Sunday, May 27, 2012

Come, Holy Spirit, be the presence we need

The Spirit meets our every need
Come, Holy Spirit,
Be the presence we need
In the darkness of uncertainty
Be the light of our lives
In moments of doubt and despair
Be the fire in our souls
In times that are dry and devoid of feeling
Be the dew that refreshes and renews
In days of turbulence and conflict
Be the dove of peace beyond understanding
In days of weakness and fearfulness
Be the wind of unseen strength
Come, Holy Spirit,
Be the presence we need.

I feel very much betwixt and between.

I have to confess to being a touch cynical about the torch and its arrival in town as Wednesday drew closer.  But in the event it wasn’t a disappointment.  It was great to have a presence organised by Felicity, Helen and the Scout Group on Pittville Park complete with face painting and bunting and to be joined by others from Highbury too.  It seemed as half of Cheltenham was out – a wonderful sense of bringing people together and such a happy coming together of people from all over the town.  And the other half were at the Race Course to welcome the flame.

There’s something inspirational about the planning that has gone into the Torch Relay that slowly over 70 days brings communities together the length and breadth of the land.  The seed of a thought was sown in one of many emailings that came out from Morethan Gold and I think from the Methodists that it’s good to share in prayer.  It was a couple of hours before the official presence that the open top bus went through that’s travelling the route with prayers and praise.  It may just be a moment’s prayer but as news comes day by day of the torch’s progress around the country a moment of prayer.

And next weekend is the Diamond Jubilee Weekend – an extended holiday, again a sense of communities coming together – and again we’ll be doing our bit with a Big Diamond Jubilee lunch.  Again the Queen touring the country through the year, the flotilla on the Thames.  A sense of celebration.

And this is the lull between whiles.

Or is it?

This is the Day of Pentecost.

It’s one of the great festivals of our Christian year.

A day of great celebration.

But it’s no longer a bank holiday.  It’s no longer a festival occasion.  It’s in our hands now to do with it as we will.

The Day of Pentecost is one of those moments of transformation when things change and all is different.  It’s the moment when the followers of Jesus sense collectively and individually that the risen Christ may no longer be seen and heard and touched and felt with the senses, but his presence is going to be as real and as strong and as powerful as ever.

It’s exactly what Jesus had been talking about with his closest friends at the last meal they shared together.  He had promised them they would not be alone, they would have another Helper, a Strengthener, A Counsellor, an Advocate – it’s  a word so difficult to translate and yet so rich with meaning.  I like William Tyndale’s word – another comforter to be with you for ever.  And that is the spirit, the breath, the wind, the unseen strengthening power of God deep within and all around – and the Spirit of God will be with you.

The great thing about the Holy Spirit as the story of the early church unfolds in the New Tesatment is that the Spirit’s presence is a presence that is real and unique for each person and for every person.  Every one has gifts from the Spirit of God, suggests Paul, each person who follows Jesus is prompted by the Spirit and will bear fruit in the living of their lives in that love, that peace, that patience and that joy that the Holy Spirit develops deep within us.

As I was preparing for this morning’s service my eye fell on a hymn.  It’s a hymn that invites us to think of different ways of thinking of the Holy Spirit and then to see the Holy Spirit coming deep into our lives at that point at which we need the touch of God in Christ by the unseen power of the Spirit most.

In a moment we are going to sing that hymn very much as a prayer.  But first, I want to take out of the hymn each of its images.  And I want us to take these few moments in the quiet of this place to turn to God in prayer and to see the touch of the Holy Spirit upon our lives.

Come, Holy Spirit,
Be the presence we need

In the darkness of uncertainty
Be the light of our lives

In moments of doubt and despair
Be the fire in our souls

In times that are dry and devoid of feeling
Be the dew that refreshes and renews

In days of turbulence and conflict
Be the dove of peace beyond understanding

In days of weakness and fearfulness
Be the wind of unseen strength

Come, Holy Spirit,
Be the presence we need.

Spirit divine, inspire our prayers

This church was less than two years old when that hymn was first sung.  It was Good Friday, 17th April, 1829.  A call to prayer had gone out a couple of months before – it was made by ministers of Congregational churches all over London.  That day was to be a day of prayer for ‘a revival of religion in the British Churches’.

There was an excitement in the air.  There was a passion for sharing the Gospel of Christ.  It was the passion that led to Congregational churches grouping together in order to make a difference in people’s lives.  It was the passion that prompted people to plant this church here in what was a new town rapidly expanding at that time.  It was the passion Andrew Reed had in planting a church that was to open a couple of years later in London, and to found a home for orphans in London that was to make its mark in London society.

