Friday, December 25, 2015

To make an end is to make a beginning - a Christmas Sermon

I got caught out when Richard Atkins rang me on Sunday morning to interview me about Highbury’s Christmas services on Radio Gloucestershire.  He got to the end of the interview, I had said what I wanted to say, and he then asked me, “So, Richard what do you really want for Christmas?”

My mind went a total blank.

Then it came to me in a flash!

Given that it was the Sunday morning religious slot … and given that I was on as a local minister promoting Christmas, and given advance warning, I might have had the wit to give some profound comment about the best present being that love of God in Christ that Christmas is all about.

As it was I went on to say,

“I’ve already had the best Christmas present possible, I said.  Having grown up in Leicester and been in Cheltenham for twenty-five years, having Leicester City top of the Premiership and the Robins top of the national League at Christmas – what more could anyone want!”

And so, today, I break with tradition.  Instead of showing one of the presents I have received I thought I would show you the presents I am going to give to Arsenal supporting younger son and Spurs supporting older son – A Happy Christmas from the top of the table!

Come to think of it I have copies of my present for Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea supporters too.

There is, however, a catch as my younger son, the Arsenal supporter, and my older son, the Spurs supporter remind me constantly.

What counts is what happens at the end of the season!

We shall have to wait and see!

When Andrea came up with the idea of using Bob Hartman’s new Christmas Poem for our Nativity last Sunday it caught my imagination.  It was a nativity with a difference.  It didn’t just tell the story of the nativity, it told the back-story in the Old Testament and went on to the end of the story by including the life and teaching, the death and resurrection of the babe born in Bethlehem.

“That’s why we have Christmas, and welcome the day
And sing, and eat turkey, and put on a play
And dress up like angels, and get lots of toys
It’s not just because of that sweet baby boy
It’s because of the man he grew up to be.
Who changed people’s lives, and can change you and me.
To live and to love just like God always planned
And turn what is sad into glad again
And turn what is sad into glad!”

You don’t get the meaning of Christmas unless you look to the end of the story.

Look to the end of the story and you find the story is really only just beginning!

It set my mind thinking.

Two of the Gospels, Matthew and Luke tell stories of the Nativity.  John opens with that wonderful passage about the Word made flesh we’ve read once again on Christmas Day.

Each of those three gospels comes back at the end to ideas they started with.
Matthew begins with the back story of the Old Testament which he sees as a story of Three Ages.

1.      The Age from Abraham to David before the people of God experimented with the idea of having a Kingdom
2.      The Age from David to the Deportation to Babylon when the people of God experimented often disastrously with having a Kingdom
3.      The Age from the Deportation to Babylon to the birth of Jesus, the one anointed to be King in God’s kingdom.  His birth is then described and Jesus is given the name given by the prophet Isaiah to the king who got it right and ruled in God’s way, Emmanuel which means God is with us.

The Gospel story that then unfolds is the story of the way Jesus ushered a new age, the age of the Kingdom of Heaven which had at its heart love for God, love for neighbour and love for enemy too.

The Gospel story comes to an end with the death and resurrection of Jesus.  And it dawns on us that the end is actually the beginning of a story that includes us!  For the risen Jesus meets his disciples on the mountain top in Galilee, sends them out into the world to make disciples of all nations, teaching them all that Jesus had commanded them and then Jesus gives a wonderful promise that echoes the opening of the Gospel.

I will be with you always to the end of the age.  Emmanuel, God with us, to the end of the age we now live in, the age of the kingdom.

Luke starts in the temple where the presence of God is made known.  And Luke finishes in the temple where the presence of God is made known … only for us to realise it’s the start of something that begins in and around the temple in Jerusalem and spread out into the whole world, as Jesus brings the presence of God into people’s lives.

And John’s gospel?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. … What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

Read through John’s gospel and it’s all about life.

I am the light of the world: those who follow me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.

I am the bread of life.  Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever, whoever eats of me will live because of me.

I have come that you may have life and live it to the full.

I am the way, the truth and the life.

I am the resurrection and the life; those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.  And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Get to the end of John’s Gospel, though John adds a bit of a postscript, and what do you find … the whole point of the Gospel story is that we who read it should have life – not just life beyond death, but life that begins here and now, abundant life, life we can live to the full, life that is not boundaried by death, but is lived in the eternity of God’s love.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples,
which are not written in this book. 
But these are written
so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, 
the Son of God,
and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Once again the Gospel ends as it began – with a life that now is ours to live.

It’s been a sad year for us at Highbury. This Christmas we miss here quite a number of those who were with us this time last year, celebrating Christmas.

