Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Vision for our Town

Today, we welcomed the Brownies, Guides, Beavers, Cubs and Scouts linked with the church to their Parade Service.  It was a special service for us as we welcomed Colin Hay, the Mayor of Cheltenham, and celebrated our town and the vision we share for its future.  In February our charity of the month will be one of the charities supported by the Mayor in his year of office:  Severn Freewheelers.  They provide a courier service to the hospitals of Gloucestershire for emergencies.

A time of Praise
Call to Worship

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. 
   Worship the Lord with gladness;
   come into his presence with singing. 

For the Lord is good;
   his steadfast love endures for ever,
   and his faithfulness to all generations.

Praise and Worship with Hy-Spirit

Psalm 148 - the Congregation

A time for Reflection
A vision to share ...
... a birthday to celebrate!

It’s great to welcome everyone to our service today … and good to give a special welcome to Colin Hay who is the Mayor of Cheltenham.  It gives us an opportunity to celebrate our town and all it means to us –

Can we think of things that are really great about Cheltenham?

People came up with all sorts of ideas in tribute to the Hospitals, the Police, Fire and Ambulance Services, to our schools, to the trees that make Cheltenham so special, to its friendliness, to its football club.

How could we make Cheltenham an even better place?

There were lots of ideas people shared - from looking after the environment, keeping the place tidy, to looking out for people with great needs, and making sure our town was a caring place.

It’s good to have a vision for your town …

Long ago, everything went wrong for the people of Israel.  People forgot what they should be doing to make their towns and cities and their capital city the kind of place it should be where people helped each other and cared for one another and did the kind of things their faith in God showed they should be doing.

Everything went wrong and horrible things happened – and the towns and cities went into ruin – and the capital city, Jerusalem, was destroyed.

But the people didn’t lose heart, they didn’t lose hope.

In the middle of everythning that had gone wrong, people still had a vision.  They had a vision for what their towns and their cities should be like.

One of those people who had such a vision was Isaiah.  He dreamed of a new heaven and a new earth – something new coming out of the ashes.









This is the message from the Lord God.

“Pay close attention now:
    I’m creating new heavens and a new earth.
All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain
    are things of the past, to be forgotten.

Look ahead with joy.
    Look forward to what I’m creating:
I’ll create Jerusalem as sheer joy,
    create my people as pure delight.

No more sounds of weeping in the city,
    no cries of anguish;
No more babies dying in the cradle,
    or old people who don’t enjoy a full lifetime;
One-hundredth birthdays will be considered normal—
    anything less will seem like a cheat.

They’ll build houses
    and move in.

They’ll plant fields
    and eat what they grow.

They’ll have satisfaction in their work.
   They won’t work and have nothing come of it,

For my people will be as long-lived as trees,
   for they themselves are plantings blessed by God,
    with their children and grandchildren likewise God-blessed.

Wolf and lamb will graze the same meadow,
    lion and ox eat straw from the same trough,
    but snakes—they’ll get a diet of dirt!
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
    anywhere on my Holy Mountain,” says God.

It’s a wonderful vision that sets out the base-line things we should work for – it’s a timeless vision.  One that Jesus echoed the very first time he got up to teach in the synagogue in his home town –

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me
to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners; 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,

What a wonderful vision for today – key things to make our town a better place

Where there are tears, pain, anguish – there needs to be comfort, support, strengthening

The youngest – children need to be cared for as they grow up

The oldest need to be cared for and looked after – and we’ve just had a 100th birthday as well – Alice Brown joined our church 91 years ago in 1924 when we are at Winchcombe Street and she went to Sunday School and then taught in the Sunday School on Grosvenor Street.  And by 1963 she was head of Guiting Power School – and didn’t allow the school to close for one day, driving through the whole of the bad winter from Charlton Kings in her Morris Minor!  And we are remembering Hilda Read who has been a very special part of the church family here for many years – who died this week.

Homes for people

Meals for people - each week we have three or four cartons of food to take to County Community Projects' Foodshare programme.  When it was brought to our attention that Cheltenham has a significant number of people who experience absolute poverty for periods when they have no food, we decided not only to increase our support of CCP's Foodshare Programme, but also to invite our MP, Martin Horwood, to a special Church Meeting when we would question him about the need for a safety net at the moment and on into the future.  That meeting has been postponed from this Tuesday when Martin finds he has business to attend to in the House of Commons to the following Tuesday, 5th February at 7-30.