Maybe that should be our passion too.  And we can capture something of that passion in the words Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:8-17

With the unseen yet real stregnth of God in the power of the Spirit at work within us then we shall have that kind of unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another tha tPeter speaks of.  We shall seek a tender heart, a humble mind and instead of repaying evil for eveil will repay with a blessing. 

The key to living the kind of life that draws people to the love of God is in verse 15

In your hearts sanctiry Christ as Lord.

That’s something that we cannot do in our own strength. That’s the whole point of the wonderful good news we celebrate on Pentecost Sunday.  It is only by the power of God at work within us that we have that Holy Spirit of God to make a real difference in our lives.

With that in our hearts – then our lives will be shaped by the love of God in Christ.

But still on occasion we need words to explain why it is we seek to do as we do, and who it is we seek to follow in our lives.

Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.

Then it is that we shall capture the passion, share the vision and fulfil our calling together as a church to share in the mission of Christ.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Living Stones and the Living Stone

The Aquatic Centre and the Velodrome met with full marks when a group of architects toured the now-finished Olympic venues for the first time.  Not quite so keen on the main stadium.  But on the whole they lived up to the expectations of Pierre De Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics when he said they should be ‘steeped in a sort of gravity that need not necessarily be austere and need not exclude joy.”  He wanted them to attract visitors “on a pilgrimage” and “inspire in them a respect due to places consecrated to noble memories and to potent hopes”.  [Robert Booth, writing in the Guardian, 17th May 2012]

80 years ago on Friday, it was raining.  But many had gathered to lay the foundation stone for this building.  I visited one of those who was present on Friday afternoon.  Eileen Hodgkins of Salem Baptist Church, whose husband Charles, a minister, died just before we arrived in Cheltenham was a girl of about 12 and was present at the laying of the foundation stone.

The measure of this building as of those Olympic venues is whether it works.  When you see the range of activities that have taken place here in the past week I think you can say with a resounding yes that this building does work.  We have gathered together here for worship and in a very special service we gave thanks for Joan Barnes her faith in God and her commitment to love and service of other people.  Hy-Spirit were practising this morning, the choir on Friday evening.  Toddlers have been making wonderful crafts,  and we have been working with children through Bubbles, Splash, X-Stream and Transformers, with young people through M:Ocean and Hy-Tec, and had them all together for a Sunday Special.   Cubs and Scouts have met in the last week, though it wasn’t a week for Beavers, and the Guides met too.  There was even an impromptu meeting of Hy-Speed who have gone to a national meeting today, will b e meeting next Saturday and who are having a special awards service on Father’s Day we can all join in.  We have hosted Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, the Glos and Worcs 4 x 4 response group, an upholstery class, a bridge class, a couple of heart-to-heart exercise classes, a community café, an Orchestra and a Rock School and yesterday a coffee morning for Maggies Cancer Care Centre.

There were some impressive buildings around in Jesus’ day.  When Peter made his great confession of faith and said to Jesus, You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, Jesus responded by saying to him You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.

Peter took that saying of Jesus very much to heart …  it wasn’t just that a statement of faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ and the Son of the living God was the rock on which the church was built … Peter recognised that the Church needs to be built on nothing less than Jesus Christ.

“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by people, yet chosen and precious in God’s sight.”

He spoke of Jesus as ‘the cornerstone’ the ‘headstone’, he might have thought of Jesus as the foundation stone.  He is the one that holds everything together.

“Come to him, a living stone, and like living stones let yourselves be built into a spiritual house”

What a thing to challenge us to be.

Are we prepared to see ourselves as living stones, and are we prepared to ‘let ourselves’ be built into a spiritual house.

Just look at the brickwork in this place.  It has its own beauty.  It was great shortly after arriving at Highbury to meet someone who had been a bricklayer who had worked on this building.  He used to sit part way down the side there – and had been a life-long official linked with a football team in the local leagues.  The bricks all fit together, and rise to make a building that can be put to such good use.

But it’s the people who make the church.  And we need to let ourselves be fitted together into the whole building for the good of other people.

What does it take to do that?

We each of us need to be prepared to channel God’s presence and God’s love into people’s lives.  That’s what Peter means when he says we are to be a holy priesthood.

You cannot set one person aside to do the job of channelling God’s love as a priest, no, says Peter, we all of us are priests – our task is to channel God’s love.  We don’t offer up sacrfices, but we offer ourselves in the service of others.

How do we let God’s love flow through us?  What is the sacrificial service we are called to share?

Peter is extravagant in what he has to say.

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,  God’s own people and as such we have a task to do.  We are to proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.

