for what we have got because poor people would love to have it.

Red Six
Dear God,
Please help us help charities and help the elderly across the road and to keep people safe and sound.

The Brownies light the first of the Advent Candles.

A prayer for our first Advent Candle

Unexpected Gifts
We light our first candle
And think of unexpected gifts
Gifts we receive
Gifts we give
The greatest gift of all:
A love that knows no bounds
A love that shines in the face of Jesus
A love that is ours to share with each other
Ours to share with everyone around.
Through unexpected gifts of love
May your light shine in the darkness.

County Community Projects
Food Share and Education Centre

We will be having a special Christmas Collection for County Community Projects – through December and for our Christmas Day collection – CCP – and we will be hearing more about the work of CCP … gifts of money – but more than that – gifts for the Food Share programme.

We are fortunate in having the opportunity of showing our real commitment to love in action through our close relationship with CCP. As you can see from their ‘Thank You’ letter below, our involvement is really valued. They mention the opportunities to give food and we will put some of the money we raise towards the Food Share scheme as well as aiming to make a generous donation of food.
In the past I have had some professional involvement with the CCP Education Centre and can assure you that they do valuable and challenging work. It makes sense to let them explain what they do so I have taken this from their website,
“The aim with all our learners is to involve them in positive activities which are tailored to meet their individual needs and address the issues which have led to their exclusion from school. We give each child what is often their first positive learning experience, and help to build their motivation to take part and succeed. This raises their self-esteem, which in turn raises performance and aspirations.
Using subjects such as art, sport, exercise, cooking and conservation, we help young people understand that education can be fun and rewarding. We undertake work with them on anger management, communication, group working and rights and responsibilities. We prepare them for a return to full time school education or a progression to higher education.
The Education Centre is located in a purpose-converted building in Grove Street, Cheltenham. It offers a selection of learning environments, a well equipped woodwork room, IT and Multimedia learning facilities, a full kitchen and a leisure area with a TV, video and a selection of board and video games.”
To further improve their environment we hope to collect enough money to be able to buy some garden furniture

Dear All at Highbury Church
CCP would like to thank you for your donations to the CCP FoodShare - the emergency food distribution service for Gloucestershire people and families in times of crisis, which relies on donations from members of the public, churches, schools and businesses, and distributes over 500 emergency food parcels every year.
In the run up to Christmas, CCP FoodShare is extended to become the CCP Hamper Scamper, a food and gift distribution scheme.
Many disadvantaged people in Gloucestershire cannot afford the basic festive goodies which most people take for granted, including food and Christmas presents for their loved ones. The pressure on them to provide such gifts leads to many getting further into debt, which can last for years to come and only acts to make their lives even harder. This is the stark reality for many families every year.
The Hamper Scamper campaign aspires to bring the spirit of Christmas to hundreds of children, young people, families and vulnerable adults, including those who are homeless. This is not just by providing them with Christmas food items and gifts, but to help in the longer term to reduce or wipe out the debt that can accrue through the pressure of the festive season, culminating in year round misery.
If you would like to take part in this year’s Hamper Scamper, or want to find out more, please see our website

To lead us into our time prayer …

Prayers of Concern

Offering and Dedication

At this time of giving

Words of Blessing

Sunday, November 20, 2011

See God in Jesus - See Jesus in Others

How do you picture God?

Say I were to give you a piece of paper how do you picture God?

Say I asked you to make a film … how do you picture God?

Some people have thought of God as an old man with a beard up in the clouds. I don’t like that.

God is more mysterious, more majestic, more than anything I can begin to imagine.

I find it difficult to picture God.

As a working way of thinking of God I like an age-old phrase coined by an teacher of the church in the middle ages, Anselm …

God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived.
Think of the most incredible greatest thing ever … and God is greater.

What about picturing God in an abstract way. Maybe that’s more helpful.

Sometimes words can build up pictures in your mind’s eye.

That’s just what Paul does as he is writing to the church in Corinth.

IT’s almost like the story board for a kind of surreal, modern, arty film about God.

For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’,

That’s it. That’s got the makings of something for me. Complete and utter darkness, and then a pin-prick in the darkness reveals a light – and from a pinprick of light the light grows until the light is so bright you cannot look at it.

For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts

Then somehow the picture turns – the light is behind the camera and the camera is looking at me – and the light is shining deep into the darkness of my heart

For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God

Wow … this is a mystery. The light of the glory of God.

But then comes a punchline that means so much for Paul.

For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

It is in the face of Jesus Christ that the light of the knowledge of the glory of God can be seen.

Look to Jesus and see God.

That changes the way we picture God. And that can make a difference in our lives too.

Jesus starts out in the squalor of a cattle shed, lives his life among people who are rejected by the well-to-do, people whose lives are full of suffering. And he plumbs the depths of anguish in the Gethsemane, feeling as if he is abandoned by God on the cross. This is a frail, vulnerable, pain-stricken image of God.

This Jesus is risen and comes alongside us in our moments of weakness. So Paul speaks of himself as a clay jar – dull, battered. God’s strength and power is there in the weakness he experiences.

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12So death is at work in us, but life in you.

See God in Jesus and what becomes important is not the way you picture God but the presence of God you have with you in the deepest, darkest times – what’s important for Paul is to say, I believe.

