Sunday, April 28, 2013

Exploring Christian Faith

Highbury ... a place to
share Christian friendship
explore Christian faith and
enter into Christian mission
with Christ at the centre
and open to all

On our Gift Day and during a Day of Prayer we have had a Parade Service with our Brownies, Guides, Beavers, Cubs and Scouts and thinking about the vision at the heart of our church life.

Beginning with a response reading from the start of Psalm 136 and a clip from In Shadow of the Moon we celebrated the wonder of God in the wonder of his creation.

Then  Carolyn, our Children's Worker helped us to reflect on what it means to be a place where we explore Christian faith.

We then finished with another clip of interviews with those who first landed on the moon in which they spoke of the impact their exploration had made on them and their sense of a Creator God and: we walked on the moon for three days, said one, my walk with God is forever.  We then finished with extracts from John's Gospel focusing on Christ as the Word of God and as the truth that sets us free.

·        We’ve been revisiting our church mission statement in our services. There are 3 parts to it. Last week we looked at SHARING CHRISTIAN FRIENDSHIP. Today we move onto EXPLORING CHRISTIAN FAITH.
·        It’s no accident that we chose the word EXPLORE in this statement. We didn’t say LEARN Christian faith, RECITE the facts of the Christian faith, TAKE FOR GRANTED Christian faith, HOPE EVERYONE UNDERSTANDS Christian faith!
·        No, it’s a deliberate choice of words.
·        If you think of the word EXPLORER, maybe it conjures up a picture of someone with a hat, boots, a rucksack full of essential items…. (picture on screen and real rucksack full of items to show.)
·        EXPLORING makes me think of adventures, unknown territory, finding out for myself, asking questions and trying to find answers solutions.
·        EXPLORING is ongoing, not something that gets finished. We learn things on the way but our maps and solutions will be adapted and adjusted as we go.
·        As a teacher myself, I follow with interest the waves of the theories of learning. Many of you will be familiar with Dickens and his characters in ‘Hard Times’. Mr Gradgrind, the head teacher, ‘believes that all knowledge worth having must have a practical value, and to this end he trusts only in the rational intellect. Matters of the heart do not affect him; he dismisses imagination and entertainment as worthless, with no place in a child's education.’
·        Dickens thought that the schools in England were doing a poor job of educating the whole child. He complained that there was too much emphasis on cramming the children full of facts and figures.
Famously, he worried that if we look upon children simply as empty vessels waiting to be filled up with information, the results are going to be disappointing.
(Does this remind you of anyone?!)
The disastrous effect of such an educational system can be seen in the character of a little girl, Louisa. He describes her as having, " a light with nothing to rest upon, a fire with nothing to burn, a starved imagination keeping a life in itself somehow."
·        I read a letter from Michael Rosen, a children’s poet, to Michael Gove, the Education Secretary. Michael Rosen is passionate about immersing children in poetry in his creative workshops and sees marvellous results as they respond by joining in with his poetry and writing their own poems. He fears that learning by heart a few classics is not as inspiring or indeed challenging!
·        He also challenges us to observe how a baby learns, for example, about a ball. The baby touches, pats, rolls, licks, falls over the ball and in doing so absorbs many facts about balls and the way they behave!
·        Children are great EXPLORERS and to prove a point, I’m sure they will astound us in this activity. Around the church are various EXPLORATION STATIONS. You may choose where you go and the task is to EXPLORE. Adults may of course join in.

(Around the front of the church have bundles of sheets, chairs, pegs, hoops etc. On a few tables; some junk modelling, Duplo, playdough, other toys to explore maybe)

Give the children a chance to explore and build….

·        Comment on how they approached the activity. Interview some?
(Draw out that they will have looked at, handled the items, talked, asked questions, planned, experimented, improved plans, learned, achieved satisfaction, shared the results with others….)

·        I have discovered that there is an EXPLORE Activity badge in scouting.
The 4 elements are really interesting.

1.     Decide what or where to explore
2.     Think about what you expect to find
3.     Go on the exploration
4.     Tell others in the colony what you have discovered

(It says in the notes; All explorations should be undertaken under the supervision of a responsible adult!)

·        The suggested areas for exploration are the seashore, a forest or park, a woodland or a town. All very exciting.
·        We believe that exploring Christian faith is exciting too. Indeed, what could be more exciting than the idea that a loving God who created the universe has an interest in your life, is longing to make personal contact and even has plans for you!
·        Many people may decide that they would like to explore Christian faith, especially perhaps when they meet someone for whom this faith has made a difference.
Or maybe when life has become very difficult and questions loom all around;
What does it all mean? What’s the point? What are we here for?
·        We might begin to think about what we might expect to find. Sadly, we might not have a very good view of what this might lead to. We may have had an unhappy experience of church or of people professing a faith. Don’t let this put you off!
·        GO ON THE EXPLORATION! Nothing can happen until you do!
·        Tell others what you have discovered !

