Sunday, May 25, 2014

One Way Many Way Our Way God's Way

These are rough notes of a sermon preached today as Ruth and Matt and Jessica and their family brought Miles to share with us in the Sacrament of Baptism.

Welcome and Call to Worship
Hymn: 33 Now thank we all our God
Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
We share in the baptism of Miles
Reading: Mark 9:33-37
 Finding the Way
A Hy-Spirit song
Offering and Dedication
Following the Way
Acts 9:1-2 and 24:14-16
STL 39 Come let’s travel the way of the Lord
Prayers of Concern
505 Go forth and tell
Words of Blessing

Acts 9:2 – belonged to the Way
Acts 16:17 – proclaiming to you a way of Salvation
18.25 instructed in the Way
19:9 spoke evil of the Way
19.23 concerning the Way
22:4 I persecuted this Way
24:22 well informed about the Way

1 Corinthians 16;6 and 11 wend him on his way in peac

Names are special – sometimes easy to come by, sometimes difficult to find.

  But once chosen they stick.   Miles is now Miles.  Jessica is Jessica.  Say the name in the family and the person immediately comes to mind.

Names of organisations, names of things you belong to are similar.  If you have ever had to think of a name for something it’s hard – but once looked for it sticks.
When we started our children’s club the children who belonged looked for a name – and they came up with the name Transformers – quite a good name really and it’s stuck … so far, but watch this space.

The youth group – Hy-Tec – Highbury Youth the Eternity Club – a brand of trainer at the time – the name has stuck – and next year sees the twenty-fifth anniversary.

Today at a Baptism service we have all come together here in what we think of as our ‘church’ – it then has a couple of other words added on – Congregational to identify the idea that it’s the people who meet together  who shape the life of the church and Highbury given that name right at the outset back in 1827 by the people who came from Highbury in Islington North London and were belonged to the Highbury college there.  Church goes all the way back to the first century.

The name sticks – it’s known.  We know it.

Christianity, a Christian – the name sticks.

But intriguingly go back into the earliest accounts of the people who followed Jesus and there were a number of names they were referred to as.

Christian was coined as a nickname by people opposed to them – they are Christ – ians – almost sneering – not used much.

Church – body of Christ – disciples – saints –

But very early on one of the most popular names is one I think is worth re-discovering.

Very early on in the story of the church Saul who is incensed at the followers of Jesus and he persecutes them – he hounds them out of Jerusalem and then tries to track them down in Damascus.

Acts 9:1-2

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

The chapter goes on to tell of the encounter Saul has with Christ and the change it brings into his life.

What’s interesting is that through the account of Paul’s travels on a number of occasions the followers of Jesus are described as The Way.

Paul talks of the Way of Salvation

There’s talk of people being instructed in the Way, people speak concerning The Way, those opposed to Jesus and all he stands for speak evil of The Way.  Paul himself recalls the time he persecuted The Way.

It’s an intriguing picture for the church and I think one that’s very powerful.

As we celebrate a Baptism service we are making something of a statement about little Miles as we did for Jessica – we are identifying a Way for them to find.

Growing up they will be presented with all sorts of choices, decisions to take.  They will be presented with all sorts of differing sets of values.

Maybe the task you as Parents take on board today, and the task we have as a church is to help people find the way.

Share things with them … but then in the hope of a commitment they make – and say this is for me – so they come to the point at which they feel this is the way for me to take.

A point of decision – As children growing up, as they come to make up their mind, in decisions they take later on.

Our hope and prayer is that this way is a way to follow.

And the remarkable thing is that at any point they can take up their quest and find that way – unlike that experience of stopping to ask the way and being told I wouldn’t start from here – bit like the Sat nav – wherever you are you can start from here.

It’s a way of wonder, a way of discovery, a way of life.

But what’s it like.

It is as we come towards the end of the story of |Paul that he has been put under arrest – and goes through a series of hearings that stretch out over a number of years.

In Acts 24 he is brought before Felix , the Governor, who gives Paul an opportunity to speak for himself.  Intriguingly we learn that Felix was rather well informed about the Way.

He gives a defence of all that he stands for, of the decisions he has taken, of the Way he has followed.

Indeed he says as much

Acts 24: 14-16

14But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets. 15I have a hope in God—a hope that they themselves also accept—that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. 16Therefore I do my best always to have a clear conscience towards God and all people. 

14But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors,

The spiritual dimension to life – the value of worship – it is good to worship – to

 believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets.

A faith that is informed by the Word of God in the Scriptures as we enter into the conversations that are going on among all those writers of the Scriptures from so long ago, touched as we are by the very Spirit that was at work with them.

 15I have a hope in God—a hope that they themselves also accept—that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.