And with that step of faith see God in Jesus and know he is alongside us through the darkest times and on into the glory of that wonderful light that through resurrection does shine in our lives.

Jesus opens up for us new ways of seeing God – he invites us to pray to God as our Father – and we realise God is someone who comes very close to us. Jesus shares with us a power, a strength that is unseen and yet so real in the Holy Spirit. And we begin to sense that God is not just that than which nothing greater can be conceive. But look to Jesus and discover God alongside us as one who cares, who empowers, as one who is Love.

So as far as Paul is concerned that shapes what he does …

For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6

Picture God through Jesus and then that means we are called upon to serve other people. Help other people.

If we see ‘the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’

We see Jesus Christ in the face of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the prisoner …

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37

just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me

Picturing God … that’s not so important.

Much more important is that we serve other people.

It’s great to support Stefan and Birgit – Stefan helping to train and equip people then to be ministers in churches all over Brazil. And in those churches people to serve. And Birgit – working with so many of those women who have been caught up in drug abuse, neglected in all sorts of way in the project where she works. MISSIONMotivated by our Christian responsibility we are trying to prevent addiction to alcohol or drugs and reintegrate drug dependent persons into society – for a better quality of life.

Serving others is something in some way we are all involved in.

What have you seen in this picture?

The face of Jesus?

Or a lot of faces? But whose faces are they?

Our thoughts this week go to those who are in prison –
An old country song about old age echoes Jesus’ words from our gospel reading for the Sunday of Prisons Week: ‘So if you’re walking down the street sometime and spot some hollow ancient eyes, please don’t just pass ‘em by and stare, as if you didn’t care, say, "Hello in there, hello."'
Looking into the eyes of those who are struggling, wherever they may be, can be difficult – perhaps it’s the look of hunger or thirst, isolation or vulnerability, of being trapped or in pain. But Jesus tells us of the importance of stopping, seeing (not just looking) and attending to their needs – and to remember that in so doing we are also ministering to Him.
When we, beginning in prayer, decide to look into the eyes of those affected by the reality of prison, we also see into the eyes of our Lord, and our response to their struggle is transformed.
Prisons Week

Karen shared with us some of the things she has done in supporting the prison chaplaincy at Eastwood Park, the Gloucestershire Women’s prison where for five years she helped to lead Bible Studies.

What’s going on here goes right to the heart of what our Christian faith is about. The service Stefan and Birgit share, the service Karen describes …

Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Remembrance and what it means

I can never visualise what an acre is. When Tom asked us how big a hectare was it dawned on me for the first time that in all likelihood a hectare would be 100 metres by 100 metres and so it would be 10,000 square metres. Lo and behold that was the right answer. That’s an area I can visualise. My diary informs me that one hectare is 2.4 acres. But I still find that difficult to visualise. Walking through Sandford Park the other day I passed the notice advertising the lido – set in four acres.

Very roughly that’s two hectares – maybe a little less. 200 metres by 100 metres.

For nearly two years Eric Liddell was kept in a Japanese internment camp that was 200 metres by 150 metres. Just a little bigger than the lido. He was one of 1800 people confined in that tiny space. He died with a brain tumour shortly before the end of the war. [For more on Eric Liddell click here and for more on the Japanese Internment camp at Wiehsien click here]

How do you sustain yourself in the face of such horrors? How do you survive? Not only did he keep the young people entertained with sports, but he also brought people together for prayer and prepared notes that would people in their own prayer times. It was only in the wake of the release of Chariots of Fire that someone, Herbert S Long, tracked down the two remaining handwritten manuscripts containing those notes. They were published in 1985 … and at the time made an impression on me. I had grown up with the story of Eric Liddell long before the film was made as he was one of those missionaries in China our churches had supported through the LMS, now the Council for World Mission, CWM.

I was telling the story to a group on our training course, and one of the people from Mark Evans’ church in Belvedere and Erith said he had only just heard an interview with a couple of people who had also been in that internment camp speaking of the very big impression Eric Liddell had made and the immense help he had been to them.

I’ve gone back to my copy of the Disciplines of the Christian Life to reflect this Remembrance Sunday on what we can draw from those experiences of Eric Liddell in the face of very different circumstances maybe, but in the face of our war-torn world today, with all the uncertainties of the financial crisis, and personal problems closer to home.

One of the first things to leap out at you from this set of prayers is that it is shot through with love, a sense of the love that God has for us, and the love we can share with each other. Right at the very outset is a page of quotations of verses from the New Testament about love.

God is love (I John 4.8)

By this shall everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another (John 13:35)

Love is very patient, very kind,
Love knows neither envy nor jealousy,
Love is not forward or self-assertive,
Love is not boastful or conceited, gives itself no airs,
Love is never rude, never selfish, never irritated
Love never broods over wrongs.
Love thinketh no evil.
Love is never glad when others go wrong.
Love finds no pleasure in injustice but rejoices in the truth.
Love is always slow to expose; it knows how to be silent;
Love is always eager to believe the best about a person
Love is full of hope, full of patient endurance
Love never fails (I Corinthians 13 paraphrase)

In amongst all the readings he maps out for people to follow through the year is a month of readings on Paul’s letter to the Romans. My eye fell on the heading that he gave to the reading I have chosen for today from Romans 12.

