Sunday, March 30, 2014

Receiving from Jesus ... the tale of a mother and her two sons

It’s very hard putting things into order of priority when it seems as if everything needs to be done at once!

It’s been great putting in place our new way of doing things at Highbury.  It means that my role as Minister changes too … our hope is that we can build up a very real sense of a team ministry sharing in supporting each other in ministry within the church.  Already, it is good to see how things are happening in the various parts of the church’s life.

At the heart of all we do is worship and prayer … Shirley shared with us her feeling that we need to have a space for prayer – so we need to get away from thinking that the room just outside the door to the dining room is the Minister’s vestry – where only the Minister goes.  We want it to have the feel of a space where anyone can go to share in prayer.  Before a service it’s a space to come together and share in prayer.  After a service sometimes something has been said, something has come to mind that means it would be good to pray with someone – that’s a place you can go to.   It’s the beginnings of something different around our worship.

Diana and Lorraine had taken forward our pastoral care right at the heart of the life of the church: one of the things they have been working on is to build and develop our visiting scheme and to be alert to the need to put people together with other people who are in a position to give very real support and care.  One area where that is so valuable is in bereavement – a week on Tuesday the evening that will focus on pastoral care will have a speaker from Cruse Bereavement Care – he will be sharing with us ways we can build up the support we offer in the event of bereavement.

With Carolyn I have been working on a different start to Easter Day with an Easter Experience for all ages – join in at any time from 8-00 on Cleeve Hill through 9-00 to breakfast and then places to tell the Easter story, make the Easter Story, pray the Easter story before our Easter Comunion begins at 10-30.

Mary’s priority as youth ministry leader is to build up the Cooler Group with its focus on really sharing what it means for young people to come to faith and the difference that makes – one of her priorities is to get to know the current team of Hy_Tec leaders and what’s going on there – very much for our prayers this week.

Jean is focusing on Mission and Outreach and next weekend we have a focus on that international dimension of mssion with the Wheealathon and the Souper Soup Lunch.

All things happening at once … and things that are part of the way we can build up the fellowship of the church.

P[lease remember all those Ministry leaders in your prayers particularly this week as Thursday sees the first of our meetings together.  The start of our building each other up as a ministry team within the life of the church.

Did I say all of our Ministry Leaders.

You will  have noticed, the more observant, that I have missed one out.

That brings me back to those priorites that I was talking about a moment ago.

While lots goes on, it is not just necessary but positively helpful to prioritise things as well.

That’s part of what we did when we set about putting together our vision of Highbury as a pace to share Christian friendship, explore Chrsitian faith, enter into Christian mission with Christ at the centre and open to all.

We identified three things to prioritise.

Number 1 was Renewal and Gifts – that’s something that constantly needs our attention, but it was also where we began a year and more ago.  We felt that the way we orgnaised things, the way we thought of ministry in the church needed renewing – and we have been hard at work putting things into place that will  renew the way we do things and harness the gifts of those who belong more effectively.   That’s priority number 1, and now we have put things into place we mustn’t forget it, we need to continue to pray that God’s spirit will touch what we do and will be a force and a power for rnewal.

The next priority we identified was the need for us together and for us individually to grow in our faith, in prayer and as disciples.  That was what prompted us to identify a specific Ministry Leader for Discipileship.

And it is what has prompted us to draw on the wonderful gifts that Karen has in making that whole area of personal faith the next priority now that we have renewed our structures.

So Karen has been working on putting together a course which begins on Tuesday – the Prodigal God course that looks.   Karen shared her thoughts in the preaching last Sunday and will be returning to her theme at the end of next month in the next in her series.

It would be very easy, Karen suggested, for us to expect our Discipleship ministry leader to show us things to do to develop our faith, to work at them with us.  But Karen felt very strongly moved not to go down that path.

She shared with us last week very movingly her conviction that actually growing in faith starts as we are aware of what we can receive from Jesus, it b egins as we are aware of Being Loved.

So often we have it drummed into us what we should do … but no, we need to begin as we are conscious of Being Loved and aware of all that we can receive from Jesus.

Karen focused on the story of those two sons, that story we think of as the story of the Prodigal Son, but she went on to suggest that it’s a story of two brothers – the younger one who goes off the rails, and the older one who is so attached to his way of being religious that he loses sight of the love of God.   And the whole story is about the extravagance of the God who is so prodigal with his love – the Prodigal God.

Karen asked us to reflect on three questions.

are you like the younger son?
 are you like the older son?
 are you eating at the banquet?

So, what did you make of those questions?  Are you like the younger son?  Are you like the older son?  Are you eating at the banquet?

I want to turn this morning back to Matthew’s Gospel and on to two stories that I hope will take our thinking further around this whole theme of receiving from  Jesus and Being Loved.

The first is the story about another two sons and, this time, their mother.

You can read that story in all sorts of ways, but what struck me as I read it this week was something about that mother that I see not just as a parent, but also as a son, as a friend, as someone who is concerned for other people.

The instinct this mother has is that she wants to fix it for her two sons.
Not once, not twice, but rhree times in the last few days Jesus has spoken to his disciples about the death he was going to experience at the hands of the authorities in Jerusalem.  He had spoken of the cruelty of that death, of the mocking, of the flogging, of the crucifixion.   But it was a death that would not hold him, for he had also spoken of his resurrection.

That was what prompted this mother to take Jesus on one side and ask of him a favour.   Maybe she knew difficult times were ahead.  Maybe she was conscious of the uncertainties of the world.  Maybe she knew only too well that what Jesus was going to experience his followers would too.

So she wanted to make sure that the two most important people in her life would be all right.  She wanted to organise things for them so they would be fine.