Only the day before yesterday we had a service of thanksgiving for Edna who for getting on for sixty years and more rarely missed a Sunday morning service, was one of our flower arrangers, a member of the book club.  She knew what was in store when she was diagnosed with a major cancer towards the end of November.  And a couple of days before Advent Sunday when I visited her I think we both knew we wouldn’t see each other again.  That morning I had prepared the first of my sermons on the theme for Christmas this year.  Something Edna said prompted me to share my theme with her.  With a philosophical look, as she told me how her daughter had found a place in a nursing home to go to near her daughter’s home, Edna shrugged her shoulders and said, “all things come to an end.”

That first Sunday I had found myself turning to the poetry of TS Eliot, a writer that Edna’s generation, with her love of books, will have grown up with.   These are words that have spoken powerfully to me over the years.  Not least at sad times too.

These words come from Little Gidding, the last of the Four Quartets.

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

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

That for me is the point of Chrristmas.  And you only get it if you read to the end and discover the end is but the beginning of something that we are part of.

The Jesus who is Emmaunel, God with us, invites us to live life to the full as we love God, love our neighbour and love our enemy too and he makes a promise to us

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

There was one last thing I shared with Edna, before going on to share the 23rd Psalm, prayer and the Lord’s prayer.

On the next page of TS Eliot quotes Julian of Norwich, a woman mystic writer of the Middle ages in words I for one want to hold on to.

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well.

This has been my favourite carol this Christmas …

"Of the Father's Love Begotten"
by Aurelius C. Prudentius, 413, cento
Translated by John. M. Neale, 1818-1866
and Henry W. Baker, 1821-1977

1. Of the Father's love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the Source, the Ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see
Evermore and evermore.

2. Oh, that birth forever blessed
When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bare the Savior of our race,
And the Babe, the world's Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face
Evermore and evermore.

3. O ye heights of heaven, adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him
And extol our God and King.
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert ring
Evermore and evermore.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Real People - Real Voices - Carols by Candle light

For our Nativity this morning we used Bab Hartman's Christmas Poem, the new booklet produced by the Bible Society and in this evening's service of Carols by Candle light we welcomed once again the Peace Light from Bethlehem with its message of peace - Peace in me - Peace with you.

Christmas is a time when hopes and fears can be mixed up together, when sadness overwhelms and yet can turn into gladness.  Today we’ll be telling the Christmas story and seeing how it’s the story of real people living real lives in an often troubled world.  Maybe the Christmas story can touch us once again and bring something of the light of love into what can at times feel like a pretty dark and troubled world.  Over the years at Highbury we have supported young people on mission projects and taking a gap year.  This January we look forward to welcoming Faith who will spend part of an internship year of mission work with us.  It was through just such an internship experience fifteen years ago that we got to know Hanta, a young woman from Madagascar.  She had come over here to do a gap year: we have kept in touch with her ever since she returned to the children’s home where she had grown up.  She trained as a Social Worker and has recently been appointed Director of Akeny Avoko, a children’s home in Madagascar that itself has been through troubled times.  That’s who we are supporting through our Christmas collection.  You can gift aid your contributions by using a yellow envelope and marking it clearly Christmas Collection.

Real people, real voices
Real feelings, real thoughts
How do you feel when everything goes really well?
How do you feel when everything goes horribly wrong?
I’m Richard Cleaves.  I’m Minister of the Church here in Highbury.
I grew up in Leicester, and have always followed Leicester City
I’ve lived in Cheltenham for a long time and follow the Robins.
It's a great feeling having Leicester City top of the Premiership and Cheltenham Town top of the National League for Christmas!!!
How do you feel when everything goes really well?  Brilliant.
But then something happens – people you’re close to fall out
Someone’s ill – things don’t work as you want them to
How do you feel when everything goes horribly wrong?  Pretty bad
At one moment you’re filled with all sorts of hopes
And then the next there are all sorts of fears.

For the next little while I want to think of the people in the Christmas story.
I want to think of them as
Real people with real voices
With real feelings, with real thoughts

And maybe, just maybe, we can catch their hopes, their fears and something very special for this Christmas too.