A hope that looks to resurrection – life not bounded by death – but life which has as part of its experience resurrection

Value of a world view

 16Therefore I do my best always to have a clear conscience towards God and all people. 

Love for God and love for others.

The Way is centred around worship

And finds its focus in Faith, Hope and Love

It is not just that Jesus maps out the way for us to follow.

He’s there with us every step of the way – there to bring us back if we go off – a bit like the Satnav wherever we are pointing us in the direction.

We need to venture on to the journey – and find the difference it makes.

I think there’s something exciting on offer here …

The Way
A Way to find
A Way to take
A Way to follow
A Way of wonder
A Way of discovery
A Way of life
A way?
The Way?
One way?
Many ways?
Our way?
God’s Way

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Being Looked After - Healing and Wholeness

I’ve kept on seeing it this week!

That bronze pole with a serpent on it became a sign of healing and a sign of life for the wandering people of God in the wilderness – ‘whenever a sermon bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.’

There it is in the middle of a blue cross on the side of the First Western Ambulances – the bronze pole with a serpent on it – still a sign of health and healing.

And linked with the NHS, of health and healing from the cradle to the grave.

That sign of health and healing is more than anything a sign of life and life in all its fullness.

For John it introduces one of the most wonderful verses of the Bible – as it makes John think of the way the crucified Christ is raised up on a cross and that death and resurrection of Christ is what for John and for us brings life and life in all its fullness.

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

There is, it seems to me a wonderful cross over between the health service and the wholeness and healing that is at the heart of our faith.

If the NHS is about us being looked after from the cradle to the grave, then how much more is our faith and the love of God in Christ about being looked after from the cradle to the grave … and beyond.
IN the story of the woman with the issue of blood there is a reference that’s easy to skip over to physicians – ‘though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her.’

Tradition has it that the one putting this story together in this gospel is none other than that travelling companion of Paul who was also responsible for writing the Book of Acts.

It is as Paul crosses over to Macedonia that the narrative changes to the first person plural and off and on for the remainder of Acts the narrative slips back into the first person plural.

It is as if the writer, Luke, is travelling with Paul and noting down the events that happened.

As the story reaches its climax it’s apparent that Luke is with Paul during his imprisonment.  Maybe, speculates one of the commentators, he took the opportunity those two years of arrest in Caesarea gave him to explore Judea and Samaria, maybe up into Galilee and meet with the eye-witnesses that he tells us at the outset of Luke’s gospel he draws on in telling the story of Jesus.

Joining with Paul on that hazardous final journey towards Paul’s imprisonment in Rome it looks very much as if Luke remains with Paul helping him in the course of that imprisonment.

Four of Paul’s letters appear to have been written from prison.  Colossians is one of them.  As Paul gets to the end of the letter he speaks of some of those who are close to him … and among them he mentions ‘Luke’

14Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas greet you

You get the feeling that Paul honours and values the company of Luke not just as a friend, not just as a supporter, not just as one who is much loved but as a beloved physician.

Physicians then were honoured as we honour physicians now.   In amongst Jewish writings that come after the end of what we have as our old testament is a collection of wisdom literature that dates from the couple of hundred years before the time of Christ and gives a good insight into the Jewish world just before the time of Christ.  It is the wisdom of someone called Jesus ben Sirach and his book is included in Orthodox and Roman Catholic bibles, but in our bibles it is included in the apocrypha.

Known as Sirach or Ecclesiasticus it has a wonderful passage ‘concerning Physicans and health’.

As we explore a little further what it means at the heart of our faith to recognise that we are ‘looked after’ – I think it’s good to put side by side our faith and those who are skilled as physicians.

Honour physicians for their services,
   for the Lord created them;
2 for their gift of healing comes from the Most High,
   and they are rewarded by the king.
3 The skill of physicians makes them distinguished,
   and in the presence of the great they are admired.
4 The Lord created medicines out of the earth,
   and the sensible will not despise them.
5 Was not water made sweet with a tree
   in order that its power might be known?
6 And he gave skill to human beings
   that he might be glorified in his marvellous works.
7 By them the physician heals and takes away pain;
8   the pharmacist makes a mixture from them.
God’s works will never be finished;
   and from him health spreads over all the earth.

I think there’s a wonderful celebration of medicine as itself the gift of God to us – the wonders of medicine in the modern world and the care – for me there is something special about seeing that age old symbol of life from Numbers still used as a sign of health and healing today.

4 The Lord created medicines out of the earth,
   and the sensible will not despise them.
7 By them the physician heals and takes away pain;
8   the pharmacist makes a mixture from them.
God’s works will never be finished;
   and from him health spreads over all the earth.

One of the things that has happened for us is that the skill of those physicians the remarkable medicines those pharmaceutical companies produce has the danger of separating out what the physicians do from what God does.