·        In the Brownie guidelines for the Faith Badge, it suggests;

1.     Regularly go to a place where you can learn about a faith. 
2.     Use songs, stories, drama, mime or music,
3.     Write a prayer or poem and use it at a suitable event.

·        In the Guides information it suggests;
1.     Undertake a service or responsibility in the life of your faith community.
2.     Find stories from your faith which help you understand how to behave and live in the world of today.
3.     Read a book, watch a DVD or hear about someone whose faith played an important part in the way they lived their life.

·        All these are great ways to EXPLORE CHRISTIAN FAITH.
·        You will think of many more.
·        While the Bible is a kind of map for the journey and learning the bible and learning songs give us great treasure, don’t get stuck in a rut with thinking you know all there is to know about the Christian faith. Don’t assume it’s all about reading and listening, it’s about trying for yourself and about doing too. Don’t assume there is a list of facts to know. Don’t assume everyone else knows the answers and you don’t!
·        GO EXPLORE! And don’t stop.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Christian Friendship

A lot of people have been doing a lot of work on behalf of all of us as a church at Highbury.

The last Sunday in April is a significant day in our church calendar.  It is our Gift Day.  All that we do from the upkeep of our property to funding Felicity and Me in ministry, Carolyn as children’s worker Bridget our caretaker, Grace our cleaner, our organists, heat, light. Publicity you name it is all down to what we as a church family give.  We don’t get any other funding.  We don’t do a lot of fundraising, though what we do is lots of fun.  We look to the giving we all share.  In a regular planned giving by standing order month by month, or through our envelope scheme week by week, The Responsibility Is Ours – and if you want more information about TRIO, our planned giving scheme have a word with Roger.

Then in the year we have two special appeals, at Harvest it is shared half for Highbury’s mission and half for a world mission project.  And the last Sunday of April, next Sunday, our Gift Day when we make a special appeal for giving that will focus on our mission project employing a children’s worker.

And there is a bonus.  Because if you pay tax you can gift aid your giving – and the church will receive 20% more than you have actually given.  It is a wonderful scheme.

And that’s one of the reasons why a lot of people have been doing a lot of work on behalf of all of us as a church at Highbury of late.  To qualify for gift aid we are rapidly reaching the point when we need to register as a charity. Last year we claimed all of £10,000  in Gift Aid.  To register as a charity we need a Governing Document approved by the Charity Commission and by Her Majesty’s Revenue and       And that’s what a group was working on on Friday afternoon.

The Deacons as Managing Trustees will have quite specific responsibilities.   To enable them to  fulfil that function there will be a smaller group of five deacons.  And then to focus on Worship, and Pastoral Care, and Mission and Outreach and Discipleship, to focus on Children’s work and on Youth work we are going to be looking for people with a real heart of each of those areas of work to help us dream dreams and shape our church for today and tomorrow.

Someone asked me how I felt about the process the other day?  I sense a buzz and an excitement about the prospect of developing my ministry into a team ministry and seeing a new vision for the church here at Highbury.

And so on Saturday the Deacons will be meeting together to see how the work is going on those governing documents and in particular to focus on the Ministry Leaders and what it is we shall be looking for.

It’s an important time – if we can get things as right as they can be what a difference that will make.  And that means our prayers are really important.

So remember the Deacons on Saturday in your prayers.  And then next Sunday alongside our Gift Day we are going to have a Day of Prayer.

Over to Mary to describe what it is we shall be sharing.

Mary Buchanan on Prayer

What is the vision?

Highbury – a place to
share  Christian friendship
explore Christian faith and
enter into Christian mission
with Christ at the centre
and open to all

Over the next few Sundays I don’t just want to explore what that vision means to me, more importantly I want to look into the Bible and explore what God’s word to us is through these particular words.

And so today I want to share with that vision that Highbury should be a place to share Christian friendship.

I have been recalling one of the worst moments in my experience of leading worship this last week.  It was in Shropshire on an occasion when I had asked one of the youngsters to do a reading in a family service with a big congregation – something like a festival service – I think a Harvest festival.

I asked her to come to the front to read.  She opened the Bible and began – and as she read I realised she was reading the wrong passage.  Sometimes I would just let it pass.  But this was a passage full of violence and harshness and apocalyptic happenings.  I had to stop her and I realised what had happened.  She was reading from Mark 13, an apocalyptic chapter.  I wanted her to read from Matthew 13 – the parable of the sower.  All she had to do was to turn from Mark to Matthew.

Usually I would have gone over to help her find the place.

