Sunday, June 30, 2013

I want to see Jesus

Today we were joined by Eric Burton's family and old friends of Highbury as we celebrated the 60th Anniversary of Eric's Ordination.

Eric had been minister at Highbury from 1966 to 1978 and today we celebrated more than 60 years of Christian ministry.

Call to Worship – John 12.20 - 21

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ 

As we gather to worship we that is our wish too ... to see Jesus.

Hymn:  For the beauty of the earth

Erich then gave an address for the children but addressing us all about the importance of prayer.  He told the story of Albrecht Durer, Franz and the Praying Hands and spoke of the way we need to listen as well as talk in our prayers.  How important prayer is.

Eric's daughter in law, Jill read  Vespers by AA Milne as his son Andrew helped him to tell the story.

Felicity then led a prayer ...

Speak to Him for he hears
Spirit with Spirit can meet
Closer is he than  breathing
And nearer than hands or feet

Father God who has told us to listen give us ears to hear your softest whisper.
The daily work and rush of life around us make such a noise that it is hard to be quiet and just think about you and Jesus.
Teach us to be more quiet and still and shut the door around us to all other thoughts, and make a deep silence in our hearts for Jesus Christ our Lord.

The prayer Eric has always valued at the end of the day is the last verse of Away in a Manger

Be near me, Lord Jesus
I ask you to stay close by me forever
and love me, I pray Bless all the dear children in Your tender care
And fit us for heaven, to live with You there.

Be still for the presence of the Lord

Diana and Dick then presented Eric with a certificate from the Congregational Federation marking 60 years of Ministry.  Diana spoke of the way Eric had shaped so many people's lives, not least in her own family.

Offering and Dedication
Bubbles, Splash, X-Stream and M’Ocean

I expressed my own appreciation of Eric, speaking of my first visits to Highbury more than 40 years ago with my then girl friend, Felicity and of the way Eric welcomed us and gave us so much encouragement ... I spoke of the sense of vision for the church he wanted to share more widely – first Easter Youth Conference – the Assembly, and the first Ministers’ conference I attended – all of these things are things that help to shape your ministry …

Eric speaks about his ministry ...

Erich has chosen one verse to focus on in this evening’s service – as he wants to share his story about why he came into the ministry.  It’s something we shared at our weekend away – how important it is to give an account of the hope that is within you when asked – and be prepared to do that.  – a Bible reading …

Bible Reading:  1 Peter 3:8-15

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. 10For
‘Those who desire life
   and desire to see good days,
let them keep their tongues from evil
   and their lips from speaking deceit;
11 let them turn away from evil and do good;
   let them seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
   and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’
13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you;16yet do it with gentleness and reverence. 

Those last two verses had been very much to the fore in the last three weeks at Highbury.  Jonathan Rowe at our weekend away had spoken of the importance of being prepared to explain why we are a Christian, why we go to church - to give an account of the hope that is within us.

This evening that's exactly what Eric will be doing as he is going to speak of what drew him into the ministry and why it has been so important.

On the table at the front we had a copy of the Bible that had been presented to Eric at his Ordination: when I opened it at this passage I found Eric had highlighted this very verse.

At Brunel Manor Ian and Kate had told their stories, another Iain had told his last week ... at Brunel Manor Gwyneth had told me something of her story.  It very much involved Eric in the work he did as Hospital Chaplain.  I asked if I could tell it and so this last week she told me the story again ...

Gwyneth’s story

Brought up C of E.  When Helen was to b e baptised I wanted her to be brought up in the Church where she was baptised and I was not happy with the C of E minister.  Ann Rowe suggested I come to Highbury and Helen was baptised.  She was 4f and a half when I joined Highbury.

I found a lady I knew said, “Eric’s my son-in-law.”

Because I had had several miscarriages I didn’t tell people I was pregnant..

But Mrs Darking I did tell – she was one of the few.

Imogen was 6 and a half weeks premature and though in Special Care baby unit as far as I was concerned, I didn’t really realise how ill she was.

It didn’t sink in.

As far as I was concerned she was born alive – she was going to live.

I wrote and told Mrs Darking although she was premature she had arrived safely.

Quite by chance the Senior Nurse in the  Special Care baby unit was a member of Highbury and I was her Church visitor.  (Mrs Turner)

She recognised my name and got in touch with Eric and told him the baby was desperately ill and not expected to survivie.