Work for people

Reconciliation where there are divisions

And care of the environment

How can we make that kind of thing happen?  What can we do?

I have a story to tell … and I need some help.  I need a dog, a cat, a duck and a little red hen.

It’s the story of the Little Red Hen and the Pizza.

The Story of the Little Red Hen and the Pizza

Everybody counts – We all need to play our part in making the world we live in a better place.

Every little thing we do makes a difference.

Youtube video clip of Noah and the Whale

Song with Hy-Spirit

It’s great to welcome Colin as Mayor – The post of Mayor is a special one here in Cheltenham.  It honours someone who has been a Town Councillor for many years and for their service to the town.  And that’s why Colin has been made Mayor. 

Colin spoke of his year of office as Mayor, of the delight he has taken in meeting so many people doing all sorts of things to make Cheltenham a better place.  It's remarkable to see just how many people do so many things throughout the town to make Cheltenham the place it is.  Colin has been a councillor since 1981 and has served on the County Council for a good number of years, being made an honorary alderman  - it was good to welcome him and to take the opportunity to thank him for his service.

He answered questions and spoke of the valued place of education in the town, the role of so many organisations.  In his year of office he has chosen three charities to support.  He explained his support for the Oakley project that he is supporting and the work it does in Colin's own ward of Whaddon, now an area of Cheltenham with one of the lowest reported crime rates.  He was also supporting the Art Gallery and Museum currently undergoing a very significant re-build and re-furbishment progrramme: Colin spoke of the significant contribution it makes as the cultural centre of a town that takes a pride in nurturing cultural events. He looked forward to a number of regeneration projects going on in the town that will give it a new lease of life.  The third of his charities is the one we will be supporting next month - Severn Freewheelers

 We support a charity each month – this month we have been supporting the Glos and Worcs 4x4 response – a timely thing to support getting nurses to and fro the hospitals of the county – especially from the Cotswolds, the Forest and other parts of our hilly countryside.  Big thank you to Darryl and everyone who meet here at Highbury.

And next month we are going to support the Severn Freewheelers – and today the Cubs and others have put some things together in the hall over coffee for us to have a to at as we raise some money for Severn Freewheelers.

Prayer and Worship with Hy-Spirit

One concern we have is for the food poverty there is in the town at the moment – we are meeting with Martin Horwood – postponed from this Tuesday to a week on Tuesday.  We want to have a conversation with him about the issues around the rise in food poverty.

Prayers for our town and Prayers of Concern

Offering and Dedication

Great is thy faithfulness

Words of Blessing

Sunday, January 6, 2013

In a world of change something that doesn't change

Not everyone has in their desk drawer what some would call in the vernacular ‘knicker elastic’.

This, however, is not just any old knicker elastic.

It’s particularly precious to me and I found myself taking it out of the drawer at the turn of the year.  It’s twelfth night and the Christmas Decorations are put away for another year – we have said good bye to the old year and we have greeted the new year.

It’s a time for turning from the past and looking to the future.  In a world of constant change, it is a time to seek a constant.

And that’s where my knicker elastic means a lot to me.

32 and a half years ago we were living in Bradford.   Centre still at that time for the woollen trade in Britain and indeed the world with its wool exchange still functioning albeit not in its wonderful pseudo classical Victorian building.  With the wool exchange went the need for reliable weights and measures.  So it was that in the City centre was a set of measures in brass set into the paving of a small formal square.  Disputes would at one time have been settled and accurate measures taken.

It’s not only in trade that you need a fixed measure.

In life too there is a need for a constant.  And there are particular moments in life when that constant becomes all the more necessary.  One of those moments is at the turn of the year.

For me at that moment it was in the couple of weeks following the death of my father.  Something in my subconscious, I guess, or maybe something led me to a vaguely remembered phrase something about Jesus providing just such a measure – something that remains unchanged.  Always the same.

So, I measured out a metre in knicker elastic – and I marked off 100 centimetres.   I had made myself a tape measure to show to the children.  I got one of the smallest of the youngest children out, and then I got a middle sized youngster to the front and then I got the tallest person in the Congregation.  Quite some contrast.