It’s the way we live our lives … it’s the little things that count and make all the difference.  Actions speak louder than words.  But … Peter goes on to suggest that it is important that we be ready to give an account of the faith that is in us.  Why do you hold those values?  Why do you do those things?  Can we give an account of the faith that is in us, of the hope we share.  Peter insists we do it in the gentlest of ways.

Christian Aid week is a tangible way of expressing our concern for the wider world.  Our support for justice and for change in the wider world is important too.

An opportunity coming up in a fortnight – to invite people to our Big Jubilee Lunch – it should be a great gathering and an opportunity just to share with people around us too.

What opportunities do you reckon there will be in this coming week to share the light of God’s presence?

Our thoughts and prayers are very much with Sharon and the team out in Bolivia – good to have some news and updates from them.

We have been thinking of Elaine and the medical work she has been doing with PRIME, a Christian partnership in international medical education in the Middle East

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christo" (sic)

Greetings from Bolivia!

We arrived in Cochabamba to a welcome party which included Suzanne, Sabia (The Pastor´s wife and Director of the nursery where we are working), Janet, a local woman who does a great deal and Hugo, the nursery caretaker. We felt like royalty!

Friday was spent at Suzanne´s house doing orientation which included a traditional Bolivian meal in town. Our accommodation is a comfortable room in the nursery, sharing a bathroom with the caretaker´s family and, during the day, all the children. Suzanne and staff have made our room very comfortable. The teachers had made a beautiful poster for the wall containing the scripture verse quoted above.

Use of the bathroom is interesting, a choice of two: upstairs or downstairs. First we made several visits back to the room for something we´d forgotten....!

Yesterday we were treated to royal treatment again, when we were presented to all the nursery children. Every class sang a song for us and we sang for them too!

In the evening, we were presented to the women´s group, who were wonderfully welcoming. We were asked to say something about ourselves and there was a particular ripple of appreciation around the group when we told them we brought greetings and prayers from our churches. Over the weekend we attended a retreat for Latin Link Bolivia's members and families - 22 in all - on the theme of "Who am I and where am I going?" We were glad to start getting stuck into the decorating on Monday, which will be our main task but look forward to supporting some literacy work at the church and enjoying the children. Suzanne is hoping to take us to see some of the Freehands work later in the week. Work on the outside of the nursery will follow when tarmac on the road outside is finished, allowing the necessary equipment to be delivered. At the moment, we are concentrating on the downstairs toilets, working around the children. More details next time.....

Every morning, we wake to the sound of water being pumped to the rooftop tank and eat our breakfast to the sound of children arriving!

Much Love,

Sharon, Sue, Sue and Christine.

And that brings us back to where we started and the approach of the Olympics and the Paralympics.

It’s arriving in town on Wednesday – the Scout Group are going to be gathering from 5-00 in Pittville Park near the café ready to watch the flame as it passes by.

A praise bus – an idea of a chain of prayer.  As you watch the flame and follow it going round the country – it passes through so many different communities.  Within 5 miles of practically the whole country.  Let’s uphold the people of those communities in our prayers.

This week we have prepared car stickers that people in lots of churches will be putting on their cars – the churches of Cheltenham – with more than Gold – and Jesus who says, I am the light of the World.

Maybe just a statement from the churches of the town.

We have a message of good news to share that brings light into the darkness of our world and of people’s lives and makes all the difference.

As we come to Jesus Christ, the living stone, and let ourselves be built into a spiritual house, then maybe it’s not just the building that has some use but we who come together in this place can make all the difference.

It is not jus that we are consecrated to noble memories and to potent hopes.  But we have something to share that can make all the difference.

This week thoughts inspired by the Olympic buildings, next week, thoughts inspired by Wembley!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A huge door of opportunity - the mission we share

Open wide the wide door
When doors close
Other doors open
Help always to remember!
You have set before us an open door
Which no one is able to shut!
Help us to see
            the door you have opened for us
and give us the courage to go through it!
Then, we pray,
help us to open wide the door
for other people that they might enter,
find faith
and know your wonderful love.

When one door closes another door will open.  I’m a great believer in that, though I guess like anyone else I need reminding of it at times.

I’m also a great believer in pushing at doors to see whether they will open or not.  Nothing ventured nothing gained!

Towards the beginning of the book of Revelation John the Divine writes letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor.  Real churches, it’s possible to visit each of them.  I have visited four of them, albeit a long time ago!  Each had different needs, and each letter is written differently.   But maybe there’s significance in the fact that there are seven letters, seven the number of wholeness, of completeness – maybe these are letters written to the whole range of churches, to every possible church you might ever find.  And among these letters you will find words of comfort, words of challenge no matter what church you belong to.