Eric came to see me in hospital and days after she ws born when it had sunk in how desperately ill she was.  I  had been in denial.  It was my 6th pregnancy and it had only just sunk in.

He came in and it was lovely.  He brought a baby book in which he had written in his green ink.  He was very kind.

He said I’ve had 2 notifications – a message from my mother in law and then from Mrs Turner and I just came to see how things were.  We had a talk, he said a prayer and gave me the book.  I was touched by that.

I do remember just before he came I went down to the special baby care unit – and tubes were in the baby – I asked what it was for – anti-biotics, came the reply and I burst into tears.

Imogen did survive and grew up to be an exceptional daughter – 12 years working with the forensic sciend department until it was closed down a little while ago and then a Masters in conservation and now working for the Environment agency – a Distinction – top student.

Contemporary with Graham Adams.

Wonderful to have so many children growing up together – then a big gap – and nice we have so many young people coming up through the ranks now.

One last thought – While I was in the hospital with Imogen, Deniis was out at work in GCHQ Helen was being looked after by a neighbour and good friend.  I thought she didn’t know what was going on at just 4 and a half.  But then the friend told me she said a prayer …

Dear  God, please don’t let our baby die

And Gwyneth commented – and he heard – wonderful importance of prayer.

We then listened to a woonderful track - the road is long, but I want to see Jesus.

The Road is Long - I want to see this man called Jesus

Intercessions by John Lewis and the Lord’s Prayer

Eric then presided at the Lord's Supper and our service finished with a wonderful hymn that Eric wanted us to finish with ...

O Jesus I have promised to serve thee to the end.

It was a most moving service and focused on the Jesus Eric promised to follow so long ago and is determined to follow to the end!  He wanted us to leave with the thought of Philip on another occasion asking Jesus if he could see God.  And Jesus' response?  You've seen me ... that's the best way to picture God!

In the evening service Eric set out to respond to a question that had been put to him by one of his grandchildren: why did you become a Christian minister?

Eric spoke of those difficult days of adolescence when he found himself asking all sorts of questions and felt as if his mind was going haywire.

He felt he wanted to know the truth of things, not least the truth of God.  But God somehow is such an enormous idea to get your mind around.  A wise minister who meant the world to Eric and whose books Eric still reads suggested he should look first to Jesus.

Eric went back to a story he had made a great deal of during the morning service.  When Philip asked Jesus to show him God.  And Jesus responded by saying to Philip, have I been with you so long and still you don't know me?

It was as if Jesus was inviting Philip to look to Jesus and to see God as he really is.

So it was Eric found himself drawn to Jesus as the key to the truth of the faith that was to be so important to him.

He then recalled going to Methodist Central Hall in London and hearing two of the great Christian thinkers of his youth.  Kagawa and Albert Schweitzer.  Kagawa was a reamarkable Christian thinker in Japan whose writings made their mark on many throughout the world during the thirties.  But it was not so much his 'thinking' as the way he put his faith into practice that so left its mark on Eric.  He wore the simplest of clothes and lived in the poorest parts of Japan and sought to live out his faith.

Albert Scwitzer, too, was a remarkable man.  A great theologian, one of the finest Bach scholars, an Organist, he trained as a medical doctor and went to Lamborene in Africa to work among people suffering from leprosy.  Another great thinker who left his mark by the witness of his life.

But it was Schweitzer's thinking that also left its mark on Eric.  Going to college, Eric found himself studying Schweitzer's ground breaking book - The Quest for the Historical Jesus.

This was something that really registered with Eric.

Jesus is someone who can be researched, investigated and the historical Jesus can become real.

And so for Eric it has been a life-time of getting to know this Jesus more and more.

He suggested a number of key texts from the Bible that mean the world to him.

The Psalms were important to Jesus, so much so words of the Psalms came to Jesus in his moments of agony on the cross.  The Psalms speak so much of the faith that has become so important to Eric.

Psalm 127 verse 1 - Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.

It's God who is at work in our lives.  It is on him that our faith depends.

John 15:5  I am the vine; you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

That's it for Eric.  Apart from Jesus we can do nothing - but with him ...!

Eric found that conversation between Pilate and Jesus so important too when Pilate wants to know who Jesus is.

Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ 38Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’

The truth that has meant the world to Jesus is the truth that is embodied in Jesus.

John 14:6:  I am the way, the truth and the life -

Life - and life in all its fullness, this is what the faith that is important to Eric has meant for him throughout his minitry, throughout his life.