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’

It’s the instinct of every parent.  It is the instinct of every carer.  We know exactly what course of action should be taken.

And it is the hardest lesson of all for any parent to learn, for any carer to take on board – much as you may know exactly the right course of action to take it is not possible to organise someone else.

That’s the point of the enigmatic response Jesus makes, it seems to me.

Jesus turns to them – and asks them a question.  It is a question that they respond to.

But far from fixing it – it means that they will not escape those horrors but will have to share them with Jesus.    No easy answer.  No ask from the troubles.  No quick fix.  He is not able to give the guarantee the mother wanted.

The tendency is for us as parent, as son, as friend, as carer to want to fix it for other people.   The reality is that we have to let people go – we have to let them take their decisions, live with their decisions.  We have to put them into the hands of God.

The story of these two brothers is quicly followed by another story – this time of two blind men.

It is subtly different.

Notice how they speak for themselves.

There is no one to organise things for them, no one to fix it so that it will be all right.  They have to speak kout to Jesus for themselves.

More than that notice how Jesus engages with them and wants to respond to the needs they know they have for themselves.

As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, ‘Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’ The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, ‘Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!’ Jesus stood still and called them, saying, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, let our eyes be opened.’ Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.

I wonder whether for us to grow in our faith and to grow in our prayer we have to learn the lesson of that mother and realise we cannot fix it for other people and no one else can fix it for us.

We have to learn the lesson of those two blind men and realise that actually we can approach Jesus directly ourselves.

We too can call out to him …

‘Lord, have mercy on us,

And the wonderful thing is that he will stop and listen to us.

And as he does so he will  ask us what we need.

Jesus stood still and called them, saying, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’

That’s what we need to ask ourselves.  What is it that you want to ask of Jesus?  What do you want Jesus to do for you?

For you.

Not for someone else

For you.

Maybe share with someone in prayer – maybe quietly, maybe in that Prayer space …

Maybe we too want our eyes to be opened so that we can see …

Verse 34 is wonderful –

moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes.  Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.

In that prayer, having asked that question, bring a picture into your mind of the immensity of the love God has not just for the world, but for you – sense Jesus filled with compassion … and then sense him reaching to touch you at the point of your deepest need.

Receive from him the blessing of that healing, that wholeness he alone can give – something that’s not the same as cure, something that goes much deeper.

And then follow him.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Receiving from Jesus - Being Loved

This Sunday marked the start of something new at Highbury.  Karen, commissioned last week as our Discipleship Ministry Leader, introduced a new series that will go to the heart of our Christian faith and encourage us to think of all that we have received from Jesus as we receive nothing less than the love of God in him.  Karen also introduced us to the Prodigal God Course that will be starting on Tuesday, 1st April.  You will shortly be able to follow Karen on her discipleship blog.

Discipleship - Receiving from Jesus - Being Loved  (Luke 15: 11-32)

Although we expected to start this new phase of Highbury life with the theme of personal discipleship, we didn't initially plan to use the "Parable of the Two Sons" (Luke 15:11-32). As  the new Discipleship Ministry Leader shouldn't I be telling you to pray and read the bible more? Then after many discussions and a visitor who recommended the Prodigal God course to our minister Richard after a service, we decided to start with a series about Receiving from Jesus. We need to receive from him before we  give out to others. We need to let Jesus love us first - for our own sake's and others' too. This parable takes us to the heart of the gospel and is a good place to start this new phase of Highbury life.
The Parable of the Two Sons is not just for ...
i.            Sunday school
Childhood immunisations are a good thing. We receive a small dose of diphtheria and its painful at the time but gives life-long immunity from the disease. However, it is not good if childhood understandings of bible stories "protect" us from their adult impact. Jesus told this story to adults. We teach children to "behave yourselves"  and "be nice to your brothers and sisters" but there's more to this story than that.

ii.            the "unsaved"
Some of us look back to a key "coming to faith" moment  or period in the past and even if we haven't frequented evangelistic gatherings, we know this story as the "Parable of the Prodigal Son". The father represents God and the younger son - the Prodigal - is  a lost sinner who must return to God in repentance to be forgiven, justified, and made righteous.  I look back on a special moment - Good Friday, 1976, Withyditch Chapel to the south of Bath - which included "turning" to God and forgiveness. We do all need to "come to our senses" like the son but I can't "park" this story in 1976 and think it's only for others now because  I've got my ticket to heaven. There's more to this story and salvation than that.

iii.            long-suffering parents
Those who've brought up children readily sympathise with the father in this story - kids today! - and some years ago there was a "Bringing Back the Prodigals" initiative for parents disappointed that their adult children were no longer in church. But God is the Father in the story and we're all sons. This story isn't just for other family members.

iv.            other people
And this story isn't for any other groups - hopeless with money, jealous, disrespectful  - because this story is for us. It takes us to the heart of the gospel and is for all of us.