Writing to the church of Philadelphia St John the  Divine has a wonderful image that he shares.  It’s a picture that excites me.  It’s as if he is saying to this church – you have a wonderful opportunity before you, a great chance to do wonderful things – seize the opportunity.   Push on the door, and you can be sure it will open.

Actually, John the Divine doesn’t quite say that.  His vision is even more exciting.

Look, behold!  I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.

Wow!  That’s some vision.

To belong to one church is to belong to the one church world-wide – and together we are the body of Christ called to bring God’s love into a world of need.  And as we are called to do just that we must look … and see that God has set before us an open door, which no one is able to shut.
This is exciting stuff!

When we came up with all those words describing what makes Highbury special and grouped them under six headings, one cluster of words was grouped around our Mission.  That’s our focus through the month of May.

Mission goes to the very heart not only of what we do as a church, but at what we are as a church.

Out-going, outward looking, cares for community, community minded, charitable giving, mission orientated, the world

I love the range of words people came up with.

Interestingly, it was Paul who had already found the image of ‘the door’ a very powerful one to describe his work of mission.

It all began in Antioch.  Among those who were prophets and teachers were Barnabas and Saul.  The church was led by the Spirit to set apart Barnabas and Saul to travel through the Mediterranean world to take the good news of Jesus Christ.  Setting off for Cyprus, and mixing with non-Jewish people Saul, named after the first Jewish king, starts to be known by the more Greek-sounding name of Paul.  And his momentous workhas begun.  He and Barnabas travel throughout Cyprus and then on to what is now mainland Turkey visiting another town with the name of Antioch, and then on to Iconium, Derbe, Lystra before retracing their steps and returning to Antioch in Syria.

They can’t wait to report back on what they have done … Paul and Barnabas are excited.

they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles.  
Acts 14:27 

The work of mission is all about opening doors for people so that the can come to faith, and then live their faith in Jesus Christ.  That’s exactly what we are about in our mission today.  It’s about finding ways to open doors in people’s hearts so that the can come to faith.

I love the way Eugene Peterson translates this verse in the Message Bible. 

they got the church together and reported on their trip, telling in detail how God had used them to throw the door of faith wide open so people of all nations could come streaming in.  Acts 14:27 The Message.

 But for Paul, faith has to be lived out in actions.  Much later on his missionary travels he has journeyed all through what is now Western Turkey and crossed over into what is now modern day Greece and visited Corinth.  Paul never forgot the people he visited and the churches he set up.  He continually remembered them in his prayers, wrote letters to them, and often re-visited them.  As he gets to the end of the first letter to the church in Corinth he describes the way he intends to visit them again.  But he has been delayed in  Ephesus, where he is writing the letter from.  He explains why in 1 Corinthians 16:8

8But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.  
1 Corinthians 14:5-9

 A wide door for effective work.  Again, I love the way Eugene Peterson puts it. 

MSG© 16:9 A huge door of opportunity for good work has opened up here. (There is also mushrooming opposition.)

Faith and work, faith and deeds.  In the task of mission those two go inextricably together.  As Paul says ‘all that counts is faith active in love’.  It’s fascinating that around this time Paul became very focused on raising money from the wealthier churches of what we think of now as Greece to support the famine stricken churches and people of Judea and Jerusalem.  A very practical expression of faith active in love.

Our Christian Aid Collection is very much an expression of that faith active in love.  Collectors are needed for Christian Aid week.   Bags are available and the list is there for us to sign up to.

A door of opportunity has opened for Sharon to share with a small group from St Luke’s, Sue Pestell, Sue Garcia and Christine Lodge  in a mission visit to Bolivia.

Sharon shared with us all that she looks forward to doing as the group visits Cochabamba and the Broombush Nursery.  We look to hearing all the news, not least through Facebook and the Blog Sharon will be keeping.

She specially asked for our prayers for safe journeying, good health, the project they will be sharing in and families back at home.

This visit is exactly the kind of thing Paul and Barnabas were doing – in visiting and supporting the work across the world.  It’s a tangible way of sensing we are part of that world-church.

Our prayers and our blessing go with you.  We will be thinking of you in our prayers – we are there for your family while you are away.  Please take our love and blessing and prayers to all the people you will be meeting as well.

My reflections today are very much with you in mind.

I want to share these words of Scripture with you and for you as you set off for Bolivia this week.

From Revelation 3:8

Behold!  I have set before you an open door that no one can shut.

May you come back with your faith strengthened seeing for yourself the way God is at work, using you and those you will be visiting  to throw the door of faith wide open so people of all nations could come streaming in.  Acts 14:27 The Message.

And in all the work you will be sharing … may you find that A huge door of opportunity for good work has opened up here.

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