I couldn’t do that.  She was holding the bible against her stomach and her fingers were doing the reading.  She was blind.  Her mother caught measles during her pregnancy, as a result this young girl was born blind.

I for one am pleased that the writer of that pernicious article that led to the epidemic we are seeing now in Swansea and could so easily emerge elsewhere and who had financial interests in a pharmaceutical company producing single vaccines has been struck off the medical register.  The science leaves no room for doubt MMR is of vital importance for everyone – it’s not too late for any children to have it at any age.  The evidence of that awful day in my earlier church leaves me in no doubt as to the seriousness of measles.  The wonderful thing that day was that our youngster simply stopped, found Matthew 13 and continued reading a passage she had not prepared before hand absolutely beautifully.

That’s not the only epidemic at the moment.   On Saturday, 13th April there was an article about another epidemic that is just as rife, though not so recognised.

It begins, “A loneliness epidemic is harming the health of people over 50 – and campaigners say isolation is worse than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Research by the Office for National Statistics has revealed that 34 per cent of people aged between 52 and 59 feel lonely often or some of the time.

46 per cent of people over 80 who were surveyed said they feel lonely.

Of the people aged 60 to 69 questioned, 29 per cent said they felt isolated, while 32 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 said the same.

We lose at our peril one of the simplest things church is about.


Church is a place where people of all ages, of all backgrounds can find not just a welcome but also a friendship.   They may seem incidental, but actually they are vital – Café, the monthly lunch, the monthly Friendship group, the lunches Richard organises.

Friendship is at the heart of our pastoral care – a friendly face to call.  Simple.  Ordinary.  But so vital.

Maybe for our outreach – I remember when we came to Highbury two elderly ladies used to come with Arthur – it was I think Linda who had been part of a befriending service and simply called on them to be friendly – and then they wanted to come to church.  And then Arthur gave them a lift.  Richard Sharpe’s son Jeremy was introducing us to the possibility of being part of something that would reach out and offer a friendship service – time to give to someone lonely.

Highbury, a place to share Christian friendship.

I think then there’s more to it than that.

Today we meet around the table.  This is when we remember not just what happened when Jesus broke bread and shared the cup.  We also remember the words he shared.  And among the finest of those words are some wonderful words about friendship.

John 15:12-17

That’s remarkable – Jesus suggests he is our friend, we are his friends as we if have love for one another … and that it is as we have that kind of love for one another that people will know we are his disciples.

So … a conversation I had with Carolyn prompted me to think, is there something special about Christian friendship?   Is there an extra dimension in the common ground we stand on the common experiences we have, the values we share?  Do we have a shared understanding about the way we look at life and its problems that draws us together as friends?

Carolyn then went on to suggest a number of things that make Christian friendship Christian.

As Christians when we come together in friendship we share a gratitude to God and a very real sense there is more to life than what we see.  We share an understanding that we do not control our lives.

That friendship isn’t limited to one geographical place – if Highbury is a place to share Christian friendship then the friendship we share here will be something that we share wherever we find a church – you are on a wavelength – It is as if there is an element of trust even when you have only just met.  You’ll find it when you visit another church in this country or on the other side of the world.  I well remember when Marion and Ron Taylor went to visit his family in Australia they took a whole pile of cards from Highbury and wherever they went they made a point of going to church on Sunday, giving greetings from Highbury and found an immediate friendship wherever they went.

Sharing Christian friendship means having a desire to learn from each other’s experience and knowledge of God – it involves passing on spiritual wisdom.   Sharing Christian friendship means we can pray together – maybe seeing a third person in that friendship.

Maybe the heart of Christian friendship involves being friends in the way Jesus is friends with us.  He is friends with us as he loves and forgives us – we are friends with him and share in Christian friendship as we mirror that love and forgive each other.

Christian friendship gives us so much comfort.

However, as Christians we also read in the bible that we are here for each other partly to help each other grow. We are to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21 ‘Submit to one another because of your reverence for Christ.’) and be accountable (James 5:16 ‘So then, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you will be healed.’) to each other. We can rebuke one another without falling out of relationship.
In Proverbs we read that a real friend is grateful for criticism! Prov 28:23 ‘Correct someone and afterwards he will appreciate it more than flattery.’
Prov 27 : 17 ‘People learn from one another, just as iron sharpens iron.’