But with my metre rule I could demonstrate that they were each the same height.  My metre rule wasn’t up to much.  I then produced another tape measure that couldn’t be stretched.  And with the help of that could measure the height of the three accurately.

To be of any use a tape measure must remain the same – just like those measures set in brass in the paving down in  the City Centre.

It was at the last minute going into church that I tracked down the chapter and verse for that saying.  And I found it in Hebrews 13.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

That’s the measure.

That’s the constant.

That’s the standard by which we can measure ourselves and live our lives.

That’s what Hebrews is about … and that’s what we are going to be taking a look at in Open the Book from this Thursday.

Hebrews presents us with a magisterial Christ who is one with God and at the same time Hebrews presents us with a human Christ who knows our every weakness, Hebrews presences Christ as the one who brings God down to earth and raises us into the glory of God’s presence.  It is in Hebrews that faith is defined in the most wonderful of ways as ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’.  It is in Hebrews that faith finds its focus in Jesus as we run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of throne of God.

Hebrews sets out constants for us to follow as we run that race …

  • Mutual love
  • Hospitality to strangers
  • Remembering those in prison, those who are being tortured
  • Honouring marriage
  • Keeping our lives free from the love of money
  • Being content with what we have

And in running the race we have a source of strength from outside ourselves to keep us going … for God has said, I I will never leave you or forsake you.

So at a time of flux and change as one era in one’s life comes to an end and another begins, as one year comes to an end and another begins we can say with confidence echoing the words of Hebrews quoting Psalm 118,

The Lord is my helper
I will  not be afraid
What can anyone do to me?

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

That Sunday, 27th July 1980 I didn’t elaborate the detail in that way – I simply stuck with Jesus and the standard he gave.  All it was was a children’s address.  It was my first time back in the pulpit following my father’s death a couple of weeks before.  I was working a little on automatic pilot.

It was only over lunch in the kitchen at the back of Fieldhead, an old farmhouse complete with Aga Cooker and a water supply from a spring across the road, that Felicity commended me for my choice of reading.

She drew attention to the verse that comes between that quotation from Psalm 118 and the verse I had focused on about Jesus being the same, yesterday, today and forever.

How appropriate, she commented.

But I hadn’t chosen that verse.

When I read it it spoke volumes to me.

It’s a verse I have copied into the flyleaf of each Bible I have used since.  It’s a verse I treasure.

And it’s a verse that also speaks to us at the turn of a year.

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you.

This is not just an invitation to think of those who have gone before us.  It is a specific invitation to think of those who have taught us and spoken to us the word of God.  For me that rang wonderfully true of my father who was also a minister and under whose ministry I had of course sat until that point.

Who might you think of?  Leaders who have gone before us.

Most recently I can think of Joan Lee – she wouldn’t acknoweledge it, but she was a leader here in this church – for many years in partnership with Olga.  She spoke the word of God – promises and prayers that she drew on that were precious to her and she shared.  It took some persuading by all accounts but she did in Friendship  Group.  And in her quiet way with many people.  The importance of faith, the importance of prayer – a faith and a prayer she held on to through the devastating illness she had.

Last year saw the death at 101 of a Sunday School teacher I had at the time when the New Testament of the New English Bible was published – I still have the hard back little note book he gave us for us to do ‘our own translation’ of Luke’s Gospel – making our own commentary.  He whetted my appetite for the study of the Bible – I am glad I had been able to write at length on the occasion of his 100th birthday and express my thanks.

In a funny way I will think of Alice Brown still with us and celebrating her 100th birthday a week on Saturday – one of those many it is good to visit – still the head she was in her teaching days, still the wisdom to share and impart, that kind of humility that’s special – and words of wisdom that link us with days gone by of the Sunday School in Grosvenor Street – hard work of dedicated leaders and difficult times with youngsters often throwing stones at the door and at the windows.  Not the glory days we sometimes falsely imagine.

And next Sunday I’ll be visiting Eric Burton again – wonderful the way he keeps in touch with folk and good to share with him – his wonderful words of wisdom and encouragement he shared when last I visited him about experimenting and change.

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

But it is not to any people we look at the turn of the year at a time of change and flux for our constants.  It is to what they shared with us.  It is to the word of God they spoke.  It is to the faith they had.