This pursuit of the truth through Jesus and all he is has been so important to Eric.  He sensed that mystery of Christ summed up in another of the Psalms that has that wonderful phrase that is so evocative of the mystery of God ...

Deep calleth unto deep.

As he drew towards a close Eric found himself turning once again to Albert Schweitzer and the Quest for the Historical Jesus.

Eric felt in his ministry he had sought to echo the words of Schweitzer ...

"I will commit my will to him and let him direct my steps.

"He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside,  He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: "Follow thou me!" and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”

All in all it has been a wonderful day with Eric and a very special celebration of the 60th Anniversary of his Ordination.

One thing has left a lasting impression on me.

Time and again through the day, Eric has directed us to look to Jesus and find in him the truth of God that brings the love of God into our lives in the most difficult of times and then prompts us to share that love in the way we lead our lives.

If you haven't already do click on this link to a song that clearly has meant so much to Eric ...
The road is long and it can be tough - but I want to see this man called Jesus ... and I will reach my destination!

The Road is Long - I want to see this man called Jesus

Eric wanted us to finish with a hymn which for him says it all ...

1.               O Jesus, I have promised
  To serve Thee to the end;
Be Thou forever near me,
  My Master and my Friend;
I shall not fear the battle
  If Thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway
  If Thou wilt be my Guide.

2.               Oh, let me feel Thee near me;
  The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle,
  The tempting sounds I hear;
My foes are ever near me,
  Around me and within;
But, Jesus, draw Thou nearer,
  And shield my soul from sin.

3.               Oh, let me hear Thee speaking,
  In accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion,
  The murmurs of self-will;
Oh, speak to reassure me,
  To hasten, or control;
Oh, speak, and make me listen,
  Thou Guardian of my soul.

4.               O Jesus, Thou hast promised
  To all who follow Thee
That where Thou art in glory
  There shall Thy servant be;
And Jesus, I have promised
  To serve Thee to the end;
Oh, give me grace to follow,
  My Master and my Friend.

In our hymn book the hymn finished at that point.  There is, however, another verse.  Maybe that verse is the invitation Eric would want us to respond to.  My wife, Felicity, had led the prayers in our evening service and and began by paying tribute to Eric as an encourager for many people, not least for her when a student in Cardiff back at the beginning of the 70's.   She noticed how Eric had described his words in the evening service as 'an Exhortation'.  He had told me earlier he doesn't like the word 'sermon'!   She suggested that in ministry what counts is not simply the support of people, but the response people make in their own lives.   Maybe this final verse is the response Eric would want us to make as well ...

5.               Oh, let me see Thy footmarks,
  And in them plant mine own;
My hope to follow duly
  Is in Thy strength alone.
Oh, guide me, call me, draw me,
  Uphold me to the end;
And then to rest receive me,
  My Saviour and my Friend.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Need for Speed?

Our morning service was led by the team who do Hy-Speed, digital Scalextric racing on the second Saturday of the month.

After a time of praise and worship we had an awards ceremony for the season's racing for all those who made the podium finish at Hy-Speed.

It was then on to the Hy-Speed Quiz, won by the youngters over their Dads by 22 points to 3, though you couldn't help but feel that the questions were loaded in favour of the youngsters!

After another song, Richard, our Minister, invterviewed Iain, who manages to get the software working each time Hy-Speed meets.  He told us about his day job for the last twenty years as part of an international team producing computer games, among which Need for Speed is one of the greatest!  It came as quite a surprise to see a photo of a youthful Iain holding a BAFTA, he and the team had won.

Iain has been a regular member of Highbury church almost since moving to Cheltenham and he went on to tell us why his Christian faith is so important to him.  He reflecrted on the way over those 20 years computer gaming has become more and more realistic until it has reached the state of the art that's around now.  Yet, he knows just how much is put into creating each game from an enormous team of people all over the world.   Iain spoke of the way the reality of the greatest games doesn't begin to touch the reality of the incredible world all around us ... and when he looks at that world he cannot help but feel there's something behind that world, something in that world.  Iain told us of the way he sees the creator God in all things as he looks at the wonder of creation.

Iain went on to speak of the value of coming together in church to keep that faith alive and to focus it on Jesus and all that he means.