Carolyn suggested that we can almost think of three types of Christian Friendship:

  • Mentor friendship   We give to others by offering support, guidance.   That’s good …  but we must avoid the danger of getting stuck in a one-sided role only giving out our friendship.  There will be times when we are vulnerable, and in humility we need to seek friendship as someone else mentors us.  And so there is then

  • Mentee friendship.  That’s when we receive support and guidance.  That too is necessary.  But again the danger is we always feel we are on the receiving end.  We mustn’t stay in that place either.  experience of being vulnerable and receiving is part of our experience as we grow in wisdom and maybe catch that third dimension of friendship …

  • Mutual friendship – maybe that’s the spirit of true Christian friendship, the kind of Christian friendship we seek to celebrate here at Highbury.  The kind of Christian friendship that involves humility and mutual vulnerability.  The kind of Christian friendship that involves accountability and submission.

Have that kind of friendship and maybe the same mind will be in us that was in Christ Jesus when he said,

This is my commandment that you love one another.  You are my friends if you do what I command you

Do that and Highbury will be a place to share Christian friendship with Christ at the centre and open to all.

A Place to Share Christian Friendship

A listening ear
An open heart
A compassionate concern
A willing commitment
That’s what friendship takes
That’s what Jesus offers

Help us, Lord Jesus,
to be friends with each other
in a friendship
with Christ at the centre
that’s open to all

John 15:12-17

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Christ is risen! The Warrant for our Christian Belief

That’s a battered old bible, someone commented to me the other day as I was about to lead the lunch-time prayers at St Mary’s for Cheltenham.  If you are in town at lunch time I do commend them. 12-30 to 12-45 every day.  It’s good to come aside for a few moments and share in a planned prayer for the town.

I told the story of my bible.  How I wanted a pocket bible for my visit to the Holy Land.  How it came back from Amazon or wherever an odd size .. but fitted perfectly into my pocket.  And then I showed the ears of corn I had picked in the field we had walked through in silent prayer as we walked from the hill of the Beatitudes down towards the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  I did the modern day version of pressing flowers and put them through a laminator when I got back and they are not just a lovely reminder of that walk in prayer but also a powerful reminder of so many of those occasions when Jesus spoke of seeds and sowing, of reaping and harvesting.  Of gleaning too.

It’s not corn, said my new-found friend, who seemed to know what he was talking about.  I don’t think it’s barley either.  I was a bit shame faced.  I wasn’t sure.   It’s some kind of grain, anyway I replied and kept to my story.

As we walked through that field the leader of our party led us to a field where under a tree we sat and someone read to us the Beatitudes.  The only words that punctuated the silence of that 40 minute walk.  It was powerful stuff.  Moving to sit in the field and listen.

We moved from that place and went a little off the path.

We stood under some olive trees and there was a standing stone, a memorial stone.  A priest who had been passionate about mission.  Fr Bagill Pixner.  From that spot it was as if you were looking straight down the length of the Sea of Galilee – with mountains rising up to East and to West – and beyond you knew you were looking straight down the Jordan valley towards Jerusalem.  Look to the right and there was a mountain pass that took what in Jesus day was the major route linking the far east with the Mediterranean and the Roman world.  Spices and silks travelled that way – it pointed to the world.

It was here or hereabouts for it could be nowhere else that Jesus had met with his disciples in Galilee and given them that great commission:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go  therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

Our guide broke the silence again, and told us of that priest’s passion for mission.

When we leave this place, he said, we do not go away as passive spectators, but to teach, proclaim and heal actively.

Look carefully at the rock and it had a design on it.

At the centre a cross.

In an arc over the cross eleven marks in the stone.  They represented the 11 apostles who heard those words on that mountain top so long ago.

But in a balancing arc under the cross were five ‘c’s’  - The letter ‘c’ five times over.

What did that represent?

The note I made in my journal syas it all.

The five ‘c’s’ remind us of the anonymous ones we never know.

How important those anonymous ones are.  There story is not told but it is hinted at in one of the great passages of resurrection for this Easter tide in 1  Corinthians 15.

At the end of his letter, Paul urges his readers in Corinth to hold fast the good news.  The words he used are wonderful.

Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand,through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.

That’s a wonderful statement of the essence of the Gospel of Christ, the Good news at the heart of our faith.

The Good news is something proclaimed to you.   It is something you receive and take into your heart so that it becomes a part of you.  It is something in which you also stand – the Gospel, the Good news becomes the bedrock you stand on, it is the thing you take a stand on.  Through which you are being saved – I love that.

There’s the wonderful story of the guy in a train who is asked by an overzealous evangelist, Brother are you saved, to which he replied yes and no.  When asked to elaborate he explained,  Yes I have been saved – all that Christ has done for me he has done for me – and it is a wonderful thought.  No, for it is still going on … I am still in the process of being saved.  It’s happening each day of my life.  Salvation is a process that is ng on as that healing touch of Christ comes up on us.  And no, not yet, for the final glory will only be fulfilled the other side of dying.

 Then Paul comes to sum up the heart of this Good news.  What makes it good news.

