Sunday, February 24, 2013

So much to receive and so much to give

During Sunday's service we shared in Baptism as Susan and Gavin and Zach brought Archie to be baptised. The youngsters from our Transformers Group had shared in the service telling something of the things they had been doing at Transformers.

This is the prayer on the front of our Order of Service sheet.

So much to receive and so much to give

For those who have given us so much
We give you thanks, O Lord
Help us to give in our turn
That others in the fullness of time
May give you thanks, O Lord
For us who have given them so much.
Help us day by day to keep alive
The gifts we have received from you
Strength for the bad days and the good days
Love to sustain and to share
Self-control to guide and restrain

 These are the thoughts I shared in the second part of our service.

I wish I had taken more notice of the stories they told.

But I didn’t.

And I regret it now.

When I was little, and when I was not quite so little too, I got sick and tired of hearing the same old stories my parents would tell.  And when we made those regular visits to when I was very tiny grandparents and then a bit bigger to Aunts I quickly got bored of the same old stories.

I wish I had made a note of them.  I wish I  had taken more notice!

Little things have become more and more important to me as I have grown older.  On the book case in my office – a piece of slate.  Not just any old piece of slate.  I picked it up from one particular quarry in one particular place in North Wales where I knew my Great Grandfather had been a quarryman.

I knew he had grown up on the Marquis of Anglesey’s estate in Anglesey where he had started out as a gardener, before making the crossing over the Menai Straits to work in the quarries of Dinorwic overlooking Snowdon.  Time and again I had heard the story of the way he had seen the first test train go up Snowdon and topple over at the top forcing them to re-design the railway and introduce safety features that have prevented such an accident happening again.

But I didn’t take much more notice of his family story.

I knew we had relatives who were in Patagonia.   But I wasn’t really interested when they visited and met up with my Aunts and my Mum.  It was only after the Aunts had died that it suddenly dawned on me I was the only one in the next generation to speak Welsh and so keep in touch.  I wrote to no avail.

It was with real excitement when I got an email only a couple of years ago from Owen Tudur Jones – whose great grandfather had been brother to my Great Grandfather.  We have been in touch since.  I have learned about the vision Michael D Jones had in 1865 to set up a community where men and women would have the vote, set up on Christian values where Welsh would be the main language.  And they set up their community in Patagonia.  I was amazed to find there are now 20,000 Welsh people in that community, of whom  a couple of thousand still speak Welsh.  It was really exciting in the National Museum of Wales last Sunday afternoon to meet up with someone from Patagonia and chat in the only common language we had – Welsh.

I have come to the point of treasuring the things that have been passed down to me from all those generations ago.  I used not to like my name – Richard.  I knew I was named after my mother’s father.  But I didn’t know the name had been in every generation of my family since the late eighteenth century.  I treasure it now.

And here we are at what is among many other things a family gathering.  Great to have Gavin and Susan’s family here … and friends as well.  And lots of little ones!

It’s a moment to treasure what has been passed on to this point.

But I also think this is a moment for us to think seriously about what we pass on to our children.

What is it we want our children to treasure about us when they get to the age when they look back with fondness at their parents at the adults who were important to them in their growing up?

That’s a question to ask of parents.  But it is also a question for all of us to ask.  Family and friends – what memories of the significant adults in his life will Archie have when he is older.

It is also a question for us in the church to ask.  What memories will Archie have of us?

What is it we want to pass on to our children?

There will be values?  What are the values that we want to hand on?

Question to share

The Bible contains a set of letters written by Paul and those very close to him.  The last three of those letters are written when Paul was getting on in years to a very much younger companion and colleague who was carrying on the work that was important to Paul.  AS the second of his letters to Timothy begins he writes in quite a personal way.

It seems to me he puts his finger on some things that from a church point of view is very important to us in today’s event and says something about what we want to pass on to little Archie and to all the little ones we are involved with.