Writing towards the end of that third missionary journey from Corinth to Rome Paul’s letter to the Christian church in Rome contains a distillation of his thinking about the Christian faith. It’s powerful stuff, closely argued. But for Paul theology is of no value unless it shapes the way we live our lives.

Coming towards the end of Romans we reach that moment when Paul moves from the theory to the practice – there’s that tell-tale linking word. Therefore.

In the light of all that has gone before … therefore, this is what we must do in the living of our lives.

For Eric Liddell in Romans 12 three things are all important in the living of our lives.

Surrender to God

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Offer your whole selves, everything you are in service to God – this is spiritual worship. It means being willing to stand up and be counted, to stand out and be different – Martin Luther King in a sermon on this text challenged us to be transformed nonconformists who were prepared to be transformed by the renewing our our minds. We need to be on the lookout for what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Eric Liddell valued daily prayer that begins in stillness, moves on to thanksgiving and then seeks to surrender the day into God’s hands, looking out for God’s guidance for all that is to be that day.

In Romans 12 surrender to God is followed by

Love to your brother and your sister

Love is at the heart of all we are and all we do as followers of Christ.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

In his book Eric Liddell includes his creed. It’s my idea of what a creed should be. I love the great creeds of the church … but they all seem to me to miss out something crucial. They jump from Jesus born of the virgin Mary to suffered under Pontius Pilate. The creeds come from that period when the Roman powers that be under Constantine wanted to keep control of the church. So it was Constantine who got so many bishops together at the Council of Nicaea to produce the great Nicene Creed. Maybe he was uncomfortable with all that comes between the birth and the death of Christ in the Gospels. Eric Liddell builds that bit of Jesus into his creed …

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Creator, infinitely holy and loving, who has a plan for the world, a plan for my life, and some daily work for me to do.

I believe iin Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, as Example, Lord and Saviour.

I believe in the Holy Spirit who is able to guide my life so that I may know God’s will; and I am prepared to allow him to guide and control my life.

I believe in God’s law that I should love the Lord my God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind, and with all my strength; and my neighbour as myself.

I believe it is God’s will that the whole world should be without any barriers of race, colour, class or anything else that breaks the spirit of fellowship.

He adds a definition of he means within that creed when he says I believe.

To believe means to believe with the mind and heart, to accept, and to act accordingly on that basis.

One of the moving things I find about that creedal statement is that it comes out of the experience of the horrors of war at their worst in that Japanese internment camp where the personal space Eric Liddell had measured six feet by three feet in a massively over-crowded dormitory. It is from inside the experience of the horror of war that a commitment to a very different way comes in the footsteps of Christ. Here is a vision from inside the war of the kind of peace that is to be built in the wake of war.

Surrender to God, love to your brother and to your sister.

Then we reach the third of Eric Liddell’s headings for Romans 12.

Kindness to your enemy

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse them. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. If your enemies are hungry feed them; if they are thirsty give them something to drink. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Returning to that interview with other survivors of that prison camp, it was this that impressed one of those interviewees most. It did not simply impress him, but it went on to shape his life. At the time Steve Metcalfe was a teenager. Eric Liddell made an immense impression on him that was to transform his life after the war.

I just remember him as being a very happy man. He had a broad head, very broad shoulders. Very strong and robust, he would never talk about himself even though we would ask questions.

Because you all knew that he was an Olympic hero.

Oh yes we all knew about that but he wasn’t a jazzy man. He was a man of few words if anything. But the amazing thing about him as I got to know him was that he backed up all that he preached.

Steve helped Eric organise games for the children in the camp. He was a keen runner himself.

Steve Metcalfe goes on to describe how he used to run bare foot until Eric made him a pair of running shoes from make-shift glue and materials.

Eric Liddell also led bible classes at the camp. Steve Metcalfe doesn’t remember him as a great speaker but one moment did stick in his mind.

He read the verse, love your enemies do good to them that hate you. He said, I’ve started praying for the Japanese and he challenged us to do the same. And I did do that. It changed my attitude to them as being creatures of God and was what remained in my mind.

Eric developed a brain tumour, his health rapidly declined and he found comfort in hymns. And the company of Annie Buchan a Scottish missionary friend.

He just suddenly said, Annie, it’s complete surrender. And that was his last breath. He had been a man that had been surrendering to God all his life through. And I don’t believe that it cost him much to say complete surrender because he knew where he was going.

Be still my soul, the Lord is on your side,
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Steve Metcalfe: the funeral itself was absolutely packed. They chose me as one of the pall bearers. And we took the coffin. It was a freezing day. A cold wind blowing in from Siberia. We lowered the coffin down into the grave then read the Beatitudes I remember how absolutely shattered I was just walking home thinking here’s this world champion we buried him here in this prison camp. What’s life all about?

After Eric Liddell’s death Steve Metcalfe often thought about his advice to pray for the Japanese. Once the camp was liberated he found out more about Japan, and then spent 40 years sharing his Christian faith, working for peace. Eric Liddell passed on two things to him - a pair of running shoes and the baton of forgiveness .