He uses a form of words he also uses in introducing the Lord’s supper.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: 

It’s a wonderful form of words: paul has received this from those who have gone before and he has handed it on. This is what we are all called to do.  We are to receive the Good news and then hand it on.

That comes one of those wonderful statements of faith.

The New Testament does not contain a carefully prhased, well worked out, comprehensive creed.  But time and again there are passages which sum up the beliefs of those who have received the good news and have passed it on.  This is one of those occasions.

 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 

Crucified, dead and buried and on the third day he rose again from the dead.

You cannot prove the resurrection.  But you sense that those who wrote about it drew on the testimony of those who had seen.  It is as we were explring this morning, in the words of the Christian Philosopher Alvin Plantinga, warranted Christian belief.  What are the grounds for our believing that Christ was raised from the dead?

he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 

Those are the five c’s.  These are people who had seen the risen Christ.  The way Paul writes you sense that these were people he had met, or at least people he knew about.  When he says in this letter – most of whom are still alive it is as if he is saying to the first recipients of the letter – and if you want to check out what I am saying you can track down one or other of these people – Cephas, Peter many would know.  James also and the apostles.  But there were also the five hundred anonymous ones.  But their testimony was also so important.

I love the way in this wonderful statement of resurrection 500 nameless people also count.  They too are part of the story.  Not big names.  Not important people.  Simply people who witnessed the risen Christ and could bear witness to what they had seen.

These are the grounds of our believing says Paul.

One more thing Paul appeals to.

Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

This is an allusion to the experience paul had on the Damascus road.  Maybe this is the last of the resurrection appearances of Christ and we should read these words in that way.

Maybe it’s a pointer to something we can each echo as well.  What are the grounds for our believing in the resurrection.  The testimony of those who saw and passed the Good news on.

But also our own sense that this is real in our hearts.   The cry that goes up at Easter is not Christ was raised alleluia.  It is Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.  He lives.  I know that my redeemer lives.

It is personal testimony to the reality of the risen Christ deep in our hearts that counts.

Paul spends the rest of the chapter showing just how vital this resurrection is as it shapes not only the view we have of the future but the way we see life here and now as ell.

Maybe it’s why I so love those grains of wheat perchance of some other grain in the back of my Bible.  After all these are the words that are among my favourite that speak so powerfully of what is beyond death. Not life immortal, but wonderful resurrection to a new life – and what is the analogy that Paul uses .. back to that grain of wheat perchance some other grain.

 But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 
For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ 
‘Where, O death, is your victory?
   Where, O death, is your sting?’ 
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  A wonderful memorial stone.

A wonderful walk in silence.

When we leave this place we do not go away as passive spectators, but to teach, proclaim and heal actively.

Maybe that’s the challenge for us to take to heart as we heed the final words of 1 Corinthians 15.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain. 

One Lord, Many Gifts, One Faith

It’s good to give credit where credit is due.

And they don’t seem to do that on TV any more.

Watch a classic repeat, be it Dad’s Army, the Morecambe and Wise Show or Last of the Summer Wine you get to the end and the credits appear written in big print and scrolling down the screen slowly enough for you to read each one.

Watch a new TV programme and you get to the end only to find the credits are in such small writing they cannot be read, they seem to scroll up the screen at twice the speed it’s possible to read them at and as if to rub salt into a sore wound they are often condensed into a third of the screen as a trailer for the next programme takes pride of place.

Paul was careful to give credit where credit was due.

I suspect, however, that we are influenced to such an extent by those modern TV producers that we almost subconsciously skim through the credits that often appear at the end of a letter.

After all, they often contain long un-pronouncable names and are little more than personal comments.

We know next to nothing about any of the people named.  They don’t have any memorable stories that have been recorded.  We skim over them.

But as far as Paul was concerned they mattered.  They counted.

Today I want to celebrate the bit players in one small out of the way church.    The ones you don’t really notice.  What Paul does in this letter is to give each of them a particular credit.  He describes each one.

Take them all together and it gives you a wonderful snapshot of the great variety of gifts and giftings there were in this one particular church.

It’s the kind of variety you will find in any church.

It’s the kind of variety you find in our church.

Reading:  Colossians 4:7-18

 Tychicus will tell you all the news about me; he is a beloved brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow-servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts; he is coming with Onesimus, the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you about everything here.

 Aristarchus my fellow-prisoner greets you, as does Mark the cousin of Barnabas, concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him. And Jesus who is called Justus greets you. These are the only ones of the circumcision among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you. He is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in everything that God wills. For I testify for him that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas greet you. Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, ‘See that you complete the task that you have received in the Lord.’ 
 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

I want to stop at each one and then ask the question – are you this person to someone in this church?  Is someone in this church this person to you?