The Parable of the Two Lost Sons is ...
i.            contextualised
Stories are told to a particular group of people at a particular point in time - they have context. At the beginning of chapter 15 Luke tells us that two opposing groups were listening to Jesus - the Pharisees and outcasts. The Pharisees adhered to a strict moral code and were religious. They complained that Jesus ate with the outcasts who were immoral and irreligious.  The Pharisees are like the older son in the parable and the outcasts like the younger. This message is for them both. It's the Parable of the Two Sons.

ii.            disturbing/unsettling
Jesus tells three "lost" parables in Luke 15 - the lost sheep, lost coin and lost sons. I've never owned sheep so that story doesn't affect me in a personal way but we've all been children. This third parable can affect us in a deeper way. Protests can form in our minds - But I'm a daughter! I never knew my father! I miss my dad! I've got three if you count step-dads!  - but by prompting childhood feelings this story can make us more receptacle to it meaning. Children are more teachable than adults.  This  story can "open a chink" in a "door".

iii.            living
The bible doesn't use words such as infallible, inerrant or boring to describe itself. It uses inspired or God-breathed (2  Tim 3: 16 All Scripture is God-breathed GNB) and living  (Heb 4:12 (the word of God is alive and active, sharper than a double-edged sword GNB).  Just as I believe that the bible was written through a mix of human activity and the Holy Spirit, so I believe reading the bible or listening to its words can be a mix of human activity and the work of the Holy Spirit, especially if we approach it a teachable mood. With the Holy Spirit's assistance we can encounter Jesus as we read it. It's the living word of God.

iv.            good news
This story take us beyond Pharisees and outcasts, religion and irreligion, morality and sin to the heart of the gospel itself.  Jesus Christ lived, died and rose again and it's good news because the lost are found, the separated are joined and the hungry sit at the banquet.  God's love can transform us.

Please consider three images from the Parable of the Two Sons ...

Image  1 - Wrapped in the Arms of God
The younger son returns having lost everything, he prepares his speech asking to earn his way back but his father won't hear of it. He runs out on the road - no respectable Jewish father would run - and hugs his son. It's a static picture out on the road.  So much has gone before, so much remains for the future but in that moment there are just the two of them together. Nobody else. Nothing else matters.
If a child gets lost in a supermarket and is then re-found, nothing else matters to that child in that moment. He or she is back in the adult's arms.
Prodigal means "being extravagant" and "over-spending". It is God who is extravagant and over-spending in his love for us. This  may not be an easy image for you. There can be many reasons why it's hard.  It can take months or years before we can allow God to love us like this but he'll wait patiently for us like the father in the story. 
I've always used swimming as a metaphor for faith and there are so many useful comparisons - believing the water will hold us up, crossing deep water etc - but I reached a time when I had to learn the importance of floating too. Lying back and letting the water hold us up is a good analogy for being loved by God. Discipleship isn't all about action and effort.

Image 2 - Outside the Door
The older son won't come into the banquet and he tells us why:  "Look, all these years I have worked for you like a slave and I have never disobeyed your orders. What have you given me? Not even a goat for me to have a feast with my friends!" (Luke 15: 29)

 "It's not fair." I yelled it at my mother and expect she yelled it at hers. Fairness is continually in the news -  bankers' bonuses, extra bedrooms, pension annuities - it's usually a money related complaint.  Like people today, the older son had his own moral code. He works and expects his father to reward him. He wants the father's wealth as much as the younger son but he's gone about it in a different way. He isn't interested in the father himself.

John Robinson was an early separatist and congregationalist in the early seventeenth century who became the pastor of the group who sailed to N. America as the Pilgrim Fathers. He likened the bishops in England to tenants living in a wonderful house. They had the fine furnishings, cathedrals, palaces etc but never knew the landlord himself. They missed having a direct relationship with God. We don't want to follow suit here in a congregational church. We don't want to make religious rules of any sort come between us and God.

Image 3 - Eating at the Banquet
This scene works better as a video than a still picture. People are eating, drinking, laughing and joking. The younger son has the robe, shoes and ring with the father's seal and he eats the fatted calf in the presence of neighbours and friends. The lost is found. The separated  joined. The hungry fed. It's a great meal.
I've shared this story whilst working as a part-time prison chaplain. Those who society looked down on and who felt worthless in themselves were greatly affected on hearing that God loves them like the father in the story. But one woman asked a question afterwards, "That's great but will it get me off drugs?" She helped me to see that being loved by the father and welcomed into the banquet isn't a one off event - it's an on-going meal.  We may not be addicted to heroin or morphine but we have weaknesses, issues, fears and hurts that drag us down. We need to constantly draw on God's resources rather than rely on our own.

Finally, three questions in the present tense to consider ....

·         are you like the younger son?
·         are you like the older son?
·         are you eating at the banquet?
Over the last few weeks as I've reflected on the Prodigal God course material,  I've started to see both younger and older son traits in myself from the start and since my  "coming to faith" moment in 1976 I've popped in and out of the banquet. It's often the times of crisis and when I'm "out of my depth" that I feed most.  I still need God's love to help me in old familiar areas and new ones I've created more recently. 

Are you eating at the banquet? Is being loved by the father making a difference now?

Please consider these questions over the coming week.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hand in Hand with God

Back in January last year we began to look anew at our vision for the church at Highbury.  In our service this morning we marked an end to a process of renewal and restucturing that we have been working on over the last two years.  As we came to an end we found ourselves at the start of an exciting new journey in the life of the church as we set out with a new way of organising things at Highbury.  This service marks not so much the end of a process as the beginning of an adventure.

Commissioning Service for Ministry Leaders and our new Diaconate
Sunday, 16th March 2014

Welcome and News of the Church Family – Sue

Call to Worship

Hymn 494 Glorious things of you are spoken

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

Hands Together

Reading:  Galatians 2: 9-10 and 2 Timothy 1:6-7

and when James and Cephas and John,
who were acknowledged pillars,
recognized the grace that had been given to me,
they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship,
agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

They asked only one thing,
that we remember the poor,
which was actually what I was eager to do.

Very much later, Paul wrote to Timothy …

For this reason I remind you
to rekindle the gift of God that is within you
through the laying on of my hands;

for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice,
but rather a spirit of power
and of love
and of self-discipline.