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Grace for living in the real world

I like big long words. My favourite long word of all time is ‘serendipity’ – the joy of discovering the unexpected unexpectedly. You go to open a box expecting something and you find something tons better and you go ‘wow’! I guess there will be a lot of serendipity as our shoe boxes are opened at Christmas time!

I also like little short words. In fact, I like little short words a lot better.

One of my favourite passages in all the Bible comes in Roans 3:21-26. In lots of translations it contains two little short words that are all important. And three big, long words

But now God's way of putting people right with himself has been revealed. It has nothing to do with law, even though the Law of Moses and the prophets gave their witness to it. 22 God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. God does this to all who believe in Christ, because there is no difference at all:
23 everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence. 24 But by the free gift of God's grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free. 25-26 God offered him, so that by his blood he should become the means by which people's sins are forgiven through their faith in him. God did this in order to demonstrate that he is righteous. In the past he was patient and overlooked people's sins; but in the present time he deals with their sins, in order to demonstrate his righteousness. In this way God shows that he himself is righteous and that he puts right everyone who believes in Jesus.
27 What, then, can we boast about? Nothing! And what is the reason for this? Is it that we obey the Law? No, but that we believe. 28 For we conclude that a person is put right with God only through faith, and not by doing what the Law commands. 29 Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles also? Of course he is. 30 God is one, and he will put the Jews right with himself on the basis of their faith, and will put the Gentiles right through their faith.

31 Does this mean that by this faith we do away with the Law? No, not at all; instead, we uphold the Law.

The first short word is the word ‘sin’. How do you understand ‘sin’? Doing wrong things. Doing what you shouldn’t do. One of the best explanations I have seen spots what the middle letter is ‘I’ I – me. Sin is where you put I – me at the centre of everything. And you push other people and God out.

Paul reckons that that’s something everyone does. We all do things wrong. We all do things we shouldn’t do. And we all put ‘I’ – ‘me; at the centre of things too.

Everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence.

Some other translations say something a bit different – since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

I like that even better. It brings into my mind a picture of shooting with a bow and arrow at a target. It’s more difficult than you think. The arrow falls short of the target. God’s glory is wonderful. He wants us to get everything spot on … but sadly we each of us fall short in some way or other – maybe in things we say or do, or things we think, or sometimes words we say that hurt other people.

Then hard on the heels of that tiny little word, comes another little short word. It is the word ‘grace’.

How can we get the better of this sin?

Verse 24 by the free gift of God’s grace all are put right with him throough Christ Jesus.

Realising the significance of grace was for me a turning point in my understanding of what Christianity is all about. What caught my imagination about Christianity first was the way of life it set out in the ten commandments especially as Jesus summarises them in his teaching Love God, love your neighbour. Help everyone. Bring care and love into everyone’s lives. Love even your enemies. This is a great way of life. What a difference it can make – in individuals, in families, in society at large in the world as a whole. That’s soething to work at, to struggle for, to aspire to. And it can make a difference.

But somehow I always fall short. That’s where this wonderful second word comes into its own. Grace. The free gift of God’s love. God’s love reaches out to us first of all before we do anything to deserve it. God doesn’t say, if you change then I’ll love you. He loves us first with a free gift of love. That’s incredibly transforming. And it has been for me.

Then in some translations you notice the big long words Paul goes on to use to sum up just the difference that grace can make. Justification. Redemption. Atonement.

Those are big long words. And difficult to understand and explain. They are really long, religious words. But for Paul they were not big long technical religious words. They were words drawn from the ordinary every day life of the Romans he was writing to.

It was great being in Leicester last week – it’s a Roman city, with Roman remains. We walked down an ancient Roman road into the city centre, the New Walk. Saw a book all about life in Roman Leicester. You can find out about Roman life anywhere – and it’s much the same throughout the Roman Empire. Here in Glevum where the streets in the city centre were laid out over 1900 years ago by the Romans and they are still in the same layout.

The first long word, justification, takes you to the law courts. Rome valued law. Rome was built on a system of law. It’s as if Paul invites you to imagine that you are brought before the law, you are filled with remorse and know that you have fallen well short of all that you should have done. And then you are set free by a kindly judge. That’s what the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is like.

We have fallen short – but we are forgiven – we are put right with God by all that Jesus Christ has done – and that’s something so wonderful.

The second word ‘redemption’ Takes you to the slave market. Rome was built by slaves, and slaves play a large part in Roman life. Go to Chedworth Roman villa once the renovations are completed and it will be one of the finest roman sites in the whole country. And there you will see how the slaves kept the toilets clean, stoked the boiler to keep the water warm in the baths and were taken for granted. Bought and sold in a slave market.

Imagine you were a slave and your owner decided to put you up for sale in a slave market. The bidding went up and you were sold – only to find the person who has bought you, not only sets you free, but he also sets you up with a living for life. That’s what Christ does when he sets you free.

It can feel as if you are a slave to all the wrong things that you do … but Christ sets you free.

And the final big long word is ‘atonement’. Every Roman settlement would have its temples, and every home its shrine. And in so many places sacrifices were made in the belief that they would get you on the right side of the gods. You can see one of the finest of Roman temples at Lydney and across the Severn at Uley they found literally thousands of sheep’s bones from the sacrifices made at the temple – and many of them are on display in the British museum.

Jesus went to his death on the cross and rose again – and he is the one who is a sacrifice of atonement – and restores us into the love of God.