Beloved brother.  Church is about family.  It is not for families – it is family for us who belong.  In a sense we are brothers and sisters to each other.  But some people stand out.  Are you ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ to someone who needs the care you can share?  Is there someone who is ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ to you.  We need that kind of support from time to time.  How can we build up that sense of belonging to one family where we are brother and sister to each other?

I was in two minds which translation to go with in the next one.  The Good News Bible has ‘faithful worker’.  How important it is to have ‘workers’ in a church family.  Those who hold it together behind the scenes.  What area of the church are we called to be a ‘faithful worker’ in?  Behind the scenes – making it happen.  The NRSV has a different translation.  ‘faithful minister’.  I like that.  It’s what I have been called to.  And I believe it to be a calling that’s important in the church.  And we should be open to recognising that calling in one another – as Mark sensed his calling and we recognised it in him.  Is there anyone among in our church we sense might have a calling to that role as faithful Minister.   Even with that translation, however, there’s something more to be said.  It was good to hear Michael Green, at 80 still as fresh as ever – one of those who has over the years prompted the church to think about evangelism and what it means to be church.  He reminded us that a church cannot look to one person to be its minister and leave that work to that person.  Each of us who belongs in a church can minister to others in one way or another.  We all share that one calling to minister to each other and it is as we release everyone’s ministries that we can be the church God calls us to be.

The key to all life in church is the key of service.  The willingness to serve.  Jesus came to serve and he called us to serve too.   There is one spirit  that binds us together it is the spirit of service.  How good to be regarded as ‘fellow-servant’.  Who is it we are called to be a servant to?  To whom can we give thanks for the service they have given us.

Tychicus was someone special to Paul, a beloved brother, a faithful minister, a fellow-servant.

Next to be named is Onesimus.  When Paul speaks of him as the faithful and beloved brother that means something even more powerful.   Michael Green again, spoke of the uniqueness of the Church.  It is the one insitituion where one who has nothing can sit alongside one who  has everything and be on completely equal terms.  Onesimus was a slave, worse, he was a runaway slave.  He had become very much of a help to Paul in prison, so much so that he lived up to the meaning of his name – Onesimus means useful.  And Paul thought of him as useful by name and useful by nature.  The church in Colossae met in the home of Philemon, a well-to do householder.  As far as paul was concerned Onesimus was to be welcomed back as a member of the family – very telling a faithful and beloved brother.  That’s earth shattering stuff in the hierarhcical structures of Roman society.   Is church for us a circle of like-minded, similarly placed, reasonably well –to do people.  Or is church truly open to all where we don’t mind who we sit next to or who sits next to us?  That is a fundamental question for us all to share.

On one occasion Paul speaks of the need to laugh with those who laught and to weep with those who weep.  It is of the essence of Church that we share each other’s burdens and ocme alongside each other in our needs.  That’s what made Aristarchus specail for Paul.  He had gone through what Paul was going through and was a fellow-prisioner.   Is there someone in the church family who has been through what we are going through and can therefore be a special help to us?  Have we been through what someone in the church family is going through and so be a special help to them?

The stories of Mark and Barnabas are told elsewhere and we will come back to them some time.  Jesus who is called Justus is not someone we know anything else about.  But they are all Jewish and that is important to Paul – and he speaks of them as ‘co-workers for the kingdom of God’.

That’s a wonderful tribute Paul pays.  Co-workers – is something very powerful – it is not a boss / employee relationship.  Paul’s relationship with the likes of these people is not as one who is superior to ones who are underlings.  They are all co-workers for the kingdom of God.  Is that a calling for us all? Co-workers, working collectively, co-operatively, for God’s rule, God’s kindome to come on earth as it is in heaven, for God’s will for good for justice for peace for mercy to be done on earth as it is  in heaven?

It is not so much that we are all brothers and sisters to one another, co-workers together in camaraderie.  It is not so much that we are servants together and servants of one another.

The key thing maybe for us all to realise is that we are called to be a servant of Chrsit Jesus.   We are part of his company of workers, his company of those who serve.

To serve another person is to serve Jesus Christ and that is the calling we share here with Epaphras.

Paul speaks of Luke as the beloved physician – Luke the travelling companion of Paul who is responsible for Luke and for Acts.  A beloved physician.    There’s a sense in which we are all called to share in prayer for healing.  Maybe something else for us to explore further together.  Maybe there are those with a special gift for healing – maybe a gift they use through the skills of medicine and care in a hospital setting.  It maybe in the care we share and the healing we releasee with each other.