A Hy-Spirit Song

At our Annual Church Meeting we put in place the final pieces of the jigsaw for our new structure at Highbury.  Today marks the start of our new way of organising things as we welcome and commission our team of Ministry Leaders, and our new Diaconate and Church Officers.

At its heart is a vision for us all to share at Highbury … and so I ask everyone to stand …

The vision we share is that
Highbury should be a place to
Share Christian friendship,
Explore Christian faith and
Enter into Christian Mission
With Christ at the centre
And open to all.

It is good for us to remember that all who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ are called to serve one another in his name.

Jesus calls us all to share in a life of discipleship: it is for us all to respond to that call in faithful obedience.

Jesus said, “If one of you wants to be great, he must be the servant of the rest.

Lord Jesus, we hear your call: help us to follow

Jesus said, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example.

Lord Jesus, we hear your call: help us to follow

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Lord Jesus, we hear your call: help us to follow

Jesus said: “Go to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples and I will be with you always, to the end of the world.”

Lord Jesus, we hear your call: help us to follow.

You have redeemed us and called us to your service:
Give us grace to hear your word and to obey your commandment
For your mercy’s sake.   Amen.

Please be seated

As people feel at home in our church family and share a faith in God and in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour we very much hope they will become fully part of our church as church members and be involved in one or more areas of church life in what they do and in prayer … everyone has a part to play including those not able to get out and be active through prayer. 

I invite all those who are Church Members to stand and say together …

In all we do as Church members our aim is to Love the Lord our God with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves.  In all we seek to do we rejoice in the forgiving love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, knowing that when we fail we do not give up but go on in the strength of God.

Church Members, meeting together at our regular Church meeting shape Church life and set the future direction of Church life here at Highbury.

Please be seated

As we belong to the fellowship of the Church, we all have a part to play in the life of the Church.

Together with all who proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord we are a royal priesthood, God’s own people.  We are all called by God to proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into h is marvellous light and to live out in our lives the love of him who first loved us.

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

In our new way of doing things the Deacons serve the whole Church as Managing Trustees and ensure all the Church does is in keeping with its aims as a Congregational Church and its responsibilities as a Charity with reference to finances, safeguarding, health and safety, disability, employment and other legislation.  The Deacons interview and recommend to Church Meeting a name for Minister and Ministry Team Leader and then review and support the Ministry team.  They ensure good employment practice for paid employees and volunteers.

At our Annual Church Meeting the following were elected to serve as Deacons.

Peter Harrison, Ted Horsfield, Iain MacLeod, Darryl Mills and Ian White

I invite them to come to the front … [stand on the platform]  Our thoughts and prayers are with Iain whose father in law has just died and so he is with Laura and the family sharing with the family in Glasgow following the funeral yesterday.  Ted is away with family too.

Will you together reaffirm your profession of faith:

Do you believe in God and in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?

I do

Do you promise, as you are able, to fulfil the responsibilities of Deacon here at Highbury

With God’s help, I do so promise.

The Church Secretary serves the whole church, is on the diaconate and oversees a full range of Support Services – our Annual Meeting appointed Helen  Roberts as Church Secretary.

Helen, I ask you to reaffirm your profession of faith:

Do you believe in God and in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?

I do

Do you promise, as you are able, to fulfil the responsibilities of Church Secretary here at Highbury?

With God’s help, I do so promise.

The Church Treasurer serves the whole Church, is on the diaconate and stewards the church finances.   Our Annual Meeting re-elected Roger Gregory to the post of Church Treasurer.

Roger, I ask you to reaffirm your profession of faith:

Do you believe in God and in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?

I do

Do you promise, as you are able, to fulfil the responsibilities of Church Treasurer here at Highbury?

With God’s help, I do so promise.

In the name of Jesus Christ, and on behalf of the Church Meeting I extend to you the right hand of fellowship and welcome you to our new Diaconate.

[Richard and Sue share the Right hand of fellowship with the Deacons – the Deacons, and Church Officers remain on the platform]


In our new way of doing things we have put in place a team of Ministry Leaders who are Church Members and who are called and gifted to serve the whole Church and to lead a particular area of Church Life.  They co-ordinate and lead others in their area of church life.

Shirley Fiddimore will focus on worship
Carolyn Tennant on children [our prayers are with Carolyn who is unwell and unable to be with us today]
Mary Buchanan on young people
Karen Haden on discipleship
Lorraine Gasside and Diana Adams on Pastoral Care
Jean Gregory on Mission and Outreach

Today we welcome them and commission them to that work.

Helen asked the following questions of Shirley

Shirley, I ask you to reaffirm your profession of faith:

Do you believe in God and in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?

I do

Do you promise, as you are able, to fulfil the responsibilities of Worship Ministry Leader here at Highbury

With God’s help, I promise to develop the worship life of the Church to the glory of God, enabling the whole Church family to come together as one, with Christ at the centre and open to all.

In the name of Jesus Christ and on the authority of the Church Meeting I extend to you the right hand of fellowship recognising that God has called you to serve the fellowship of the Church here at Highbury as Worship Ministry Leader.

Ian White asked the following questions of Mary:

Mary, I ask you to reaffirm your profession of faith:

Do you believe in God and in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?

I do

Do you promise, as you are able, to fulfil the responsibilities of Youth Ministry Leader here at Highbury?

With God’s help I promise to help young people share Christian friendship, explore Christian Faith and enter into Christian mission as a full part of the Church family.  I promise to help the Church to be fully supportive of young people as a youth friendly Church with Christ at the centre and open to all.

In the name of Jesus Christ and on the authority of the Church Meeting I extend to you the right hand of fellowship recognising that God has called you to serve the fellowship of the Church here at Highbury as Youth Ministry Leader.