The grace that results in justification and puts us right with God, the grace that results in redemption and sets us free, the grace that is a sacrifice of atonement draws us into the love of God, this grace is free.

But for Paul there is a problem.

If God’s love is free and so generous, if the grace f the Lord Jesus Christ is free – then it doesn’t matter what we do – we can throw away the Law and all it stands for.

No, not a bit of it Paul says. Actually God’s law – offers us a wonderful framework – so long as we recognise at its heart the grace that Jesus Christ has shared with us, the free gift of God’s love.

It is right to have a framework in law – but law that is administered must be administered in the light of grace – in a spirit of mercy and steadfast love. This is something right at the heart of the law Paul had grown up with in the Old Testament that for him was the whole of his bible. Law is important but law in a framework of grace.

That’s something we need to work out in our society. As people of grace we are not excused from the law – but as people of grace we are to understand the law in the light of that grace and that mercy that is at the heart of our understanding of God. This month our chosen charity is the Langley House Trust. That is a Christian organisation that works with ex-offenders in the whole work of rehabilitation. At times law requires that there be punishment – but the purpose of that punishment should be rehabilitation. It should be underpinned by a grace that seeks to make people better. Take grace seriously and it will prompt you in the direction of a restorative justice system that seeks to restore people. And that shapes an approach to justice and to law.

It took Christians a long time to see how a people of grace must reject slavery … but at long last with the likes of William Wilberforce they saw the light. But there’s another dimension to slavery in the Old Testament that’s far closer to home. And as people of grace I believe we have something to say as well. The Old Testament has a structure of law that is designed to deal with the problem of debt as it accrues and becomes impossible to pay. The framework of law provided that debts would not permanently enslave people. As people of grace what do we have to offer into the current financial crisis. I wouldn’t have liked to have been in the shoes of the staff of St Paul’s cathedral. But I couldn’t help but notice that as that developed a silver jubilee was marked. It is easy to imagine that the financial system that has so disastrously collapsed is an age-old one. But twenty five years ago came what was known as the Big Bang. When all the controls, the frameworks that applied to the banks I had grown up with until I was in my thirties were removed. The bid was made to make the City the centre of finance for the world in a way it had not been before by a massive removal of regulation. My hunch is that as a people of grace we should be recognise the failure of a system that lets anything go and we should be looking for ways of introducing a framework of regulations that keeps in check the excesses of a market gone wild. Far from being silent on such issues as some of the tabloid press has suggested, I think it interesting that the Archbishop of Canterbury has been suggesting the need for a new kind of regulatory framework – joining interestingly the Pope in advocating a Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions.

A People of grace interestingly don’t abandon the framework and structures of law – but when it comes to the world finances to be true to the law that was valued by Paul and marked by a spirit of grace there needs to be an appropriate framework. A people of grace will work towards such a framework of law.

And a sacrifice of atonement – people of grace who know that the once and for all sacrifice of Christ on the cross has restored that reliationship with God that is so important will seek to live sacrificially looking not to the interests of themselves, but always to the interests of others.

Be a people of grace and who knows what surprises may be in store – as we discover unexpected things unexpectedly and maybe even revel in some measure of serendipity!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Overcoming Violence

This sermon was preached by the Rev Dr Graham Adams of Lee Street Congregational Church, Manchester. Graham grew up at Highbury and is currently Minister at Lees Street; he teaches on the Congregational Federation's Integrated Training Course.


Micah 4: 1-4
1 Samuel 17: 33-50
John 8: 1-11

Introduction: Throwing stones

What are we to make of the violence in our world? And can we overcome it?
From Libya, & recent unpleasant images from there, to the riots in our own cities,
contemporary events bring these eternal questions into focus – and we still feel helpless.
In fact, we often feel a real fear of violence, & often think it is getting worse,
even though there is much evidence that it is not –
that over the centuries we have become much less tolerant of awful violence
and much more inclined to see it as a problem to be overcome, not a contest to be won.

But it means working at being empathetic, more inclined to listen to one another,
less inclined to put our desires for revenge into action –
so the question for us as Christians is, can the Bible help us to overcome violence?
The reality is that many people do not see the Bible as the answer to this problem
because it is too blood-thirsty, too gory, including portrayals of God demanding violence,
so how can it give us resources to help us overcome it?
If it was written in a time when violence was seen as a contest to be won
then how can we claim that it inspires in us our faith in a peace-loving God?

It’s important to hear these questions, and to wrestle with them honestly:
but still I believe we can maintain that the Bible has to contain violence
because the Bible has to reflect the real world, which is indeed a violent place.
The question remains, though, whether we can look to it for resources to help us
if we want to find ways of overcoming violence – of believing it can be overcome –
rather than treating it as something inevitable, a contest that will just always go on.
And I hope we can discover that even violent stories in the Bible give us cause for hope,
that it does offer resources to help us find ways of overcoming violence,
especially if we read it not as a contest between two violent parties,
but as a choice between the ways of violence & the ways of the peace-loving God.

