Sunday, July 28, 2013

Four Shafts of Light Woven into Prayer

Four Shafts of Light Woven into Prayer
2 Corinthians 3:17 – 4:15
For Alan and Muriel
28th July 2013

The year we moved to Cheltenham and the South West Midlands Area of the Congregational Federation was the year Alan and Muriel Proctor moved to North Wraxall and our Area.  Over the years it has been good to share in fellowship and a very real sense of support in the ups and downs of ministry.  Today it was a very real privilege to be invited to preach at a service marking Alan's retirement from Ministry and to share that service with Barbara Bridges, Minister of our Moreton in Marsh Congregational Church and until recently our Area  Churches' Support Worker.   Sad to say North Wraxall Church is almost literally in the middle of nowhere surrounded as it is by fields.  They have taken the decision to close and so this service not only marked the retirement of Alan and Muriel but also the closure of the Church.  There were very many mixed feelings as we celebrated the past and the present and put the future very much into God's hands.

I didn’t know what reading to choose.  Barbara needed to know.  My mind was a blank.  And then on Wednesday evening Felicity and I went to a service that was welcoming what seemed a very young man as an Associate Minister in Cheltenham’s central Anglican churches – the Minster and St Matthew’s and St Luke’s.  The Bishop of Gloucester began his sermon by saying that for fear at such services he would simply preach on his favourite passages of the Bible he had chosen the readings for the next Day, Thursday, the Feast of St James.

First thing Thursday morning I turned to the book of devotions that I am using this year, a lovely pattern of daily prayer by Angela Ashwin with a title I want to come back to, Woven into Prayer.  And the verse the morning’s prayers began with was 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled faces beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree to another; this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

What a wonderful text for today.  I looked up the passage and felt what a wonderful passage to weave into our thoughts in such a different place at such a different time and yet a service that has the same presence, the same Spirit at its heart and I believe the same blessing too.

I have in the past done some weaving on a table loom with four shafts.

There are four thoughts I want to weave into our minds and into our prayers today an d hold on to for the future – I’ld like to think of them as Four Shafts of Light Woven into Prayer.

And the first Shaft of Light is in that verse.   All of us are changing.  That young associate vicar will change as his young family grows older – our lives are constantly changing – it seems but yesterday that Alan and Muriel arrived here just as we were arriving in Cheltenham.  Great moments we have shared, exploring faith, journeying in faith, in Tiley Towers, around the fire in the Manse – occasional meetings, but meetings rich with blessing.  Then my youngsters were 5 and 8, now Felicity and I are grandparents.  It was great sharing in that Golden Wedding celebration – we have been together 58 years.  Change happens.  In those changes a wonderful thought, a wonderful promise that we are all in the process of being transformed into the likeness of Christ – the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Something follows from that as chapter 4 opens … and it brings me to the second shaft of light as we weave our thoughts together into prayer today.

Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.

That’s a wonderful thought to hold on to – we’ve not met up that often, but when we have we have shared ups and downs of faith together.  Alan and Muriel share with us all a wisdom in ministry, a love and a rich musical gifting as well.  I think these next few verses sum up the kind of ministry that  Alan and Muriel have shared together over the years and in this place.

 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practise cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

A living faith is a faith that grapples with the world, that grapples with the word of God – and it’s a living faith we share – one that invites questioning that’s hones – that seeks the truth and touches the conscience.

And what is at the heart of this faith that’s so precious we celebrate today?

As we celebrate Alan and Muriel’s ministry Paul’s words are so true …

For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.
We have had a lot of fun at meetings we have shared.  Alan was President of our Area for some years and would have words of encouragement always with a smile.

For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

How wonderful this is in a day when we can celebrate that ministry.

But … and there is always a ‘but’ – and the but can sometimes be brutal.

But … there’s an elephant in the room.  Our thoughts and prayers are very much with Alan and Muriel for their health – times of uncertainty and difficulty – coming to the point at which this place closes.

I think what Paul goes on to reflect on is so important for us to take to heart today as well.  It reminds us of the realities, the stark realities that we all have to face.

But, says Paul, we have this treasure in clay jars,

And clay jars don’t last forever.  We don’t last forever.  Our bodies let us down.  Church buildlings don’t last for ever – they have their time.  A stark reality.