We see them as two separate things.

And prompted by that story of the woman with the issue of blood we can easily find ourselves turning to God for hhis healing touch only when the phyicians have failed.

The wisdom of that ancient writer Jesus ben Sirach goes on to suggest that prayer to God and the skill of medicine are rather two sides of the same coin.  That we should engage in both as that releases something of the strengthening, the peace of God into our lives – for we are looked after by God.

9 My child, when you are ill, do not delay,
   but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you. 
10 Give up your faults and direct your hands rightly,
   and cleanse your heart from all sin. 
11 Offer a sweet-smelling sacrifice, and a memorial portion of choice flour,
   and pour oil on your offering, as much as you can afford.
12 Then give the physician his place, for the Lord created him;
   do not let him leave you, for you need him. 
13 There may come a time when recovery lies in the hands of physicians, 
14   for they too pray to the Lord
that he will grant them success in diagnosis

   and in healing, for the sake of preserving life. 
15 He who sins against his Maker
   will be defiant towards the physician.

See health and wholeness as two sides of the same coin and that will lead to greater honour towards God and towards the physician.

But what about the situation when there is no cure.

At that point too what is at the heart of our faith comes into its own – we are being looked after – prayer is one of those things that releases that sense of God’s love encircling, upholding and strengthening us and drawing us towards that wholeness he alone can give.  IT may be a strength we can draw on from beyond ourselves that will see us through the darkness we are all too conscious of.

Maybe one thing to do is to think of that story of the woman with the issue of blood.

Picture yourself in the story - caught in the crowds, desperate for help..  No ne to help.

Not daring to think that any help is possible from Christ … and yet wondering, hoping, hoping against hope.

The woman cannot face him … and creeps up behind him.  Conversation is not possible and so she reaches out … she cannot bring herself to touch him for fear she might catch his attention.   To engage with him is the last thing she wants.

She touches the fringe of his garments, the hem of his robe.

Something happens.

How good it is to reach out, however tentatively, however hesitantly, even at such a distance.

It makes a difference to Jesus.

He stops.

He asks, Who touched me?

The crowds are pressing in.  It is Peter who sums it up – Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.

But Jesus is sure, Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.

It is at that moment that the woman realises she cannot remain hidden.

It is a remarkable thought that as we approach Christ, even if is so hesitantly, something comes from his presence deep into our hearts – deep down to us.  He calls it power.  A strength.  Something beyond definition.

The woman comes trembling,  and then she tells her story to Jesus.

Approach Jesus from behind – it is a wonderful image to have in your mind.  And then Jesus turns and looks you in the eye.  And there is a love that streams from him.

It had felt as if no one could look after you.

Now there comes that overwhelming feeling, Jesus is looking after you.

Then Jesus says something remarkable.


Just pause there a moment.

This woman has an illness that her society not only cannot help, but doesn’t understand.  They keep afar from her.

Maybe that’s how we feel.  That people don’t understand us.  That society means we are squeezed out.

But Jesus looks at us and says, daughter.

That’s a wonderfully special moment – a measure of how close his love is how much he looks after her, how much he looks after each one of us.

Your faith has made you well – the word is ‘saved’

I could imagine the woman inwardly snorting with decision.  My faith!  But she hadn’t much faith at all.  She couldn’t bring herself to approach Jesus – she had crept up at a distance.  She h ad felt the outsider.  Her faith.

No, her faith – even that faith – had been the saving of her.   Go and keep on going in peace.  In the peace that comes from God, the peace that leads to God, the peace that the world cannot give.
The word used at the end isn’t the word ‘cure’.  It’s much deeper, much richer.

When there is no cure – yet, there is a wholeness and a peace that can come.

Go in peace and keep on going

Being Looked After - Peter and Jesus

St Luke’s has one.  St Peter’s Leckhampton has one … and this year we’ve had one.   And it’s still up.  But we have had May Day and this weekend is a bank holiday weekend and surely it should have come down by now.

Experience Easter with a church near you.

Easter was a full fortnight ago – we’ve moved on now.

Or was it?

Easter goes on – the resurrection appearances of Jesus go on for five and a half weeks in the accounts of that first Easter long ago.  We are still very much in the middle of that Easter period … though how long the banner remains we have yet to see!

Interesting slogan on the banner and interesting invitation too.

It doesn’t say come and celebrate Easter.

It says experience Easter.

It doesn’t say Experience Easter at a church near you.

It says experience Easter with a church near you.

Easter isn’t just an event we celebrate that happened long ago.

It is something to experience in the here and now.

In a very special way it ties in with what Karen has now invited us to move on to think about.