2 Timothy 1:1-7

From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus.
God himself chose me to be an apostle,
and he gave me the promised life that Jesus Christ makes possible.

Timothy, you are like a dear child to me.
I pray that God our Father and our Lord Christ Jesus
will be kind and merciful to you and will bless you with peace!

Night and day I mention you in my prayers.

I am always grateful for you,
as I pray to the God my ancestors and I have served with a clear conscience.

I remember how you cried, and I want to see you,
because that will make me truly happy.

I also remember the genuine faith of your mother Eunice.
Your grandmother Lois had the same sort of faith,
and I am sure that you have it as well.

So I ask you to make full use of the gift that God gave you
when I placed my hands on you.
Use it well.

God's Spirit doesn't make cowards out of us.
The Spirit gives us power, love, and self-control.

I remember the sincere faith you have, the kind of faith that your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice had.

There’s a lovely glimpse of a close family where not just values had been passed on.

Faith had been passed on.

Faith has to do with seeing that there is more to life than just material things.  Faith senses the wonder of the world and senses how much more there is to discover of this world, and how much there is beyond our undersanding, so much more beyond our understanding that there is some being beyond and behind it that makes us the people we are.  Faith looks to God.  And for Timothy as for Eunice, as for Lois that faith found a focus in someone called Jesus who had opened up a way of seeing God not as some superhuman designer of the universe, but rather a God who is in all things, and comes alongside us not least when things go dreadfully wrong and who loves us with a love that will not desert us, such that we can think of this God as Father in the closest possible way.  A faith that discovers God is Love.

At the heart of our celebration of baptism is the celebration of the gift of God’s love – given before we know anything about it, as real as the water.

Paul longs for Timothy to keep alive the gift God gave him – to re-kindle the gift.

Then comes a comment that goes to the heart of what it is that Paul longs for Timothy – and I guess it’s what I would long for those coming after me.

It starts with faith – faith focused on Christ.

Then we have a power, a strength to draw on for the living of our lives.  A strength that sees us through.  One of our older members – Hilda - I don’t know what I would do without my faith.  Not that there were easy answers.  A struggle.  But she did struggle.  And a lovely sense of peace she had in her passing at 97.

Love – a concern for others, a compassion – a care of others that makes a difference.  Not  built on what I can get out of life, but what I can do to make a difference to otherse.

And the final one is an intriguing one.

Self-control.  That capacity to be in control – and not get carried away.  The danger of the crowd.  The danger of being out of control.  An intriguing one.

So what should we do …
I want to come back to where Paul started – I pray that God our Father and our Lord Christ Jesus will be kind and merciful to you and will  bless you with peace!   How important prayer is … and that’s our prayer for children following after us.

The reality is that children like any of the rest of us sometimes have hard times to go through – it’s no bad thing sharing those hard times as we have been doing in  Transformers.

Paul senses it as he writes here.

Night and day I mention you in my prayers.  I remember how you cried, and I want to see you because that will make me truly happy.

So what can we draw on – that brings us back to those promises …

Earlier in the service the youngsters of Transformers had shared with us Promises they have been looking at in Transformers.  This was the reading they shared with those promises in …

At Transformers we have lots of fun and games

Something really nice to eat

And then we come into church

Leading up to Easter we have been looking at a book full of Promises from the Bible.

It’s called ‘The Message Promise Book’.

Sometimes it’s scary in the dark … and the world can be a dark place.

This is a Promise Jesus made.   Jesus said,

“I am the world’s light.

“No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness.

“I provide plenty of light to live in.” 

John chapter 8 verse 12

The period leading up to Easter is called Lent.

Lent is a time to think of all the troubles Jesus went through.

Peter in the Bible makes this promise

“When life gets really difficult,
don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job.

“Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced.

“This is a spiritual refining process …

… with glory just around the corner.”

1 Peter chapter 4 verses 12 and 13

So what do you do with all your troubles?