And in the face of that reality a wonderful insight from Paul …

we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

This is the faith to hold on to – this is the faith professed starting out in ministry, this is the faith professed this day no less …

But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—‘I believed, and so I spoke’—we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

A table loom with four shafts is capable of weaving cloth in the most beautiful of patterns – Four Shafts of Light Woven into Prayer…

  1. The first Shaft of Light woven into prayer  is that we are all being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another

  1. The second Shaft of Light is that we do not proclaim ourselves, but we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

  1. The third Shaft of Light Woven into prayer  is that we have this treasure in clay jars so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God.

And one shaft of light remains.

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

That’s the vision to hold on to.

When you weave those four shafts are raised and lowered and the shuttle flies to and fro and the pattern forms in the cloth … but then it disappears.  As you wind the cloth on the roller it disappears from sight.   The full splendour of the pattern you have planned is not apparent until you come to the end of your cloth – you hem the ends and you have to cut it off from the loom – only then is the pattern apparent.

Not till the loom of time is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why
The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver’s skilful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern he has planned.

A Great Big God and a Pale Blue Dot

I wish I had known it was happening.

If only I had, I could have shown you my picture.

But I didn’t and so I can’t.

But at least 20,000 people knew it was happening … and they were there waving.

And this is their picture.

Taken from the Cassini spacecraft on Thursday from the other side of Saturn, looking beyond  Saturn’s rings to a small blue dot – and that is planet earth!

And if only I had known to go out into the garden at 9-30 on Thursday evening and look towards Saturn that could have been me!!!  I would have been there waving.

The God I believe in is a great big God – to quote the words from one of those wonderful children’s songs.

That’s a bit of a paraphrase for a statement about God that one of the philosophers came up with that’s itself got a long name – the ontological argument for God.  Forget the big name – but think of the big God.

God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived.

It does put things in perspective somehow seeing Planet Earth and knowing that those 20,000 people are waving at the camera!

And that’s just from a neighbouring planet in our solar system.

Which is part of our galaxy which is part of the universe.

Which is immense.

And God is even greater.

One writer came up with a memorable title for a book when he said, Our God is Too Small.

I believe in a great big God, God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived.

That’s at the heart of the Bible’s view of the world.  For this, this planet, this solar system, this universe, is the world of God’s creation.  And God is greater far.

The Creator God I believe in is the God who is not static but dynamic – in that endless dance of creation as the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit are one in this God and yet each with their own identity.  The Spirit is that breath that breathes life into the Universe.  The Son is that Cosmic Christ who is the very word of God from the beginning of time.  The Father embraces all in the wonder of the eternity of love.

It is the sheer immensity of this God that captures the imagination of Paul in those wonderful words in Colossians 1:

The beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.

To believe in such a Great Big God is to put things in a different perspective.

If all we see is what we do see – concerns for health and the future, finance and work, problems at home, big concerns on the news – then the world is a world of darkness.

But believe in a great big God and something happens

Jesus said, I am the light of the world, those who believe in me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.

Believe in a great big God and we can, in the words of Paul,  be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,

Christ at the centre
In a world of darkness
The light of life

And it is life.

I guess what I want to share this morning are three simple promises that come from putting Christ at the centre of the world, the universe and all that is and from putting Christ at the centre deep in our hearts.

In a world of darkness
The light of life.

And it is life in all its fullness.

The second of those great promises of Jesus is hinted at in these words of Paul as he thinks of the Cosmic Christ.

all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.

In him all things hold together.

Believing in a great big God who is Father , Son and Holy Spirit is life enriching, life enhancing, life fulfilling.  How tragic that too often religion is depicted as a kill joy thing when in truth Christ brings a wonderful promise of life in all its fullness.

I came, says Jesus, that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Or as Eugene Peterson puts it in the Message

I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

And then comes the final thought that Paul has to share in Colossians 1:15-20

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Christ at the centre
In a world that’s brimming full of life
Life in all its abundance
Christ at the centre

That brings me to another promise of Christ – a wonderful one to treasure.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives, give I to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

The peace Christ gives is a peace that binds us together with God and then a peace that binds us together with others.

As Paul says in II Corinthians 5

if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20

Christ at the centre
In a world of division
Peace beyond understanding
Christ at the centre

And that takes me back to that photo I wish I could claim to be on …

An earlier one was taken in the year that Felicity and I arrived here in Cheltenham by the Voyager Space Craft.