The last to be named is descibed at the beginning of the personal letter that accompanies the letter to the Colossians – the letter to the person who hosted that church, to Philemon.  Archippus – is descibed there as a fellow-soldier.  There are times when we can be up against it.  There is a very real sense that there are powers of darkness around.  You feel that at some moments in hisory, at some moments in your own life.  There is a sense in which we are involved in a spiritaul battle.  And are called to be fellow-soldiers in that battle.  Some calling to share

One Lord, Many Gifts, One Faith

One family - beloved brother
One calling - faithful minister
One service - fellow-servant
One loyalty - faithful brother
One love - beloved brother
One sacrifice - fellow-prisoner
One job - co-workers for the kingdom
One Lord - servant of Christ Jesus
One healing - beloved physician
One battle - fellow-soldier

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Let loose in the world - the end is where we start from

There was a time when the Sunday after  Easter was known as Low Sunday.  Low, perhaps, because it was an anti-climax after the great celebrations of Easter.  A moment to come back down to earth.

I’m not sure I like that.  Easter isn’t something you build up to for it to be all over.   Easter isn’t something that happens and then it’s all over.  I think Easter is but the beginning.

In his most moving account of the crucifixion Nikos Kazantzakis hints at Easter in the most moving of ways.

“He uttered a triumphant cry: IT IS ACCOMPLISHED!

“And it was as though he had said:  Everything has begun.”

John Masefield in his play, The Trial of Jesus has Procula, the wife of Pilate ask the centurion a telling question.

PROCULA:        Do you think he is dead?
LONGINUS:       No, lady, I don’t.
PROCULA:        Then where is he?
LONGINUS:       Let loose in the world, lady, where neither Roman nor Jew
can stop his truth. Let loose in the world

Best of all is TS Eliot in the Four Quartets

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning
The end is where we start from.

That’s how I want to see Easter – not as an event that rounds everything up.  But as something momentous that opens up a whole new world of wonderful possibility.

Not low Sunday.  The lectionary used to think of it another way and call it, the First Sunday  After Easter.

A bit better.  But still it sees Easter as the culmination an event that is now passed – and this is the first Sunday after Easter.

A more recent lectionary came up with a different way again of describing today.  Not the first Sunday after Easter, but the second Sunday of Easter.

On the front of our Orders of Service I have used prayers written by Angela Ashwin extensively.  I am using a devotional book of hers in my daily prayers this year Woven into Prayer.  She describes it as a flexible pattern of prayer through the Christian year.

She explains why she is drawn to that description of Easter …

“Whereas the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and the 1980 Alternative Service Book call the first Sunday after Easter just that, the 1997 publication, The Christian Year: Calendar, Lectionary and Collects (using the Ecumenical Revised Common Lectionary) calls this day ‘The Second Sunday of Easter’.  This is to remind us that we continue to celebrate Christ’s resurrection well after Easter Day itself, and that we are still in Eastertide, rather than following on after it and wondering what new themes to focus on.”

I rather like that.

In this Easter time, I am drawn to focusing on some of those who are named in the Easter story and thinking of them as Easter people.  But as I do that I want to think of us as called to be Easter people.

He is simply named as one of seven fishermen disciples who push out on to the Sea of Galilee fishing one night in this very period.  They catch nothing, until a stranger on the shore urges them to cast the net to the right side of the boat.  When they do, they catch a remarkable number of fish, 153 in total … and they recognise in that stranger, the risen Lord Jesus – It is the Lord!

And the named person on that boat I want to think of this evening … Nathanael.

My invitation is for us to see ourselves in Nathanael.

He is simply one of the seven – he has no startling role to play, he is not a key figure, his words are not recorded, what he does particularly we do not learn.  He is simply there.   But he is known by name.

We may be simply one of the crowd, one of the congregation – we may feel we are not particularly noticed, we do not have something dramatic to do, we are simply there.  But we each of us have an importance – it is important that we are there.  We do count.  We are known by name.

The name we each have is important.  And God knows each of us by name.

Nathanael’s name has a meaning.  It is that kind of special meaning that makes it a special name.  I found it moving to watch the acceptance of the new Pope as he came out on the balcony, invited the people to bless him in silent prayer before he blessed them, and bent over, as it were, to receive their prayers and their blessing.  And the name he chose was filled with significance.  The first pope in, was it 600 years, to come up with a new name.  Francis.  A statement of intent – of humility, of service, of affirmation of the environment, of concern for the poor.  So much in a name, so swiftly and simply chosen.

If we were to be another Francis we would be committing ourselves to that care of the world of God’s creation, that commitment to the poor, that humility.

My invitation this evening is for a moment to adopt the name of Nathanael.  It simply means ‘Gift of God’.  I now want us each to think of ourselves as ‘a Nathanael’, as a ‘Gift of God’.