In the conversation,  Richard went on to reflect on the title of that famous game, Need for Speed.   He recalled coming across Kosuke Koyama, a Japanese Christian who wrote about the way Christianity impacts on people all over Asia.  On one occasion he spoke of Singapore and descibred it as a kind of 'worker ant' society with its incredible emphasis on super efficiency and speed.  Richard commented on the way Singapore has been held up recently in the context of its education system and in the context of its super efficiency as something to emulate.  For Kosuke Koyama the Christian message for Singapore was of a God who goes slowly - and reduces speed.  He speaks of a 'waterbuffalo theology' thinking of the slowness of the water buffalo working the paddy fields of rice and suggests that God is a God of slowness.  It's a fascinating theme that Kosuke Koyama elaborates at some length reflecting on the way God works with the wandering people of Israel over 40 years, through countless generations of Kings, through exile and then this slow working of God comes to a dead halt in the death of Christ.

Maybe we need a God who injects slowness into our lives, Richard suggested.  And that's something of his hope for the space that church offers in the middle of a busy week  - a pause in the presence of God that helps us then return to that world.

At this point Richard brought Sandra Dehn into the conversation.

Sandra recalled spending  a Gap Year after leaving school with us at Highbury as she did a Time for God year.   She shared in Hy-Jinks, the children's club that has now become Transformers, Hy-Tec, the Day Centre, and in our alternative worship on a  Saturday night, The Ocracy.  She also had been fanatical about Formula 1 wearing a Jacques Villeneuve jersey at church the day he won the championship that year!  

It was great then hearing how she has gone on to devote her life to working in the service of others at the moment working in a counselling organisation back home in  Stuttgart that's a Christian organisation supporting people of all ages at times of difficulty in their lives.

Sandra went on to speak of the importance of her Christian faith enabling her to get through all the ups and downs of her life.

Richard rounded off this part of the service inviting James and Hailey to stand with all their family.  James had been with us when Sandra was here as a young person, and with Hailey has been doing Christian work in Manchester, Watford and most rerently in Aberdeen.  But the family are on the move to Crediton where James is to pastor a Congregational Church there.

We wished them well and prayed God's blessing on James's new ministry.

Richard finished with the words Adrian had opened the service with, making them a prayer for us all and a special prayer for James and Hailey and the family.

Psalm 40:1-3

I waited patiently for the Lord's help;
then he listened to me and heard my cry.

This is the God who sometimes can be slow - wait patiently and his help will be there, he will listen and be the strength we need - something very much for James in that new ministry and for us all.

2 He pulled me out of a dangerous pit,

An appropriate image in a service built around Formula 1 and Scalextric ... though a pit stop was not what the Psalmist had in mind!

out of the deadly quicksand.
He set me safely on a rock
and made me secure.

That's the point of the message of the Psalmist - no matter the trouble that may come God will be there and he will secure us on the firm foundations of a rock - how much that is for James to treasure and for all of us to take to heart.

3 He taught me to sing a new song,
a song of praise to our God.

That's our prayer for James, who with Hailey has a wonderful music ministry, not least writing songs - but more than that it is a prayer for us all that we have a new song in our hearts and that sense of God's presence Iain had been talking about can be very much a part of us.

The conversations over, Ruth, one of our Hy-Tec leaders and part of the Hy-Speed team led us in prayers.  People had been given a red, an amber or a green disc and had been invited to write prayers asking God to stop things, to be with us as we seek guidance in others, and to thank God for the things he is doing in our lives

The service came to a close as we sang a statement of the faith that is important to us all ...

In Christ alone!

Hy-Speed is pausing for a while this month and will meet again at the end of the School holidays when we shall be having a Hy-Speed Cafe on Saturday mornign and then the new season starts again on the second Saturday in September.

Though, before then they will be joining Scalextric at Silverstone for what should be a great run out for the Hy-Speed team!!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Parable of the Shrewd Manager

It was great to welcome Kev Elliott back to Highbury.  It's twenty-three years since Kev and Jenny Elliott joined Highbury to set up a youth group, Hy-Tec.  It's good to know Hy-Tec is still going strong and to know that many of the young people who went through the youth group under Kev's leadership have gone on to make a very real contribution to the church and the kingdom.

Here's a You Tube version of Kev's sermon as he explores some big issues for us all today in a world of austerity and big financial contrasts.

 It's a part of a series Kev is putting together on Jesus that will go to make up a web site dedicated to making Jesus real in today's world.  You can find out more on his channel at YouTube ...

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