It inspired Carl Sagan one of the great astronomers to reflect in this way …

Pale Blue Dot Quotes (showing 1-30 of 43)

“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.” 

He went on to say something else …

“How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.”

No, no, no!, Karl Sagan, My God is a great big God!

Nothing less than the cosmic Christ brings light into darkness, life in all it abundance and a peace such as the world cannot give … and I don’t just want him to stay that way … he’s going to stay that way!

Christ at the centre
In a world of darkness
The light of life
Christ at the centre
In a world of division
Peace beyond understanding
Christ at the centre
In a world that’s brimming full of life
Life in all its abundance
Christ at the centre

Janet went on to lead our prayers ...

PRAYERS – 28/07/13

Like spokes of a wheel radiating out from the hub
The prayers of your people go out into the world
With Christ at the centre.

Like the ripples on a pond when a pebble is dropped
The actions of your people are felt throughout the continents
With Christ at the centre.

Lord, as we each live our own, tiny lives, it is easy to see our prayers and actions as insignificant in the grand scheme of things – how can I possibly make a difference?  Help us to remember that every little thing we do is part of a chain reaction whose ending we may never see.

And if we are tempted, through fear, ignorance or ambition, to take excess pride in our ability to change the world around us, help us to remember that every little thing we do is our responsibility, whose consequences we may not have anticipated.

As we thank you for this time of holidays, we pray for those who are unable to have holidays, and those for whom holidays bring little or no relief from the problems and anxieties of everyday life.
Be with us all, wherever we may be.

As we think of Egypt and the many other troubled areas of the world, we pray too for the many smaller conflicts, seen and unseen, where differences of opinion and understanding lead to violence in thought or deed, and an unwillingness to listen to another point-of-view.
Be with us in all our conflicts, great and small.

As we look at our harvests ripening in our fields, and rejoice in the wonderful range of material things we are able to enjoy, we pray for those for whom love of material things becomes a trap, leading them into ever greater debt, and those for whom they are a disguise, giving an illusion of abundance to empty lives.
Be with us all in our plenty and our poverty.

Lord, every little thing we do has the power to change the world.  Help us to step out confidently in prayer, word and action, remembering that with great power comes great responsibility.

Like spokes of a wheel radiating out from the hub
The prayers of your people go out into the world
With Christ at the centre.

Like the ripples on a pond when a pebble is dropped
The actions of your people are felt throughout the continents

With Christ at the centre.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Means of Grace and the Hope of Glory

If you want to bake a cake you need the proper utensils.

If you want to make a table you need the proper tools.

If you want to write a letter you need pen and paper

If you want to send a text you need a mobile phone

Those utensils provide you with the means to bake a cake.

Those tools provide you with the means to make a table

That pen and the paper provide you with the means to write a letter.

That mobile phone provides you with the means to send a text

The Church I grew up in at home was a little bit quirky for a Congregational Church.  Each Sunday morning we sang a set of responses – I always thought they were ‘feral’ responses.  Closer attention to the hymn book showed they were Ferial responses.  But I am still not exactly clear what that word ‘ferial ‘ means.   We also chanted the Psalms with the quirky pointing system devised for Congregational Praise.

And we said the same prayer each week.

It was the General Thanksgiving.

I can still recite the words …

ALMIGHTY God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men;  We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we shew forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

One of many phrases that sticks in my mind from that prayer is the line that says …

… for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

And it is the first of those two phrases that I want to home in on today.

The means of grace.

I think it is a wonderful phrase that gets to the heart of something that we very easily overlook when we think about our Christian faith.

It’s so easy to talk about putting Christ at the centre – of our lives of our town.

But how do we actually put Christ at the centre?

It’s so easy to talk about the presence of God?  But how is the presence of God real.

This is the wonderful thing.

It’s easy to talk about the amazing grace of God, the forgiveness of Christ … but how is that grace made real in our lives.

The thought in that wonderful line from that prayer is that God offers us the things we need to help make that grace real, the things we need to help make that free forgiving love of God in Christ real, the things we need to put Christ at the centre.

He offers us ‘the means of Grace’.

There are lots of things you can think of as ‘the means of grace’.

God’s grace is a message to us  .. he gives us the means of grace in the Bible – we need to read the Bible if we are going to hear God’s word for us.  People sometimes say they haven’t heard God’s message for them for a long time … and they don’t read their bible – it’s no surprise maybe that God’s word is not heard!