Roger asked the following questions of Karen:

Karen, I ask you to reaffirm your profession of faith:

Do you believe in God and in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?

I do

Do you promise, as you are able, to fulfil the responsibilities of Discipleship Ministry Leader here at Highbury?

With God’s help I promise to help everyone in the Church to grow and develop their Christian faith, their prayer life and their discipleship as they explore the Christian faith and seek to put Christ at the centre of their lives.

In the name of Jesus Christ and on the authority of the Church Meeting I extend to you the right hand of fellowship recognising that God has called you to serve the fellowship of the Church here at Highbury as Discipleship Ministry Leader.

Peter asked the following questions of Diana and Lorraine

Diana and Lorraine, I ask you to reaffirm your profession of faith:

Do you believe in God and in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?

I do

Do you promise, as you are able, to fulfil the responsibilities of Pastoral Care Ministry Leaders here at Highbury?

With God’s help we promise to build up Christian friendship through pastoral care that is open to all and seeks to meet the needs of each.

In the name of Jesus Christ and on the authority of the Church Meeting I extend to you the right hand of fellowship recognising that God has called you to serve the fellowship of the Church here at Highbury as Pastoral Ministry Leaders.

Darryl asked the following questions of Jean:

Jean, I ask you to reaffirm your profession of faith:

Do you believe in God and in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?

I do

Do you promise, as you are able, to fulfil the responsibilities of Worship Ministry Leader here at Highbury?

With God’s help I promise to help everyone in the Church to enter into Christian mission and share their Christian faith more effectively developing the mission and outreach of the Church with Christ at the centre and open to all.

In the name of Jesus Christ and on the authority of the Church Meeting I extend to you the right hand of fellowship recognising that God has called you to serve the fellowship of the Church here at Highbury as Mission and Outreach Ministry Leader.

[Richard invites the Congregation to stand]

[The Deacons stand around the Ministry Leaders and lay hands on them as Richard says a prayer of blessing]

May God richly bless you in the ministry which you now share with us all:  may you sense the strengthening of God’s Spirit in all that you do, the love of God the Father deep in your hearts and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in the service you share with everyone.  Amen.

In all you do take to heart the words of Paul in Ephesians 4:1-7 and  11-13

I urge you, then—I who am a prisoner because I serve the Lord: live a life that measures up to the standard God set when he called you.   Be always humble, gentle, and patient. Show your love by being tolerant with one another. 3 Do your best to preserve the unity which the Spirit gives by means of the peace that binds you together. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope to which God has called you. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 there is one God and Father of all people, who is Lord of all, works through all, and is in all.
7 Each one of us has received a special gift in proportion to what Christ has given.

It was he who “gave gifts to people”; he appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers. 12 He did this to prepare all God's people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ. 13 And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ's full stature.

Hymn:  In Christ Alone

Some of the youngest children then made a presentation to Sue Cole, thanking her for the six years she has served the church as Church Secretary.  We later thanked John, June and Sharon for their service as Deacons too.

Offering and Dedication

Activities for all over 3

Hand in Hand with God and with Each Other

Reading:  1 Chronicles 29:10-19

There is something very powerful in this passage as it speaks to us all and to those who are embarking on new forms of service and ministry within the life of the church here at Highbury.

Then David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly;
David said:
‘Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel,
for ever and ever. 
Yours, O Lord, are the greatness,
the power, the glory,
the victory, and the majesty;
for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours;
yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. 

Riches and honour come from you, and you rule over all.
In your hand are power and might;
and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. 

And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.

‘But who am I, and what is my people,
that we should be able to make this freewill-offering?
For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.

For we are aliens and transients before you, as were all our ancestors;
our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope.

O Lord our God,
all this abundance that we have provided
for building you a house for your holy name
comes from your hand and is all your own. 

I know, my God, that you search the heart,
and take pleasure in uprightness;
in the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things,
and now I have seen your people, who are present here,
offering freely and joyously to you. 1

O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our ancestors,
keep for ever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people,
and direct their hearts towards you. 

Hand in Hand With God – the Sermon

“The Bible is not some dry and dusty set of rules.  It is the story of how we are created good in God’s eyes, how that goodness was damaged, and how wholeness is ours with God.”

I like what Archbishop Desmond Tutu has to say about the Bible in his foreword to “Fresh from the Word” – the Bible for a change.

“Depravity,” he goes on to say, “came into the world through individual choices, drip by drip.  The Bible is an invitation to wholeness instead of brokenness.  We can choose wholeness and a life of beauty.  We can choose to work for peace in the small choices that face us each day.  Each ofus has the dignity of these choices, whether we are rich or poor, from the global Norht or South, in prison or not.  The Bible shows us how.  It is about peace and reconciliation.  It is about social justice in your neighbourhood.  It is about joy and laughter.”
I have been part of the International Bible Reading Association for almost as long as I can remember.  Some years I haven’t subscribed.  I have been a couple of years recently when I have followed different plans for reading the Bible.  But, perhaps, it’s because I was introduced to it when I was at Junior Church, I have been drawn back to it.

This year they have produced a new set of notes, but they keep the old traditions going strong.  There’s a sense of reading the Bible in copany with others … and the passages and the thoughts that accompany them prompt thought.  While written a long time before publication, they have a wonderful way of speaking into the situation you find yourself in at a particular time.

That’s been very much the case for me over the last couple of weeks.

The day before our Annual Meeting was Ash Wednesday.  It marked the start of a new series of Bible readings that came to an end yesterday, Saturday, 15th March.  ‘Simon Goodard, their author, is a Baptist Minister in the village of Bottisham, near Cambridge.  He leads RE:NEW which is an ecumenical expression of church, pioneering new ways of gathering and growing together.’  Straightaway my attention was caught.