This is another of the Promises the Bible makes this time in the Book of Psalms

“Pile your troubles on God’s shoulders.

“He’ll carry your load.

“He’ll help you out.”
Psalm 147 verse 3

So what can we do to make the world a better place to live in?

In the Book of Proverbs chapter 11 verse 24 the Bible promises that our world will get  larger and larger when we are generous …

“The world of the generous gets larger and larger;

“The world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.”


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Into Jesus' Arms

It was good to welcome Amanda Thistleton from Christchurch, Cheltenham to Highbury on Sunday, 17th February - this is what she shared with us ...

Aim:  To help us understand that faith in Jesus does not depend on our abilities or our position.
Gracious God, may we hear you speaking to us through your word this morning, and may your Holy Spirit equip us to serve you better. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Mark 7:24-30
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.  He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.    27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”  30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Have you ever felt excluded, or left out, as if you don’t belong?  Did the fact that you were different from the crowd make you shy or reluctant to join in? Do you wish you were more acceptable so that people would include you?  As the story we are looking at today develops we meet someone who may have felt like that, but it begins with Jesus trying to find some space.....

Jesus decided to go north from Galilee to the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, up on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. His popularity was growing as his ministry unfolded, and more and more people were hearing about him and wanting to hear his teaching and receive healing. Herod was interested in him.  Pharisees from Jerusalem were investigating his claims and questioning him. So Jesus and his disciples withdrew in order for Jesus to teach them in peace and to avoid the opposition in Galilee.

So they travelled up to the sea side, which is about 30 miles north of Galilee in modern day Lebanon, and attempted to lie low for a few days in a friend’s house. But it was not so easy, as Jesus seemed to attract attention wherever he went, so it was not long before people realised where he was and flocked to be near him. Verse 24 says: Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.

Have you ever made chocolate mousse?  You mix melted choc and egg yolks and they congeal into a thick lump which the recipe blithely says ‘fold into the whisked egg whites’. That is much easier said than done and at first the mixture is lumpy and bits of egg white fly out even though you try to do it very gently. You wonder how this peculiar hotch potch of chocolate and egg white will ever become nice smooth chocolate mousse. But in the end it all comes together and the final smooth brown mixture is just like it should be.
The Gospel of Mark is a bit like making chocolate mousse: in the first half the disciples don’t really understand, and in the second half things fall into place. The first half contains clues as to who Jesus is, and then in the second half we learn what he came to do.

Things start to come together in chapter 8 v29 when Peter answers Jesus’ question at Caesarea Philippi:   Jesus asks “Who do you say I am?” and Peter replies “You are the Christ”, and this is mirrored by the Roman centurion’s words at the crucifixion when he says “Surely this man was the Son of God.” In this passage we are reading today, we find ourselves in the first half of Mark’s gospel narrative, when the disciples still do not really understand who Jesus is. They and many other people have asked “Who is this man?” and it is only once the disciples eyes are opened and they realise who he is, that he can then prepare them for the next stage in his ministry leading towards his death and crucifixion at Calvary.
The disciples are rather slow at discovering who Jesus is, but the woman we are about to meet seems to be a step ahead....

Verse 25: In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet.  The woman was a Greek (that is a Gentile), born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
Already the situation gets more complicated for Jesus, he is trying to have some time out, and this woman, who was also a Gentile, had managed to squirm her way into the house and find him. His first response to her impassioned begging for help seems really rather rude: “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Why does Jesus respond like this? I have to confess I was shocked the first time I read this as it seems so out of character for Jesus to be so dismissive. Maybe he was testing her faith, or maybe he was making a point for the disciples to pick up. The children he is talking about are the Jews, God’s chosen people, and the dogs (in this case the word Jesus uses is a word for puppies or pet dogs rather than the wild street dogs common in that part of the world), the dogs are the Gentiles. 
If we look at Mark as a whole, one of the themes that run through the gospel is that of the Messianic secret. Several times Jesus, having worked a miracle in a person exhorts them to keep silent about what has happened. It all seems rather odd, until we look at the bigger picture.
The Jews’ expectation of the Messiah was that he would save them from Roman rule by conquering the oppressors and reigning as the victorious king. Jesus was a completely different type of Messiah and he wanted his followers to have a full understanding of his message, which includes the cross and resurrection, before they went out to tell others.