Prayer is another means of grace – people can say that they don’t sense the presence of God with them, do they have a regular pattern of prayer – a day with a rhythm of prayer for that kind of set of praying is one of those means of grace.

Gathering together for worship is another of those means of grace – people say they don’t sense the presence of God in their hearts – it is important to meet with other people and sense that presence together.

But most important of all maybe is one particular ‘means of grace’ that is right at the heart of all we share today.

And it is something very tangible and very real that we can actually do that makes a difference to us – and it is a means of the grace of God in Christ that can really help us to put Christ at the centre of all the things that we do.

And that means of grace is what we are going to share in doing during our service this morning.

It is the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion.

In the breaking of bread and in the sharing of a cup we have perhaps the most wonderful of all ‘the means of grace’.

Most wonderful because it was commanded by Christ.

Do this in remembrance of me, he said.

And as we do this thing what we are doing is something that Jesus commanded us to do.

We are never more than a couple of weeks away from a moment when what we actually do together is something that was done by Jesus with his friends and his been done by those followers of Jesus ever since continually – and it is something we can do.

So much happens in Communion that makes what we do the means God uses to make that grace of the Lord Jesus Christ something very real, that keeps Chrsit at the centre of our lives.

First, it is in the gathering together and in the parting at the end that we are reminded in the most powerful way of the promise of the presence of Christ with us.

We can only put Christ at the centre of our lives, of our families, of our town, of our world as his presence is with us.

The real presence of Christ is let loose as we meet together in his name and claim the promise he made that where two or three are gathered in my name I am there among them.

It is in the actual meeting together in the name of Christ that the presence of Christ is made real.

How does that help?

I think we will all be different as we come together.  Some will be at a good place where all is going well in their journey of faith.  Some will be in a bad place where their journey has taken a turn for the worse.  In coming together we share one another’s joys – and we share one another’s sorrows and concerns.  That way we build each other up not just in each other’s strength, but also in the strength of God.

And then as we go our separate ways comes another promise of Christ.

Those last words to his disciples.

Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.

As we go our separate ways we take that promise with us into those joys and into those sorrows.

I have grown in my liking of and respect for Tracy Enim as an artist since visiting the new Tate Gallery in Margate - a wonderful contribution to the regeneration of Margate that owes much of its inspiration and no small amount of its funding to Tracy Enim as she longs to see the re-birth of her home town.

Recently she was commissioned to do a piece for Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.  She spent a day in the Cathedral and then did her piece in response to all she had felt as she had shared in the rhythms of that place of worship with its stillness, its noisiness, and its daily round of worship.   It has been placed under the West Window and is one of the last things you will see as you leave that place of worship.

In neon lights it is a statement in her own handwriting ...

"I felt you and I know you loved me."

A wonderful sense of the presence to take with you as you leave.

A very real means of grace whereby we keep Chist at the centre.

It is in the breaking of bread and the sharing of a cup.   This is something tangible – great symbolism to do as Jesus did and keep that memory alive, that remembrance going.  But it is for me more than symbolism.

The bread we break is real and I feel it going down!
The cup we here has the fruit of the vine and I taste it as I drink it.

Something real.  The love God has for us, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is no less real.   But I cannot see it.  As the bread goes down, as I drink of that jice I know it’s real … and I know that the love of God, the grace of the lord Jesus Christ is just as real.

You don’t need it – maybe not.  But it is the insight of Chrsit. That we do.  And I for one go with his insight.  A constant reminder – of just how real this Christ is for me.

For Christ to be at the centre the breaking of bread, the sharing of a cup so important.

And one more dimension in what we do.  Communion, the Lord’s Supper is based around what Jesus ordered us to do, commanded us to do.   In our Congregatinal way of understanding things this is what makes it special.  It becomes an ‘ordinance’ of Christ.   An order.    And at this table we remehber the new commandment he gave to his disciples as he washed their feet and set them the example of service – a new commandment I give you that you love one another.  The communion collection is important for us.  It goes back to a dark time in this country’s history when religious persecution was the order of the day and our forebears in the 1580’s would go from their illegal communion service to the prison where fellow members of their church were and take supplies for the coming week.  You see reference made to a communion collection then later in our tradition again in dark times in our land when there was no social security, no welfare state in late 1700’s and early 1800’s and the church would have a pastoral fund supported by a communion collection.  And for many years we support a local charity.  