I have on my shelves at home a book that was popular in Victorian times, Samuel Smiles in his book Self-Help told the stories of great men, mostly men, who had as it were pulled themselves up by the bootstraps and were self-made men.  Such an ideal is often held up.  But this evening the invitation is for us to think of ourselves not as self-made men, or self-made women.  But as the gift of God.

We are who we are, we are what we are, simply by the Grace of God.  We are a gift of God.  All we have, the families we have, the care, the love – it is all a gift of God.  To fill our hearts with thanks.   Good to see ourselves as ‘a gift of God and to give God our thanks.

If John’s Gospel comes to an end that is but the beginning of wonderful new possibilities in the company of this Nathanael, the Gospel also opens in his company too.  There is an intriguing symmetry about the Gospel.

John 1 opens leaving us in no doubt as to the identify of the One at the centre of the Gospel story – he is nothing less than the Word of God, the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth – to see him is to see the very glory of God.

Then as Jesus is introduced a number of people identify exactly who he is – John the Baptist sees in him the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Andrew and, is it the beloved disciple, see in him a great Teacher. They are convinced they have found the one who is the Messiah, the Anointed one.

Philip points to Jesus as the one about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus.  But for Philip this Jesus is essentially an ordinary person, one of us, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.

Then comes Nathanael.

I invite you to see yourself in Nathanael.

He is quite the sceptic.  There’s almost a sneer in his voice.  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

I think that gives us permission.  Permission to express our doubts. To off load our questioning.  Even to be open about our scepticism.   Do you have doubts, questions … be open about them.  Is there a scepticism about his faith we share?  Be honest about it.  It’s a year of anniversaries – and this year sees the fiftieth anniversary of a book by Bishop JAT Robinson, the Bishop of Woolwich, Honest to God.   At its heart it was a plea for us as Christians to be honest in our faith.  To be as Nathanael – and open about our questioning.

Philip says simply to Nathanael in response, “Come and see”.  And Nathanael goes to see for himself.

Let’s be ready to pursue our enquiry – and come and see.  There’s a lot we can be critical of in the Christian Religion – in the church – in the organisation.  The invitation that Nathanael accepted was to come and see Jesus.  The best antidote to that questioning scepticism that can sometimes get the better of ourselves is to go beyond the trappings of the religion that is Christianity, even more the church and its organisations and to come and see Jesus.

There then comes an intriguing exchange.

When Jesus saw Nathaneael coming towards him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite, in whom there is no deceit.”  In whom there is no guile.

The invitation this evening is to be a Nathanael.  Can it be said of us that there is no deceit, no guile within our hearts.   Something to strive for.  Something to aspire after.  Something to draw on maybe as a gift from God.

Nathanael then asks Jesus a question, “Where did you come to know me?”

What I pick up from that question is the willingness of Nathanael to question, to probe, to enquire.  Tennyson, when overwhelmed with grief at the death of one of his closest friends, said,

There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in all the creeds …

Nathanael  has a spirit of enquiry that we would do well to take to heart.

If for TS Eliot the end is to make a beginning and the end is where we start from, I love the way he goes on to speak of the importance of questioning, of exploring

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we stared
And know the place for the first time.

Then comes a wonderful moment when Nathanael responds … at first sight it seems to say it all.  But this is but the beginning of Nathanael’s pilgrimage of faith.

Nathanael replies,

Rabbi, teacher, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!

This is wonderful faith.

Rabbi – let’s look to Jesus as the teacher and heed his teaching.

You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!

Let’s look to Jesus as the King of Kings the one who demands our allegiance – the one to follow.

One of the commentators at this point suggests that still Nathanael’s vision is limited.  He is the Israelite – and as a true Israelite he sees in Jesus the one his people had been expecting.

Jesus then opens up his vision with the climax to the whole of this opening of John’s Gospel.

You will see greater things than these … and Jesus speaks of the way he will be the one to span heaven and earth, bringing heaven to earth and raising earth to heaven.  A wonderful vision for all humanity.

Nathanael is not named again – but he is there as Jesus teaches.  He is there as Jesus heals.  He is there in that last week.  He is there at the Supper.  He is there at the cross.  He is there in the Upper Room.

And now he is named once more.

There in the boat.

Prepared to venture out,  to take a risk, to respond to the suggestion of a stranger.

He meets with Jesus.

And it is but the beginning of something that will be going on.

It was as though …everything has begun

The invitation is there for us to in our mind’s eye accompany Jesus on his travels.  Go with him to the table, beyond to the cross, and share in resurrection.

We too, like Nathanael, can come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and more than that through believing we too may have life in his name.

Through our lives this Jesus is let loose in the world.

This is the wonderful thing we celebrate in this Easter period – as Easter people.

to make an end is to make a beginning
The end is where we start from.

And all shall be well
And all manner of things shall be well.

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