At our Annual Meeting the final pieces of the jigsaw for our new way of doing things at Highbury fell into place.  And today with the commissioining of Church Secretary and Church Treasurer, our new Diaconate and our new team of Ministry Leaders we are launching our new way of doing things at Highbury.

As we compared what we felt about Highbury today, with what the first churches of the New Testament were like we identified three things to focus on.  The first was the need for Renewal and Gifts and that is what we have been concentrating on over the last couple of years and that need for renewal in the life of the church is something we continue to seek.   Then we felt we needed to focus on personal faith and prayer … and next week Karen Haden, our Discipleship Ministry Leader,  is going to introduce us to a focus on personal faith and prayer in our services and in the Prodigal God course she will be introducing us to in April.  And the third element we will then go on to focus on is Mission and Outreach.

And here’s a series of Bible readings by someone involved with RE:NEW – something special there.

I smiled, the, as I saw the theme – God’s Hands and Ours – a set of readings from the Old Testament.

What made me smile was the way not a few people have observed I have of coming back to that image of ‘the hands of God’.   I often come back to that sense we need to have of putting things into God’s hands.  We can do what we can but there comes a point at which we need to put things into God’s hands.

His readings have intrigued me … they speak very much to us as we embark on this new stage in our journey together as a church.   And so, what I have done, is to take the headings he has used and turn them into a prayer we can all share.

Hand in hand with God
we walk into the future with our hands in
the strong hand of God.

That image produces in me that thought that we are not alone, we are not doing things in our own strength …  but it is in the strength of God, the God, whose right hand is majestic in power that we are able to go forward.

The words of Minnie Louise Haskins come very much to my mind with an image of a small hand in a large hand …

“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.

But what do we do with our hands?

Moving on through our readings, Simon Goddard takes us to Leviticus (9:22-24) and a moment when “Aaron lifts his hands towards the people and blessed them..  In that story Moses and Aaron then go into the tent of meeting, that place where  God’s presence is specially felt … and then when they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people.”

As we gather together in a place which for us is a place where we seek to come to meet God let’s look to receive a blessing … but then let’s go out from this place and be a blessing to other people.  “Each one of us,” suggests Simon Goddard “can be used by God to bless others. … Our words are powerful especially when they are spoken in God’s name.”

We give thanks for
hands that bring a blessing and
for hands handing on the baton.

Whatever part we play in the life of our church, Deacons, Church Officers, Minsitry Leaders … all of us – our prayer is that we can receive the hand of  God’s blessing and then be a blessing to other people.

And then we have something to pass on.

It was good this week to have an email from Angela Robinson – we started out in the ministry together, though she’s a bit older than me.  In Witney when I was a student, here at Highbury helping to organise meetings back in the early 70’s,  in Yorkshire, and then Angela went through very difficult times as her husband had Motor Neurone disease and died very young.  And then she spent 14 years teaching in mission work in Bangladesh.  This week she was prompted to write remembering Tony Benn and that spirit of dissent he got from his mother, Margaret Stansgate who at that time was our first President in the Congregational Federation – passionate about the need for us as followers of Jesus to make our voice heard.

I well remember that sense Angela had in preaching at my induction to the pastorate of the churches in Shropshire of passing on the baton.

We move on to Numbers 27:15-23 and the point when the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua … lay your hand on him … and commission him”  in the presence of all the people.

There is a real sense of receiving something that we pass on – as we share a ministry in this place.  It is not something we invent – but something we pass on.  There is a very powerful symbolism in the  laying on of hands.

The imagery of hands has, however a dark side to it.

As our readings this last ten days moved on we reached 1 Samuel and Job where we encountered ‘the heavy hand of God’ and dark times – and then it was that we arrived at 1  Chronicles and a very real sense that everything comes from God and all we give, we give only what comes from God’s hand, the big hands of God  (1 Chronicles 129:12-14)

In the dark times when we sense
the heavy hand of God
we put ourselves and all we love into
the big hands of God.

We touched on Nehemiah and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the way the gracious hand of  God is on us prompting us to serve other people, on that conviction Job had in the middle of the darkness when he said, I know that my redeemer lives’. We touched on the words of Isaiah that speak of the way our names are engraved on the hands of God and the assurance that comes from sensing that; we touched on the image of ourselves as clay in the hands of God to be moulded and renewed and remoulded in his hands.

May our hands be
hands used in the service of God always
holding on to the hands of hope.

May we know God’s hands always to be
guiding hands, engraved hands
transforming hands.

When you google pictures of hands in the way I have done you can just copy the images – but one sculpture caught my eye and I explored further.  I can see myself getting enthusiastic about the work of Lorenzo Quinn – son of the mid 20th Century actor, Anthony Quinn.

His work ‘hand of God’ has been exhibited in many places, most recently at the Royal Exchange in London – in 2011 it was exhibited in a major exhibition at the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

It is one of those sculptures that invites you to see yourself in the hand of God.  A wonderful thought that is powerful for us to remember as we celebrate different forms of service and ministry within the life of our church today.

But what struck me was the way two of his sculptures were put side by side in that exhibition.  The other one was called ‘Leap of Faith’.

He says of his inspiration behind Leap of Faith, “The past is set in stone, the present is carving itself in wood, and the future is an empty goblet to fill with dreams.  This is a sculpture that prompts reflection on the need to be positive, even in the darkest moments, because there is always hope.”

“Life is a wonderful journey … if you know how to live it.”