And this month it is the local branch of the Multiple Sclerosis society.  A tangible reminder of the commitment we have to people’s needs beyond our fellowship.

The menas of Grace to keep Christ at the centre in the new commandment he gives to love one another.

Christ at the Centre
Christ at the centre
In our gathering together
And in our parting
Christ at the centre
In the breaking of bread
In the sharing of a cup
Christ at the centre
In the new commandment he gives
To love one another
Christ at the centre
In our gathering together
And in our parting

Christ at the centre

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Christ at the Centre of our Town

It is a wonderful vision to share.

But what does it mean to put Christ at the centre?

A few words can say it all.

Christ at the centre
In our thoughts – in our words
Christ at the centre
In our hearts – in our homes
Christ at the centre
In our church – in our world
Christ at the centre
In our town - on its streets
Christ at the centre

In our thoughts and in our words
In our hearts and in our homes
In our church and in our world

But in our town and on its streets?

What does that look like?

Christ at the Centre

Over the years Jonquil has set a wonderful quiz to start our weekend away at Brunel Manor.  And this year was no exception.  A picture quiz – and this was a picture that foxed a lot of people.  If you were at Brunel Manor keep quiet, of those who weren’t where can you find this in Cheltenham?  And what is it?

This is Cheltenham’s Centre Stone and its story goes back to the beginnings of the town.

In 1820 when this map was drawn Bennington Street was an unmarked lane running from the High Street to St Margaret Street.  A little down from the High Street were fields where a market was readily held.  In 1822 a fine new shopping area was opened at the High Street end of Bennington Street called simply The Arcade.  And fronting on to the High  Street an imposing archway into the Arcade.  And in the centre arch they placed Cheltenham’s Centre Stone to mark the centre of the town – so all distances from Cheltenham were measured from the Centre Stone and all cab fares set from this stone.

The Arcade didn’t fare well and it wasn’t long before it was pulled down and by the second half of the nineteenth century there were shops at the High Street end and houses at the other end … and round the corner the Bennington Hall Sunday School from which the Bennington Hall trust still supplies funds for our work with children.

The building to the right is still there – Bennington Street has been narrowed and Hind’s the jewellers has been built over the archway – which means that the Centre Stone is as near as makes very little difference on the exact spot.

At one end of Bennington Street was the Bennington Hall United Sunday School and at the other end is the oldest place of worship in Cheltenham, indeed Cheltenham’s oldest building now Cheltenham Minster.

With a strap line ‘putting Jesus at the centre’ the vision Tudor Griffiths and describes one the web site is that it should be a centre for all the churches of the town, a reminder that Christ is at the centre of our town.

But whether or not Christ is at the centre of our town does not depend on having a Church at the centre … it starts with each one of us who follows Jesus.  It is as we each put Jesus at the centre of our lives that the presence of Christ can permeate into the life of our town.  Christ is at the centre of our town to the extent that each ofus who makes up the body of Christ is prepared to bring Christ and all he stands for into the heart of what we do.

So the starting point for putting Christ at the centre of our town is with each one of us … Peter, the Rock, loves the imagery of the stone as he lays down the challenge …

Come to Jesus, a living stone and like living stones be built into a spiritual house (I Pet 2:4)

If Christ is to be at the centre of our town then we need to pray for our town.  The Minster hosts a number of prayer occasions which focus on the town and its needs.  The one I have committed myself to is the lunchtime prayer when on each week day from 12-30 to 12-45 prayers are led by people from different churches for the town and its needs.  That cycle of prayer is moving to be a part of.  But prayer is something for each of us to do … and to pray for our town – to echo Paul writing to Philippi it’s important to

Give thanks to God, praying with joy for all (Phil 1.3)

We have a message to share in our town – the 70 were charged by Jesus to go into people houses and say, “Peace to this house!” and then to go into a town bring healing and say ‘The kingdom of God has come near you’.   Where there is hurt we are to bring healing and then we should seek to bring the values of God’s rule to play in our town:  justice and mercy, care and community – healing where people are hurting. (Luke 10:8-9)

AT the heart of what we have to share and the substance of what we bring is love – but how important it is that we love not in word or speech but in truth and action!   (1 John 3:18)

That’s precisely the message that comes across in the last of Jesus’ parables … it was as if he wanted his followers to take this to heart …

“When the Son of Man comes as King and all the angels with him, he will sit on his royal throne, 32 and the people of all the nations will be gathered before him. Then he will divide them into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the righteous people at his right and the others at his left. 34 Then the King will say to the people on his right, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world.   I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, 36 naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’ 37 The righteous will then answer him, ‘When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ 40 The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!’