As Karen has embarked on her work as our Discipleship Ministry leader she has had a particular focus.  It’s one we need to come back to and keep very much in our minds.

It’s very easy to think that discipleship is all about what we must do.  But Karen felt very strongly that she was moved to begin in a very different place.

Discipleship is not about obligation … it begins with the recognition that we receive so much from God – Receiving from God is the bid idea that Karen invites us to reflect on.  The immensity of all that it is that we receive from God – the glory of his creation – the depths of his love.

The first of Karen’s themes focused on the Prodigal Son story – and reminded us of just how prodigal, incredibly extravagant God is with his love for us no matter where we stand – whether we are with the elder brother in our religious commitment, or with the younger brother in his waywardness – God’s love is there for us – being loved is with it is all about.

And now last week Karen reminded us of that care the NHS give us from the cradle to the grave and suggested that no matter how high up we may be or however we may be God’s love is there for us – which side of the cross are we on?  Was Karen’s question …

That sense of being looked after is right at the heart of what it means to be Christian, what it means to be a disciple.

Peter’s story is another of those stories that goes to the heart of what our fiath is all about.

Peter the fisherman is one who stands on his own two feet, has his own business, is set up in the world … when Jesus comes along and Peter is swept up into following Jesus … but what happens so soon after Peter is called by Jesus is that someone is very ill in his home: it is his mother in law – sick with a fever.

Jesus is there not just as the leader but to look after Peter too – and Peter knows what it is from the beginning to be looked after by Jesus as Jesus joins him and his family in his home and heals his mother in law.

You get the feeling that the disciples sense they are looked after by Jesus – they start afresh – they are dependent on him, the logic of the world they live in is turned upside down by the Spirit mystery of Christ and they find themselves learning from Jesus.

As they sit at his feet they are drawn to a different way of bulding society – not on the values of the world, but according to the rule of God in their lives.

Jesus offers them life, light, and covers the cost of their lives.

He has all sorts of ways of describing his relationship with them – one of the loveliest is the image of the Good Shepherd.

I am the Good.  The  Good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me.

The shepherd imagery is one of those wonderful images that conjures up that sense of being looked after.

It works at so many levels – the beauty of the 23rd psalm in so many settings

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

The tranquillity of the peace God alone can give

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

The courage of his presence in the darkest of paths.

Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.

The delight in his presence come what may

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

That sense of peace and assurance that God alone can give.

The wonderful imagery is extended in Ezekiel 34 as the way |God loves reaches out to those who have gone astray – as he will seek the lost, bring back the strayed,

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

At our Ministry Leaders day we were challenged to think of the kind of leadership patterns you can see in Jesus – this was one of them – and we reflected on the different kind of sheep.  Were they woolly sheep you go aah to in a Cotswold field?  Or were they the scrawny sheep of the Forest of Dean, or the South Wales Valleys that I grew up with scavenging on the mountain side down into the towns in the dustbins …

We were thinking of Bethlehem and I recall my excitement at the sight of sheep and a shepherd – but they were outside the wall, separated from their people.   Scrawny, scavenging a living … and people devastated by all that is happening to them.

Imagery of the shepherd is not just an ‘aah’ moment – there is a strength, a protection, a challenge to justice as well.

And through the whole image a sense of ‘being looked after’.

Peter’s the kind of person you might think would not need that kind of sense of being looked after.  An independently minded person he could speak out on behalf of the others and speak his mind.

And yet, and yet … it wsa Peter who was the one who was overwhelmed when he found himself denying Jesus not once but three times.

There’s something very special about what happens to Peter as he is one of those first to experience Easter.  He is there at the empty tomb.  He is there in the upper room.  And now he is there on the shore.

Three times he has denied Jesus and three times Jesus gives him the opportunity to reaffirm his love for Jesus – Do you love me?

There is a wonderful sense as I read this story that Peter is being looked after by Jesus.

But there is a recognition that Jesus has in offering him that help.  He gives Peter something to do … and the thing he gives Peter to do is exactly what Jesus is offering Jesus.

The remarkable thing that Jesus offers is a sense not just of being loved but of being looked after by Jesus … and what Jesus invites Peter to do is to look after others.

Jesus is the shepherd to Peter in all his love … and he invites Peter in turn to shepherd.

Maybe this is a feature of that wonderful sense we have of receiving from Jesus and of being looked after – it is in looking after others that we find ourselves.

Maybe there are all sorts of circumstances that mean we are in need of being looked after by Jesus at this very moment.

Times of sadness, ill health, anxiety, troubles at all sorts of times … there is a wonderful sense of promise – the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters, he restoreth my soul.

But even in the midst of that sense of being looked after it is helpful to us as well to look after others.   We deepen our faith, our sense of God’s love as we share that love with others.

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