For me that sculpture was all the more powerful for being put together with the Hand of God.   We can take such a leap of faith into the future and sense that we are on the most wonderful of journeys  and find that even in the darkest moments there is hope BECAUSE we start by realising that we are in the Hand of God.

And as Desdond Tutu says in that foreword to Fresh from the Word we are created by God to be a blessing … and we need one another to become such a blessing.

Hand in Hand

Hand in hand with God
we walk into the future with our hands in
the strong hand of God.
We give thanks for
hands that bring a blessing and
for hands handing on the baton.
In the dark times when we sense
the heavy hand of God
we put ourselves and all we love into
the big hands of God.
May our hands be
hands used in the service of God always
holding on to the hands of hope.
May we know God’s hands always to be
guiding hands, engraved hands
transforming hands.                Amen

Hymn:  504    Church of God elect and glorious

Prayers of Concern

Songs of Prayer and Worship with Hy-Spirit

The Lord’s Supper

Communion Collection for Maggie’s Centre

Hymn 505 Go forth and tell!

Words of Blessing

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Turning the World Upside Down

In the first part of our service we read from Matthew 18:1-5

 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, asking, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”2 So Jesus called a child, made him stand in front of them,3 and said, “I assure you that unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven.4 The greatest in the Kingdom of heaven is the one who humbles himself and becomes like this child.5 And whoever welcomes in my name one such child as this, welcomes me.

I reflected on how slow the disciples were to get it ... but in the end they did, to such an extent that in Acts 16 they were accused of turning the world upside down.

I then re-told the story of the Rich Fool from Luke 12:13ff

 A man in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide with me the property our father left us.”14 Jesus answered him, “My friend, who gave me the right to judge or to divide the property between you two?”15 And he went on to say to them all, “Watch out and guard yourselves from every kind of greed; because a person's true life is not made up of the things he owns, no matter how rich he may be.”16 Then Jesus told them this parable: “There was once a rich man who had land which bore good crops.17 He began to think to himself, ‘I haven't anywhere to keep all my crops. What can I do?18 This is what I will do,’ he told himself; ‘I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, where I will store my corn and all my other goods.19 Then I will say to myself, Lucky man! You have all the good things you need for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink, and enjoy yourself!’20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night you will have to give up your life; then who will get all these things you have kept for yourself?’ ”21 And Jesus concluded, “This is how it is with those who pile up riches for themselves but are not rich in God's sight.”

We then sang Patrick Appleford's hymn about turning the world upside down.  I made links with the current series of Call the Midwife set in the East End of London with a story line involving a romantic involvement between a curate and one of the midwives.  As it happens, Patrick Appleford had at one time been a curate in Poplar in the East End of London - he had been the inspiration behind a movement in the 60's to write hymns with popular, light musical accompaniments.

O Lord, all the world belongs to you
and you are always making all things new.
What is wrong you forgive,
and the new life you give
is what's turning the world upside-down.

The world's only loving to its friends,
but your way of loving never ends,
loving enemies too;
and this loving with you
is what's turning the world upside-down.

The world lives divided and apart,
you draw us together, and we start
in our friendship to see
that in harmony we
can be turning the world upside-down.

The world wants the wealth to live in state,
but you show a new way to be great:
like a servant you came,
and if we do the same,
we'll be turning the world upside-down.

O Lord, all the world belongs to you
and you are always making all things new.
What is wrong you forgive,
and the new life you give
is what's turning the world upside-down.

Patrick Robert Norman Appleford (born 1925) and at one time a Curate at Poplar
Then came a reflection on the challenge of those words.

Turning the world upside down is quite some challenge.

And in some ways that can be the problem with religion.

It places upon us such a heavy burden that we cannot live up to the expectations we are all too conscious of.

And that gives rise to despair or disillusion.  What’s the point?

We cannot live up to those expectations, try as we might.

But at the heart of our religion is not simply laying down the law.

There’s something that has to go along with that.

And that is the realisation that at the heart of our faith is actually the wonderful love God has for us that reaches out to us before ever we have done anything to deserve it.

It’s that love we are going to be celebrating and exploring and delighting in as our focus turns towards building up our faith, strengthening our prayer.

As we were dreaming our dreams and re-envisioning our church the first of our priorities was Renewal and Gifts – and that’s exactly what we have been about in renewing the structures of our church in order to release people’s gifts more effectively.

Now that we have put in place our new structures we are going to focus first of all on the next of the things we identified as of prime importance.  The need we each have to grow in our faith and to strengthen our prayer life.

We have appointed someone to join our ministry team that next week we will be commissioning: Karen Haden as our Discipleship ministry leader.  Karen has been putting together thoughts she is going to share with us on Sundays after that commissioning and also a course that will focus on growing in faith and prayer.  Click here to find out more about Karen's plans.

We were joined a while back by someone visiting his sister-in-law who lived locally.  On the way out he was talking about the Methodist church he belonged to somewhere up in the North East.

He described a course he had really valued.  I passed on word to Karen.  Karen has been looking into it and is going to be sharing with us her excitement about the course.

It is called ‘Prodigal God’.  Click here to find out more about our course

And it starts with the wonderful insight that God is massively generous in his love – he is prodigal with his love and his grace.

So often we can think of religion and our faith as a burden of expectation.  How vital it is to turn that on its head and realise that faith begins with the wonderful good news of the free gift of God’s love – an incredible, amazing, enormous, prodigal love that reaches out to us.

That love can be a strengthening for us no matter the circumstances we  are in.

There is a wonderful challenge about the Christian faith.

It does involve turning the world upside down.

But that can be burdensome, it can weigh you down … it can lead to disillusion.