OT Reading: 1 Samuel 17: 33-50

2) Reflection: choosing stones

The problem is, we feel too small.
There are many Goliaths in our world which make us feel too small:
poverty, inequality, hunger, the crisis in the world’s economic system, or climate change –
all these things are like Goliaths which feel too big for us to handle and defeat.
But this evening we’re focusing particularly on the Goliath, the giant, of Violence:
and although this may seem a strange story to draw on, because it uses violence itself,
it captures how we feel – as small as the shepherd David – in the face of something
that we cannot imagine overcoming … but are we really so powerless?
What if we approach this story as a choice between two ways of living in the world:
the Goliath way is the way which holds sway –
the belief that Violence is basically inevitable, so let’s resign ourselves to it;
let’s accept that bullies are bullies, & those with the levers of power & strength always win;
we know of bullies in many walks of life, who are never far from imposing their will –
in schools, at work, in situations of domestic violence, or the lobbyists of big business,
up to arms dealers, & dictators.
There’s something about the power of the world’s Philistines, represented best by Goliath,
which means we cannot help but take the way of violence for granted. It is awesome.
And yet there is another way, a smaller way, embodied here by David –
imagine that he represents those instincts within us which we often suppress,
the belief that another way is possible, that the underdog can win – and sometimes does,
even without using the same tactics as the world’s bullies & mobs.
The David instinct is often overwhelmed in our cynical, weary world
because we’re so used to accepting that things are just the way they are –
but this small boy dares to believe in an alternative way.
At first, Saul mocks the idea that someone so fragile could be a match for Goliath.
That’s only natural: we all feel like Saul when others tell us the world could be different –
they sound so naïve, so unreal, so idealistic,
perhaps they’ve not lived enough, but soon they’ll realise it’s not so straightforward.
But even when he persuades Saul to let him have a go,
by reassuring him that he has won other battles, even if only against wild animals,
even then, he is forced at first to play by the Big Boys’ rules, to use the world’s tactics:
for he is made to wear the armour & take up the heavy weapons, to be a man of steel.
But in David’s case that way is ridiculous: the armour is too big.
The ways of the world do not fit …
for he knows another way – just a simple sling and five small stones.

So what might be our different way? What might be our sling & our five small stones
in our quest to overcome the Goliath of violence in our world?
We might, for instance, pressurise banks not to invest in the arms trade,
e.g. the RBS was recently forced to stop investing in companies making illegal cluster bombs;
or we can support campaigns of the Fellowship of Reconciliation or other peace movements –
I preach here to myself, too, as I’ve only started to look at this & will try to act on it.
Or imagine if churches were better known as communities who promote understanding
rather than prejudice – if we encouraged people to understand those who differ from us ...
Or if we committed to de-escalate any situation of conflict, to crank tension down, not up,
by encouraging each other to debate constructively, to talk rather than react anxiously.
These are some small stones we might offer – as well, of course, as prayer.
Each on its own may not suffice, though we can take heart from David’s success with 1 stone,
& may we be encouraged to believe that, together, we can make a real difference.

Our next hymn is a prayer with other thoughts on becoming channels of peace …

Make me a channel of your peace …

NT Reading – John 8: 1-11

3) Reflection: dropping stones

In the light of the David story, this story from the life of Jesus reminds us that,
no matter how much we feel the stones we carry are good ones, & that we are different
because we only have good intentions - even if we struggle to put them into practice -
the truth remains that we are carrying stones which have the potential to do harm:
after all, we live in a complicated world
where the system we are part of, the history that is behind us, how we spend our money,
all have unintended consequences we know little about, so we’ll never be totally innocent:
somewhere, somehow, our lifestyle hurts other people, whether or not we know it;
& so, like the crowd gathered around this condemned woman, we don’t see it:
even if we try really hard to live peaceful lives, & to promote peace,
we are still very much part of a world which hurts vulnerable people, & we need God’s grace.

And yet, by the end of this story, one by one the crowd has dispersed,
their stones are lying on the ground, having done no harm, and the woman is safe.
There is something about the personality & impact, & community, of Jesus of Nazareth,
even as he bends down & writes in the sand, that disarms an otherwise dangerous crowd.
The community of Jesus is called to follow in this way, to disarm an otherwise dangerous world,
but the church has not always grasped this –
sometimes we have done hurtful things claiming they are in the name of Jesus Christ –
but we see here that, with barely any words, he can still disarm a violent world.

So we pray that this story will speak to us:
that it will help us to drop our dangerous stones – the wounds we carry,
the hurtful things said to us, the chains which hold us captive, the resentment we feel,
the longing for revenge on those who have hurt us, or on people who seem like them,
the desire to punish those who upset our view of how the world ought to be …
May we pray that this story,
the story of a condemned woman & a crowd anxious to make her into a scapegoat,
will become for us a means of dropping the stones we carry
& learning to find a better way of putting the world to rights –
not lashing out, not condemning, not acting so indifferently to others’ life-experiences,
but being as aware as possible of our own failings, the danger we sometimes each represent,
and the need to put healing before hurt, hope before hate, peace before violence.
May we pray, not only that we choose our stones with care, in the cause of peace,
but that we know when to let go, when to be disarmed, when to be vulnerable
to the peace of Christ working in us.