So could it be that this outsider, this Gentile woman, can help us see more clearly what kind of a Messiah Jesus is?

Let’s look at what happens next: v28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
This Gentile woman, who had broken multiple social conventions to get to this point, calls Jesus ‘Lord’, putting the disciples to shame with her faith in Jesus. Then she puts her faith into action and does something – she asks for help.  She understands her position as a gentile and knows that she can’t share the children’s food, that is that she is not a Jew, but she is not satisfied with that.  She could imagine a future when Jesus’ grace was available to all, not just Jews. In the words of one commentator: “The disciples, and perhaps Jesus himself, are not yet ready for Calvary. This foreign woman is already insisting upon Easter.”! She already had complete faith in Jesus as we have seen by what she did.   Is our faith like that?

And these words are so familiar to us aren’t they? In the Anglican communion service, we say the prayer of humble access which includes the line “we were not fit, even to eat the crumbs from under your table, but you are the same Lord, whose nature is always to have mercy.” Maybe that can be a reminder to us of the infinite grace of Jesus that is available to all who have faith in him.

V 29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. What a brilliant ending. But this short episode doesn’t just end with a happy woman and a healed daughter.

This event is not just a response to a woman’s need, but a new stage in Jesus’ ministry as the door of the kingdom of God is opened to non-Jews. The gentile mother’s persistent confidence shows that God’s love is not exclusive, but for the whole world, for you and me, for all who believe in Jesus. It was her faith in Jesus which motivated her. And her faith did not depend on her, her position or merit, race or ability, but on Jesus, and on his mercy and grace.  It was like the faith a small child has who throws herself off a high wall into her father’s arms, shouting “Daddy, catch me!”  She just knows she will be caught, and of course Daddy catches her.  We have faith in Jesus because of who he is and not who we are.
Membership of God’s family is by grace alone - it is the gift of God to all who have faith – and the gentile woman knew this, and jumped into Jesus’ arms.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Christ at the Centre and Open to All - the really big question

After last Sunday’s service, over lunch and since people have come up with all sorts of helpful suggestions and comments.   It was very interesting to get that feedback at the Deacons meeting on Thursday – and to come up with a proposition that the Deacons will bring to our Annual Church Meeting – do make a note of Thursday, 7th March and join us as we make some important decisions that evening.

One question seems to have been asked more than any other.

And I over lunch and through the week I have given the same response to a number of people.

That’s the 64,000 dollar question!

And this is the question lots of people have been asking.

So who can we find to take up the role of ‘Ministry Leaders’.

The 64,000 dollar question indeed.

Then I had one very telling conversation.

And it prompted me to think actually that’s not the most important question to ask.  There’s another much more significant question to ask.

Let’s not focus on the ministry leaders.  Let’s not focus on the Deacons.

Instead let’s focus on what’s at the centre – Christ.  And then let’s notice something about the way we picture the church as a circle.  It’s not a continuous line.  It’s made up of shorter lines – one for each of us.  We see the church as a place to share Christian friendship, explore Christian faith and enter into Christian mission with Christ at the centre and open to all.

With dotted lines we have then at the moment identified different areas of our church life – Pastoral Care, Worship, Mission and Outreach, Children’s work,  Youth work,  Discipleship, faith and prayer and all the admin tasks that make all of those things happen.

So if that’s our church – the really important question to ask is where do I fit in?  Where am I going to focus my gifts and energy?

That, in fact is the 64,000 dollar question.  The starting point for picturing the church this way is not who can we find to be 5 deacons, who can we find to be the 5 or 6 ministry leaders … the real starting point and what this picture of being the church is really all about, is where do I see myself fitting in.  What can I commit myself to?