And that message, that faith, that word finds its focus on the one who does not change.  For …

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.

Hopes and Fears for the New Year

During today's service we welcomed Steve and Carrie and shared in Oliver's baptism. 

There’s something very special sharing in the baptism of a little one who is just six months old on the first Sunday of a New Year.  There’s the freshness, the wonder, the joy of the new born right at the start of life: and there’s that sense of freshness at the start of a new year with new beginnings and new things stretching out in front of us.

The other side of the coin is that with a new born and with a new year there are hopes and fears, expectations and anxieties about what lies ahead.  What kind of a world is this little one going to grow into?  What will this year bring for us?  If we’re not careful anxieties can squeeze out the sense of wonder.

I think coming together in church on the first Sunday of a New Year when we share in a celebration of baptism, is a recognition that what is at the heart of the Christian faith has something to offer to us in our hopes and fears, in our expectations and anxieties about all that lies ahead.

Oliver is not quite old enough yet … but it won’t be long before he can begin to enjoy some of the delights of Gloucestershire.  One of the real delights at the turn of the year is to go to Slimbridge as we did a couple of years back.  At the end of our afternoon as dusk was falling we made our way to the wonderful observation room overlooking the lake at the back of the visitor centre.  It was feeding time and the person we were watching was giving a wonderful talk as they were feeding the swans.  But that’s not what I found inspirational that day.  He suggested that those who were interested in looking at the starlings could go out and have a look as they were circling in the sky.

I slipped out and saw something I had seen pictures of but never witnessed for myself.  Masses and masses, thousands, tens of thousands perhaps of starlings swirling and whirling through the sky.  It was simply a magnificent sight.

Overwhelmed by the anxieties and the fears of the world around us, it’s no bad thing to look at the wonderful world of nature and somehow those worries and fears fall into place.

One of the things that appeals to me about the Christian faith is that it is down to earth.   Jesus lived in a world that was fraught with fears and anxieties as much as hopes and expectations.  One of those favourite carols we have been singing speaks of the way the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Christ.  To counter those fears and anxieties, he urged his followers to look to that wonderful world of nature and see in it the wonder of God’s creation.

Matthew 6:25-34

 “This is why I tell you: do not be worried about the food and drink you need in order to stay alive, or about clothes for your body. After all, isn't life worth more than food? And isn't the body worth more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds: they do not plant seeds, gather a harvest and put it in barns; yet your Father in heaven takes care of them! Aren't you worth much more than birds? 27 Can any of you live a bit longer  by worrying about it?
28 “And why worry about clothes? Look how the wild flowers grow: they do not work or make clothes for themselves. But I tell you that not even King Solomon with all his wealth had clothes as beautiful as one of these flowers. 30 It is God who clothes the wild grass—grass that is here today and gone tomorrow, burned up in the oven. Won't he be all the more sure to clothe you? What little faith you have!
31 “So do not start worrying: ‘Where will my food come from? or my drink? or my clothes?’ 32 (These are the things the pagans are always concerned about.) Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. 33 Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things. 34 So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings.

Cecil Alexander wrote a sequence of hymns to illustrate the different aspects of the Christian faith – that sequence began with a celebration of God’s creation – it’s a hymn that’s special in Steve’s family.

Hymn:  283 All things bright and beautiful

The Christian faith then offers us a set of values that in our baptism service we acknowledge are worth handing on to the little ones as they start out on life; but they are values not just for the beginning of life, but for the whole of life, values to celebrate at the start of the year that are actually there for the whole of the year.

Jesus boiled those values down to two basic principles:  Love God and Love your Neighbour.   Recognise that there is a spiritual dimension to life, and live your life for the good of other people.  In that sermon on the mount, in the very next chapter of Matthew’s gospel he boils it down to one main principle that sums everything else up – do to others what you would have others do to you.

Jesus fills out those basic principles in teaching that addresses all sorts of issues, he lives it out as he brings healing wherever people are hurting.  His is a life of compassion and love for others, a life he maps out for us to follow.

One thing he is continually stressing is the need to care especially for those most vulnerable, those rejected by other people, your neighbour includes the ones difficult to get on with, the ones who are at the bottom of the pile.