For the wisdom to choose our stones carefully in the battle against violence …
For the wisdom to know when the stones we carry are still dangerous to others …
For the wisdom to let go, to drop our dangerous stones, to be disarmed by Jesus Christ

For situations of conflict … for the needs of our neighbours, far away & close to home …
For all who long for peace, shelter, freedom, hope, healing or compassion …

Micah 4: Hear these words of encouragement, again, from the prophet Micah:

‘Come, let us go to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples and shall arbitrate between strong nations;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
So be it. Amen.

Blessing -
May the peace of God give us courage to confront Goliath with a new way of living.
May the peace of Christ give us wisdom to know when to let go of the stones we carry.
May the Spirit of peace live in our hearts & inspire us, now and for ever, Amen.

Heavy Burdens and Weightier Matters

This sermon was preached at Highbury on Sunday, 30th October by the Rev Dr Graham Adams. Graham grew up at Highbury and is curtently Minister of Lees Street Congregational Church, Manchester, and teaches on the Congregational Federation's Integrated Training Course.


Micah 3: 1-12
Matthew 23: 1-15, 23-28

Reflection 1 … heavy burdens

Let’s be clear about one thing to begin with:
Some Christians have tended to see the Pharisees as representing the whole Jewish religion,
so they’ve concluded that Jesus is basically having a go at everything Jewish,
but this doesn’t make sense, not only because Jesus himself was Jewish, but for other reasons too:
first, there were about 7 schools of thought amongst the Pharisees, some far stricter than others,
& Jesus’ argument is clearly with the stricter ones, those obsessed with every little rule –
but secondly, as we see, Jesus doesn’t tell people to ignore what the Pharisees teach:
he says ‘do what they say, but not what they do’, because it is their hypocrisy which angers him.
And thirdly, the Jewish religion is deeply self-critical –
we see this in the passage from the prophet Micah, again angry with religious leaders’ hypocrisy,
the way they exploit the people, take bribes, line their own pockets, suit themselves
while ignoring the suffering of the ordinary people.
Micah has strong words indeed for those who exploit their position –
and warns that there will be consequences (darkness without revelation, the ruin of Jerusalem),
because the point is that the leaders have a grave responsibility to care for their people.
So, by attacking hypocritical Pharisees, Jesus is not attacking Judaism as a whole at all,
but in fact is speaking up for ordinary Jews who are suffering because of their leaders’ behaviour.
So what, exactly, are the accusations?

On the one hand, there is the crucial issue of hypocrisy – of which we are all guilty.
In this case, it was leaders who say one thing, but live according to their own rules,
flaunting their religiosity but not their integrity, taking the best seats at banquets,
expecting special treatment, & demanding for themselves special titles –
all designed to puff themselves up.
In our own way, we are all hypocritical – we do not manage to live up to the ideals we hold;
so we need to be honest and humble about this, & support each other to practise what we preach;
this will also mean forgiving each other – being generous-spirited towards one another –
which is, after all, one of the ideals we profess to believe in.

But on the other hand, there is the more specific problem of misdirecting people to every little rule
in such a way as to overburden them.
The thing was, the Pharisees broadly believed Israel’s redemption lay in its obedience
and that God would rescue the nation if he saw that everyone was fulfilling the law;
so actually this obsessive attention to the tiniest details was driven by fear – the fear of disorder –
because they feared that, if people didn’t stick to every rule, everything would fall further apart.
So they made converts to Judaism even more obsessive than themselves,
and they focused on superficial religious observance – how things seem on the surface –
rather than the core issues, as we’ll come to in a moment.
Essentially, fearing disorder, they turned vibrant faith into something burdensome –
the life-giving power of religion had become a deadweight around people’s necks.
Although our context is very different,
how do we contribute to the turning of life-giving faith into something that burdens people?
Do we ever find ourselves, because of anxieties about the future wellbeing of the church,
expecting that people should fit our mould of the Christian life, rather than find their own way?
Do we find ourselves obsessing about the little details which make church feel like church to us,
whether in one direction or the other, and judging others who hold to different expectations,
anxious that things seem to be falling apart?
Or, from the other side, are we the people who are suffering from a burdensome form of religion,
one which makes us feel guilty for every little mistake, for every unattained goal,
or which traps us in cycles of behaviour we can’t seem to escape from,
where we allow ourselves to play a particular role, to be boxed in to a specific corner,
without imagining that God’s Spirit works to free us up, to make new possibilities possible?

With all the little tasks that need to be done to keep the church’s show on the road,
it can be all very well to expect that religious commitment should be liberating not burdensome;
and it is appropriate to have certain kinds of expectations of one another
because, especially in a Congregational church, we are called to hold each other to account;
so all the different roles need to be taken seriously –
but the point is, essentially I think, as Micah and Jesus remind us, that it’s not about control,
it’s not about exploiting each other, it’s not about boxing people in to burdensome roles,
but is meant to be about enabling one another to fulfil the God-given potential within us,
both for the sake of our own growth & for the common good of church & wider community.

The trick is, I suppose, to find ways of helping each other to fulfil the part we each play
while also being free to grow into new roles, not being stuck in a rut or left unfulfilled
while also remembering that the tasks are only a small part of the story:
what matters most is the vision & mission we share together – to share good news with others.