We’ll all be different – we will be really keen on different things, some will have a heart for children, some for youth work, some for developing worship and building up disciples, some for pastoral care, some will  be behind the scenes kind of people.  Each of us with differing gifts.

But if we are to be a place where we share Christian friendship, explore Christian faith and enter into Christian mission with Christ at the centre and open to all then each of us makes a difference, and each of us has a part to play.

Let me take one of those areas as an example.  I’ll home in on one of the areas that we have identified as a priority for the work of the church.  Mission and Outreach.  If Christ’s at the centre and we are open to all, what does that mean for me?  How can I fit in?  I’m not one to talk very much about my faith.  I have too much baggage behind me, people won’t listen to me.  All sorts of things get in the way.

All sorts of things got in the way of one person doing anything as part of Christ’s mission.

When Jesus found himself on his own by Jacob’s well near the Samaritan city of Sychar and his disciples went off for some food, a Samaritan woman came to draw water.

What you might have expected of Jesus, given his Jewish background and the fact that Jewish people and Samaritan people didn’t share things together, and given the fact that he, a man was on his own, was that he would simply keep himself to himself and not engage himself with this Samaritan woman.

4:13-16, 23-24, 34-38, 42

But Jesus is not like that.

Jesus has time for everyone, he has time for the least expected of people.

And so he simply opens up the kind of conversation anyone would have at a well.  He simply asks her to draw some water.  She is taken aback that he a man, and a Jewish man should ask such a thing of her, a Samaritan woman.

Jesus is not phased at all.  Jesus doesn’t see the label, a Samaritan woman.  He simply sees a person to get into conversation with, a person to build bridges with.

She has raised the issue of Jews and Samaritans, he finds common ground speaks of God – and suggests that if she really knew who he was she would b e the one asking him not just for the kind of water that quenches thirst for a moment, but for living water, the kind of water that gives life to the spirit as much as to the body.

The woman is intrigued – it’s a deep well, he has nothing to draw any water with.  Is he a greater person than Jacob the common ancestor of both the  Samaritan people and the Jewish people, whose well this actually was?

Then comes a wonderful statement of Jesus.

3Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 

It’s a wonderful image.  And something touches the woman at this point.  Maybe she recognises deep down she has a need for this kind of living water.  A spiritual thirst.

It’s something she wants, she feels in need of.

But Jesus recognises that she has a deep down need.  Maybe it’s a careworn face that she has.  Jesus asks her to go for her husband.  But I have no husband comes back the instant response.  But it’s not quite the case.  Jesus knows she has had five husbands and the one she had now was not her husband.  What’s going on here?  Is this a woman who has been used and abused by men?  Something is not right in her life.  And it’s a major thing that’s been going wrong.

It’s not something she wants to be open about.  She wants to keep quiet about it.  She wants to cover it up.  But Jesus knows her as she is.  And more than that he has things to share with her as she is.

She turns the conversation to the differences between Samaritans and Jews – one worships in one place in one way, the other in another place in another way.  Jesus holds the corner for Jewish people, she for Samaritan people.  It seems at one moment as if he is going to prize them apart.  But no, he goes in the opposite direction.

23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 

The woman has recognised in Jesus a prophet who is willing to speak God’s word to her.  But more than that she wonders out loud whether he is more than a prophet.  Could he possibly be the Messiah, the Christ, the one Samaritan and Jew had been looking for.

I am he, Jesus says, the one who is speaking to you.

One powerful thing that comes over to me in this story is that Jesus has time for the least expected of people.  At each point in this story as it unfolds he could have said he had no time for her.  She wasn’t up to the job.  But no matter the baggage she has, he is prepared to talk with her.

You get the feeling as the disciples return they would not have been willing to enlist this woman.

It’s because of the way Jesus has time for her, that the woman instinctively wants to share what she has seen.

8Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,can he?’ 30They left the city and were on their way to him.

What does she say to the people of her home city “Come and see”  It’s the catch phrase so powerful in John’s gospel.

Come and see.

They come.

And as they come Jesus spots them approaching white robes of many people as they come towards him – it looks just like a field of white grain swaying in the wind – “look around you,” says Jesus, “the fields are ripe for harvesting.”

It is because Jesus reaches out to the woman with all her issues, it is because she is willing to say, Come and see, that something remarkable happens.

The Good News of Jesus crosses a boundary and takes root among Samaritan people.

 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’

That Jesus is the Saviour of the World comes into their hearts simply because of this very ordinary, damaged woman that Jesus is prepared to use.

Coming back to our structures.

The 64,000 dollar question is ‘so, where do I fit in?  What can I do?’

With Christ at the centre there is something for everyone to do.  No one need think they are not up to it, - there’s something we can do.  So the big question to be thinking over is, what part can I play?  Where should my passion be directed, what are the gifts I have to share, what kind of person am I?  What can I do?  Where do I fit in so that Highbury really can be a place to share Christian friendship, explore Christian faith and enter into Christian mission with Christ at the centre and open to all.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Christ at the centre and open to all

In this morning's service Richard, our Minister, and Iain, one of our Deacons shared with the congregation the thinking behind the proposed new structure we are exploring at the moment in Highbury.  We went on to have a bring and share lunch when over lunch people were able to chat through some of the issues surrounding our plans.

In the first part of the service we got the youngsters to come out with the adults who had brought them and we got the adults to stand in a circle around the Table and a Cross, with hands linked, close together so the children couldn't break into the circle.  We then got the adults to stand back and let the children into the circle.  But it was still a closed circle with those who had not come to church with any children feeling left out and excluded.  So we then opened the circle out so that it would include everyone.  We then got people to stand with gaps between each person and the next so that it was an open circle with the cross at the centre.

It was a wonderful picture of our vision for the church here at Highbury as a place to share Christian friendship, explore Christian faith and enter into Christian mission with Christ at the centre and open to all.

We then recalled the way on one occasion when the close adult followers of Jesus simply hadn't got what he was about and were arguing among themselves  about who was the greatest.  What Jesus did was to take a child and using the child got them to think of the welcome they should give to everyone ...

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.”

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.”

We then turned to Ephesians 2:17-22 and a passage surprisingly enough all about getting the structure right.  In this evening's service we shared the same readings and the same reflections to ensure everyone in the church family has had the opportunity to get a feel for our thinking and our plans.  Having shared our plans in our January Church Meeting, we have wanted to ensure that everyone is aware of the thinking behind what we are proposing.

So, with a reading from  Ephesians, here are the thoughts we shared today.

So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off
and peace to those who were near; 
for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,
but you are citizens with the saints
and also members of the household of God, 
built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 
In him the whole structure is joined together
and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 
in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.

I hadn’t expected to find the word in the Bible.  It’s not a word that particularly excites me, I have a feeling it’s the kind of word to turn lots of people off right at the start.

It’s the word ‘structure’.  What are we doing talking about ‘structures’ when we should be getting on with the work Christ has set us to do?

It’s interesting that getting the ‘structure’ right was a high priority for Paul and the churches of the New Testament.  Not that there was one blueprint that fitted all circumstances.  Different places, different church fellowships have different structures.  But within those structures some things are all-important suggests Paul.  And getting the structure right means that you can then do what you are called to do really effectively.

We’ve developed a wonderfully exciting vision for the church here at Highbury.  The words we include on our web site in Highbury News are words you can take for granted but they say it all …

Highbury is a place to enjoy Christian friendship, to explore Christian faith and to engage in Christian mission with Christ at the centre and open to all.

We ask all who feel at home in our fellowship to join us in membership on the basis of a New Testament profession of faith that is at once simple and profound.

I believe in God and Jesus Christ as my Lord and my Saviour.