We are pressed in by the expectations of religion.

There’s a wonderful insight to celebrate as Lent begins and we turn our thoughts towards the temptations Jesus faced.

Jesus was just as we are.  He shared our humanity and lived it to the full.  And he faced just the same kind of temptations, the same kind of testing we do.  The wonderful thing about his story is that he didn’t succumb.

But as we look at him we know he has been there before us …

The words from Hebrews 4 are wonderful words to take to heart …

They thrust us towards something that is wonderful.

The love of God, the grace of God, the forgiveness – the empowering of that simple grace.

Since, then, we have a great high priest – a bridgebuilder who brings God down to earth and lifts us up into God’s presence.

Since, then we have a great high priest, a bridge-builder, who has passed through the heavens … into the very presence of God

Since then we have a great high priest, a bridge-builder who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession, to the faith that is so very precious to us.

 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.

When we realise all that Jesus has gone through, all that he shares, the burdens placed upon him … then that is wonderfully liberating.

It means we can approach

 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

I think it is a wonderful image.

Something simply to pause over, to reflect on and to take very much to heart.

Yes, the challenge is there.

But then the realisation we can approach the very presence of God and know the extent of God’s love, his grace reaching out to us in all our weaknesses …

Grace to help

He’s been there  before us
He knows what it’s like
He’s been there before us
He knows what it takes
He’s been there before us
He knows what it is to be tested
He’s been there before us
He knows what it is to be tempted
He’s been there before us
He knows our every weakness
And so we come to him,
To him and to no other
So that we may receive mercy
And find grace to help in time of need.

Song – Only by grace can we enter by Graham Kendrick

Only by grace can we enter
Only by grace can we stand
Not by our human endeavour
But by the blood of the Lamb

Into Your presence You call us
You call us to come
Into Your presence You draw us
And now by Your grace we come
Now by Your grace we come

Lord if You mark our transgressions
Who would stand
Thanks to Your grace we are cleansed
By the blood of the Lamb
This is the love to look for our faith.

But so often we look for something else in our religion.

If God is worth believing in he should be able to change everything.

I encountered just that sentiment again this week in conversation.

What is the point of believing in a God who allows such awful things to happen in his world?

This is the world of God’s creation.

This is what the world is like.

It is in the temptation stories that Jesus rejects the kind of religion that zaps all that is wrong with the world and dramatically changes it all.  That’s not what our faith is about.

Reading:  Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ 4But he answered, ‘It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone,
   but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you”,
   and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
7Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 10Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
   and serve only him.” ’
11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

The kind of love that makes all the difference in the God we look to who is love is the kind of love that comes alongside us in a suffering world,  shows how we can play our part in alleviating that suffering … but then opens up for us a way through that suffering.

The temptations are to change the order of things dramatically – turn stones into bread, call on God to rescue you from every situation, exercise power over the whole world.

But Jesus opens up a very different way … his is the way of being vulnerable, of taking suffering upon himself, of going to the cross.

It is not insignificant that as we come to the end of Matthew’s gospel we find an echo of these three temptations.

Twicethe tempter says to Jesus in Matthew 4 If you are the son of God … and the third temptation echoes the same sentiment.

And twice at the foot of the cross comes the very same temptation – If you are the Son of God …

As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’

38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ 41In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, “I am God’s Son.” ’ 44The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.
The Death of Jesus

45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 47When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘This man is calling for Elijah.’ 48At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49But the others said, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.’ 50Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’

Jeus has to go through his suffering – go to his death … and then as breathes his last comes a glimpse of glory … and the Centurion who recognises actually this is a faith that is different.

It is not one that claims power over everything.

It is one that comes alongside humanity at its most vulnerable and shares those depths …

As Jesus resists that temptation and goes to his death the Centurion it is who recognises

Truly, this man was God’s Son!

This is the heart of our faith as Matthew opens it up for us.

A faith rooted in the God of grace – who comes alongside us at our worst, stays with us through the worst … and draws us into the presence of God.

This is the mystery … this is the glory of a faith that draws us to a God whose grace, whose love is beyond our imagining.

That Christ is one with us.

At first an Orthodox Christian, then he turned his back on faith and followed every …ism under the son.

Until he encountered Jesus, the Jesus who makes a difference in people’s lives.

What made the diffeence was the story of one of those scholars who had opened up the Quest for the Historical Jesus at the start of the 20th century … and then given up the world of academia to train as a doctor and live among leprosy sufferers in Africa – living out the faith he found rooted in Jesus.

Inspired by the likes of Albert Schweitzer Nikos Kazantzakis came to faith once again.

A novelist he came back time and again to the story of Jesus.

In the Last Temptation of Christ, made into a controversial film by Martin Scorsese, he imagines the reality of that last temptation.

Two thirds of the way through the novel you arrive at the cross – and Jesus is tempted – and he, so it would seem from the novel, succumbs.  He comes down from the cross.  And he lives an ordinary life.  He marries.  He has children.   He grows to old age.

And strangely, he makes no difference to people.

His erstwhile followers pass him by.

Then on the last but one page of the novel something happens.  We are brought back to the reality that all of this has been as it were a flash forward – the shape of that last temptation.

And in fact, Jesus resists that last temptation.

He comes to his senses.

He is still on the cross.

He uttered a triumphant cry:  IT IS ACCOMPLISHED!

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

The most wonderful end to a novel.

For it was the start not of another religion with all its unrealistic expectations, but instead the opening up of a presence, the presence of the God whose love is prodigal, whose grace knows no bounds, the God who is with us through the world and all its sufferings, and all its problems and opens up for us a way through that world in his very presence.

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