Reflection 2 … weightier matters
So, if our Christian life is not to become all about the tiniest of details, the little rules we live by,
we need to listen to Jesus’ words: that the Pharisees had been obsessing about ‘straining gnats’
while inadvertently ‘swallowing camels’;
that is, they had neglected the ‘weightier matters’ – the matters of justice, mercy & faith.
That’s where the heart of our attention should be:
yes, share the tasks out fairly & encourage each other, but remember the big issues always:
justice, mercy and faith (or, in the GNB, justice, mercy and honesty).

The thing is, Jesus realised all too well how religion (of any kind) neglects these weightier matters
even though it’s supposed to be their very champion;
we can become well practised in the art of gnat-straining
(I recognise this in my own church – but I’m sure it’s not like that here!)
so we need our attention drawn once again, as much as possible, to the weightier matters.
And these matters, clearly, aren’t just supposed to be the marks of the kind of fellowship we are,
but the very principles by which we live out our lives wherever we are:
So what does it mean to limit burdensome religion in favour of the weightier matter of justice?
In biblical terms, justice is about the wellbeing of society, particularly the place of the vulnerable,
often represented in the OT by ‘widows and orphans’, but also very much by the poor,
& those of other countries who are in need of shelter and sanctuary.
So, we are called to have a clear concern for the common good, the wellbeing of the vulnerable,
to check that the gap between rich & poor does not become destructive to society –
so, for instance, Church Action on Poverty is currently campaigning for fairer taxes:
which largely means ensuring the very rich are not allowed to get away with tax avoidance,
estimated to be worth anything between £40 bn and £120 bn –
imagine if that was collected how it could help protect public services for vulnerable people.
Church Action on Poverty also campaigns for fairer prices for essential goods, fairer pay scales,
fairer credit rates, and for poorer communities to have a stronger voice in decision-making –
if you’d like to know more, there is some information in the porch.

And what of mercy – how might we limit burdensome religion in favour of a focus on mercy?
It’s strange, but I suspect many people think our society is too merciful,
that people are able to get away, literally or figuratively speaking, with murder;
but the difference is this: while justice demands meaningful guidelines for the common good,
it’s still important to instil in people an attitude of mercy as well,
because the alternative, often well represented in some newspapers, is one of scapegoating –
we point the finger of blame, often at foreigners, or some other group who can’t answer back,
without patiently pursuing better understanding of the bigger picture.
An attitude of mercy, a willingness to extend grace to each other, is a mark of our faith:

But then, that brings us to the third weighty matter – faith, or in the GNB, honesty:
it’s not just about standing true to what we believe, or saying what’s on our mind;
it’s also, in the case of faith, about believing in new possibilities, because God does new things,
and in the case of honesty, it includes being honest about our mistakes & our need for renewal.
So, may we focus on these weightier matters, that they may free us from burdensome religion:
may our temptation to strain the gnats of faith be transformed into a focus on the camels.

Funnily enough, these three themes are at the heart of my book Christ and the Other,
which is all about how we grow through our relationships with ‘others’ –
first, we understand our ‘faith’ and grow in faith, not so much on our own,
but through our relationships with all kinds of ‘others’ within our community & tradition,
so we need each other, including those we do not always think to look to for relationship;
secondly, we grow as people of faith through an attitude of ‘mercy’, or hospitality,
not least to those of ‘other’ traditions – so we are to be a listening people,
willing to be shaped by relationships with others beyond our own community or tradition;
and thirdly, we should be people of ‘justice’, committed to relationships with those
who are in effect the ‘invisible others’ in our society and world – the most vulnerable.
It is through these relationships, marked by these weightier matters of faith, mercy & justice,
that we grow as the people Jesus calls us to be.


Prayers – next page


Holding the stone you have been given … reflect with me, in prayer, on our burdens
and on the weightier matters to which Jesus draws our attention – let us pray:

Living God,
As we hold this stone, or think about it, we recognise we come with burdens –
anxieties, worries, fears, illness, concerns for friends or family-members,
jobs that need doing, tasks left unfinished, words that have hurt us, wounds we bear …
we ask, reflecting on these stones & burdens, that you will help us
either to let go, if that is possible, or to carry them a little more lightly, with your help …

so we pray for others with burdens, too – that we may help to carry their burdens
and as a church, may we be known for sharing the burden of one another’s pain:
so we pray, in the silence, for people known especially to us, in need of your love …

we pray too, as we take your yoke upon us, that we will not see this faith as a burden
but as something genuinely life-giving, genuinely life-affirming, genuinely liberating for us,
so we may be freed from the view we have of ourselves which is limited or battered,
and we may see in ourselves capacities and gifts we had not recognised before –
may your Spirit free us to have life and life in abundance …

but we also pray, as we must, that these stones may be for us the weightier matters
of justice, mercy and faith:
help us to believe in and pursue justice, especially for the sake of the vulnerable in society;
help us to believe in and practise mercy, so we encourage better understanding and compassion;
help us to be people of faith and honesty, recognising our mistakes, more aware of our needs
but also committed to be open about the good news we know because of you …

so help us to free each other of our burdens and focus more on these weightier matters,
for the sake of your kingdom, now and for ever, Amen.

May the God of justice bless us with courage to speak up for the vulnerable.
May the Christ of mercy bless us with compassion for all people.
May the Spirit who nurtures our faith give us life in all its fullness,
for our sake and for the sake of others,
until goodness fills the whole world,

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