Sue has been doing Street Pastors for quite some while now and it’s great to welcome Sue and Pete to talk about putting Christ at the centre of our town – in truth and action – taking seriously those words of Jesus … ‘I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!’

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Test of Faith

I am the kind of person who likes to ask questions – and I guess that’s been part of my story from the beginning.  I like to ask why things are as they are, how they came to be.

As a Christian I find myself asking questions too … questions about my faith.

They are questions many echo … not least as these scientists who are also Christian believers have discovered on the Test of Faith website.

Who are we?

Are we just the sum of our rain impulses?

Is there something more to the human person than just our genes?

What if science could manipulate and enhance human beings?

What if our very identities could be cloned?

But can faith survive the challenge of science?

Can science and faith go hand in hand?

Is faith being tested to breaking point?

The virtue of wisdom,

Exploration a divinely Christian activity

Reasons for my faith


Many things we don’t know beyond the domain of science

Science cannot replace faith

It’s been my 60th birthday this year, last week we celebrated the 60th anniversary of Eric Burton’s ordination.  It’s been the sixtieth anniversary of the coronation, of the conquest of Everest and of the discovery of DNA.

That’s a story I have been reading up on and going to at the Science Festival – Felicity even had the Cubs making DNA in jam jars – wonderful experience.  And at Sunday Special we have been exploring Creation.

It’s associated with Crick and Watson – Wilkins another name. 

But equally important is the story of a remarkable scientist Rosalind Franklin – who did the key research including a photograph that was significant in proving DNA – and Crick and Watson did not credit her – she died without knowing that her work had been a key part of proving it – an inspiration for women as scientists ever since …

More recently has been mapping the human genome.

It’s fasinating to see that the person responsible for that – one of two on Time Magazine’s front cover celebrating the 10th anniversary is a Christian,– Francis Collins.

And so as soon as one is willing to set aside an insistence on that ultra literal interpretation of Genesis 1  then you arrive at a conclusion that is quite comfortable for me as a believer and for me as a scientist … that yes, Darwin was right in that brilliant insight he had but all he was really doing was to deduce the mechanism of God’s creation.  In fact it is the case that shortly after Darwin published his amazing book, The Origin of Species, many leaders of the Church embraced this and recognised this as an answer to the How question of God’s creation but in no way saw this as a threat to the idea of God as being the author of all of this.

That’s it for me.

Genesis is not scientific writing.  It is wonderful poetry and marvellous story telling that gets across the wonderful truth that God created the world.  That story of creation I delight in and wonder at.  And I for one am with Francis Collins … and in now way see evolution as a threat to the idea of God as being the author of all this … the ceator of this wonderful world.

I then want to know what this God of creation is like.

It makes sense to me that if God were real – then not only would we reach out towards God – but God would reach out towards us.

That makes sense – and that’s what my Christian faith claims.

The  Christian faith makes a claim that there is a moment , in a particular life, of a real person Jesus Christ when we have a window on to what this God is like.   The genius of Christianity then is that we can use another discipline – the discipline of history and historical research to dig into who this Jesus was – and that’s what I have spent a lifetime doing – and the person of Jesus is real –

A life that broke the conventions of his day and shared a life of love where people were hurting, mapped out a way of life to follow that makes a difference to individuals, families, society – the world – and that way of life is built around love for God, love for others for  God is Love.

How do I know that is real?

Because of the impact it makes on people …

One of the youngest of Jesus’ followers during his earthly ministry lived to be one of the oldest people in the early church.

His name was John.

And in 1 John 4:7-11 he tells how knowing Jesus made a difference to him and threw light on what God is, the very nature of God, and on how we should live our lives.

Reading:   I John 4:7-11

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

So – I can figure out the questions – science doesn’t contradict my faith.  Historical research helps me understand this Jesus.

I see the impact Christ makes on people down through the ages – and on people I know.

Time to put someone on the spot – Ruth and Geoff …

And then show a video.

People too make a difference – and this Christian faith is worth following and something really important.

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