We are under the authority of God in Jesus Christ as the Spirit moves among us … and so all who belong as church members can share in our church meeting not as we make decisions by seeking a majority vote, but rather it is as we seek the mind of Christ that we shape church life and set the future direction of all we do as a church.

I love that picture of the church as an open circle that is wanting to grow with Christ at the centre.

It’s great that we are welcoming committed to pastoral care and to work with children and young people; mission, prayer and our worship and teaching are all important to us as they connect us with God and God’s world.  And we have three things that we have identified as a big priority to develop:  renewal and gifts, mission and outreach and personal faith and prayer as we seek to grow and be challenged as disciples of Christ.

It’s under that first heading of renewal and gifts that we have recognised the need to think again about our structures.

In one sense mission and outreach is something for all of us to be committed to as we share God’s love in the living of our lives and in the conversations we have with others, but there will be those who have a real heart for developing the work of mission and outreach.  And that needs someone to co-ordinate and really lead us forward.  So let’s look for someone in the church family with a real heart for mission and outreach to galvanise us so that  we can be more effective as living witnesses to our faith that really do make a difference in people’s lives.

We all share in worship. Worship is not something to passively receive – but we all bring something to the worshp we share as we come with expectation and participate fully in all we do.  But there will be those who  can help from welcoming through preparation of communion to reading, leading prayers and leading worship.  Let’s find someone with a real heart for worship to help us grow in our worship together.

We all of us look out for each other, and care for each other.  It’s great to have a team of visitors headed up by our group of four who share the leadership of the visiting scheme.   At our recent visitors meeting and with the help of those leading that part of our church’s work we are thinking of re-shaping the pastoral care we can offer as a church.

Right at the heart of all we do is the work we do with children and young people – it’s great to have Carolyn as our Children’s worker – developing that work among children and young people.

We each of us need to be challenged to grow not just in our faith but as disciples of Christ – one of the key things that helps in that growth is the prayer we share together – let’s find someone to help us grow as disciples and in prayer.

And then we need to make sure it all happens – and there is a very real ministry in stewarding our finances from Roger, our Treasurer and from Sue as our Church Secretary.

So we look for people who are drawn to focus on one of those areas of church life who will serve the church in leading us forward and help each of us to play our part fully in the growth of the church.

Then we would elect a smaller group of deacons, who together with our Honorary Deacon, would help to ensure that we are going on the right lines, would be responsible for making appointments, and in the light of changes to charity law would ensure we are doing everything in a right and proper way as we are recognised as a charity.

[There you have it, as described further in Highbury News and in the colour supplement to the church magazine.  Over lunch an opportunity to talk through what we are thinking of doing, and then at the Annual Meeting in March an opportunity to decide whether this really is the way forward for the church.]

 So there you have it.  A new way of shaping the church here at Highbury, a new structure.

Which takes me back to what Paul had to say about the ‘structure’ of the church in Ephesians 2.

We look to Jesus the one who “proclaimed peace” for it is through him through Christ that we all have “access in one Spirit to the Father.” 

As we look to Christ that means that we are no longer strangers to each other or to God, but we have a real sense of belonging to the Kingdom of God as “citizens with all God’s people,  or put that another way we all belong to one Church family, as members of the household of God.

We must guard against change for change sake, or against doing anything that takes us away from our roots – instead we must be built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone, the one who holds the whole church together.

It is then in this passage that we come to what seem to me to be wonderful words that speak into our structure whatever form that takes.

In him, in Jesus Christ,  the whole structure is joined together
and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; a place where God’s presence is made real and let loose in the world.

Make no mistake about it, structures do matter.  And seeking to get our structures right really does make a difference – for when the whole structure really is joined together in Jesus then in him it is as if we are being built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.

It is our prayer that Highbury really can be a place

to share Christian friendship,
to explore Christian faith and
to enter into Christian mission
with Christ at the centre
and open to all

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