His values turn on their head many of the values of the world.  There’s one moment when some of his closest friends are arguing among themselves who is the greatest.  It is a classic argument – it is reflected in al sorts of organisations.  You will spot them in any organisation – those who want to get to the top to have positions of power.  My observation would be that they are the ones who don’t really have what it takes.  The truly inspirational leaders who gain the respect of those in their organisation are the ones who have a commitment to service.

It’s interesting to see how Jesus counters that desire of some of his followers to be the greatest for the sake of getting into a position of power and authority.

Mark 9:33-37

33 They came to Capernaum, and after going indoors Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you arguing about on the road?”
 But they would not answer him, because on the road they had been arguing among themselves about who was the greatest.   Jesus sat down, called the twelve disciples, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all.” 36 Then he took a child and had him stand in front of them. He put his arms around him and said to them,   “Whoever welcomes in my name one of these children, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not only me but also the one who sent me.”

 But they would not answer him, because on the road they had been arguing among themselves about who was the greatest.   Jesus sat down, called the twelve disciples, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all.” 36 Then he took a child and had him stand in front of them. He put his arms around him and said to them,   “Whoever welcomes in my name one of these children, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not only me but also the one who sent me.”
 But they would not answer him, because on the road they had been arguing among themselves about who was the greatest.   Jesus sat down, called the twelve disciples, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all.” 36 Then he took a child and had him stand in front of them. He put his arms around him and said to them,   “Whoever welcomes in my name one of these children, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not only me but also the one who sent me.”

Whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all.

Then he took a child and made him stand in front of them. He put his arms round him and said to them,  “Whoever welcomes in my name one of these children, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not only me but also the one who sent me.”

From its very beginning in 1827 this church has been committed to working with children.  In a couple of weeks our oldest member will be 100 – Alice Brown recalls going to our Winchcombe Street church at the invitation of a friend and starting to teach in the Sunday School in Grosvenor Street.  There was real need among the youngsters living in those tight-knit streets around there at the time – they would often find youngsters throwing stones at the windows, difficult youngsters.  Alice went on to a life-time of teaching and a passionate concern for children and young people.

It was great to see Steve coming along to our children’s club we run jointly with St Luke’s, Transformers  and then to our Cubs on consecutive nights just before Christmas.  It’s interesting to see the priority the police give to working with youngsters – the churches of Cheltenham have been working closely with the police through Street Pastors in what’s sometimes known as the night-time economy and recently we have been working together on daytime initiatives.  I am a Governor at Pittville and belong to Aston House – so named after PC Aston who worked tirelessly among the young people particularly of Whaddon – the police now support the Aston Project which is based around giving youngsters the opportunity as it were to redeem themselves – through doing community service earning treats that can be quite exciting.  This really is getting to the heart of what society is all about: it’s an example of being prepared to put yourself last of all, put yourself as servant of all – a measure of our worth is a society is how we treat facing the greatest disadvantages, not least the children who are most vulnerable -   Whoever welcomes in my name one of these children welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not only me but also the one who sent me.

To see something of God in each other and in the most vulnerable is at the heart of those values that are not just for the beginning of life but for the whole of life, not just for the beginning of the year but for the whole of the year.

The great thing about that Aston Project is the way it gives youngsters an opportunity to make a new beginning, make a fresh start.

That’s where I want to finish with what is so important at the heart of the Christian Faith.   Christ maps out a wonderful set of values to follow – but then he works with those who fail to live up to those values – and is there to give them a second chance.

Take seriously the values of the Christian faith and we are only too aware that we don’t quite live up to them.  In Christ we see the forgiving love of God reaching out to us always there to give us a second chance, to enable us to begin all over again.  And with that forgiving love, there is a strength that can see us through the most difficult times of all, a strength and a power from beyond ourselves.

No matter what the fears may be for this new year – in our individual lives, maybe around health, or work or loneliness, in our family lives or around us in the community the message at the heart of our Christian faith is that we are not alone.  There is a strength to draw on.

Among the last words Jesus shared with his friends he spoke of leaving them a strength, a comforter, a presence of God – unseen yet very real.  A strength we can be aware of in prayer and in the living of our daily lives..

That to my mind is one of the most precious things the Christian faith has to offer and something that’s not just for a little one but for us all, not just for the beginning of the year but 24 / 7 throughout the whole year.

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