We’re going to begin by singing the first of our carols – as we start to sing we are going to put the lights out … and as we sing we are going to bring in a lantern that has become very special to us over the years here at Highbury.  The flame has been kept alight for a week or so now … it was lit from a lantern that was lit from a lantern that was lit from a lantern that had been lit from the everlasting flame that burns in the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.   It’s the Peace Light from Bethlehem brought from Bethlehem by Scouts and Guide and welcomed to Highbury by our Scouts and Guides in our Christingle Service last week.  Notice the words … notice the words we sing …

1          O little town of Bethlehem,
            how still we see you lie!
            above your deep and dreamless sleep
            the silent stars go by.
            Yet, in your dark streets shining
            the everlasting light;
            the hopes and fears of all the years
            are met in you to-night.

2          For Christ is born of Mary;
            and, gathered all above,
            while mortals sleep, the angels keep
            their watch of wondering love.
            O morning stars, together
            proclaim the holy birth
            and praises sing to God the King,
            and peace to all on earth.

3          How silently, how silently,
            the wondrous gift is given!
            so God imparts to human hearts
            the blessings of his heaven.
            No ear may hear his coming;
            but in this world of sin,
            where meek souls will receive him, still
            the dear Christ enters in.

4          O holy child of Bethlehem,
            descend to us, we pray;
            cast out our sin, and enter in,
            be born in us today.
            We hear the Christmas angels
            the great glad tidings tell:
            O come to us, abide with us,
            our Lord Emmanuel.

Phillips Brooks (1835-1893)

But of course Bethlehem is not the quiet still place of Phillips Brooks imagining in that hymn … let’s sing two more verses someone from Highbury was inspired to write when he first visited Bethlehem.  As we sing these verses I think of the scout and guide group we have built up a partnership with in Bethlehem since we visited and I remember the people of Bethlehem are real people with real voices, real feelings, real thoughts.

               O troubled town of Bethlehem,
            with conflict still you lie.
            Above your deep but restless sleep
            indifferent stars go by;
            yet in your dark streets may you find
            resilient, endless light:
            for hopes and fears of all the years
            were borne in you one night.

              O daring child of Bethlehem,
            empower us all, we pray,
            to work for peace that wars may cease
            and love be born today.
            With all the nations' angels
            proclaiming we shall tell:
            'Heal Bethlehem, join "us" with "them"'-
            Amen, Immanuel!

                Graham Adams (born 1975)

Real people, real voices,
Real feelings, real thoughts

They were outsiders.
People didn’t often have time for them.

The Shepherds' Story

It was cold that night.
Breathe out and you could see your breath.
Looking up at that starry sky
there was something about that night that was frightening.
And yet there was something that took those fears away.

The voice seemed so real
“Don’t be afraid!
Something is happening that’s meant for everybody,
for everybody all over the world.
A baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.

Glory to God in the highest!
And on earth peace.

They ran as fast as they could;
They saw for themselves
And they believed.

While shepherds watched

Real people, real voices,
Real feelings, real thoughts.

Real people real voices
Real feelings, real thoughts
What was it those shepherds saw?
What was it that made them believe?

See amid the winter’s snow

Real people, real voices
Real feelings, real thoughts
What was it like for Mary
alone and yet not alone?

Mary's Story

It was hard
when Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire.
There was nothing else for it.
They had to go.
They had to travel to Joseph’s home town,
to the city of David,
to Bethlehem.
And then came the moment,
the moment she had been waiting for,
the moment for her to give birth.
She gave birth to a son,
her firstborn.
She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger.
The days went by and the visitors came.
They came and went.
And so often she was on her own.
That was her favourite time.
All alone with him.
The doors shut.
Just the two of them.

Silent night, holy night

Real people, real voices,
Real feelings, real thoughts
So many thoughts, so many feelings
And they all tumbled around in her mind.

Real people, real voices,
Real feelings, real thoughts.

The holly and the ivy

One more set of people had a long journey to make
and on that journey something very strange happened.

Real people, real voices,
Real feelings, real thoughts
And a real journey to make

 The Wise Men's Story 

They were a band of scholars, wise men from the East.
They were on a pilgrimage to worship the one born to be King.
Yet they did not know where they were going.
They looked for guidance.  They looked for answers.
And something drew them on.
It was something they saw.
It was as if it beckoned them on.
On their journey they walked by the light of that star.
They drew near to the presence of God.
But not everyone recognised it.
There was already a King in Jerusalem.
They thought he would want to know.
They thought they could trust him.
But he felt threatened.
He wanted to kill this threat to his kingdom.
Their journey led them on.
They could hardly contain themselves.
They were in the right place!
They had arrived at the right time!
They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary his mother.
Overcome, they kneeled and worshipped him.
They presented their gifts
Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

We three kings

Real people, real voices,
Real feelings, real thoughts.
Wise men with the courage
To set off on a journey with faith.

Real people, real voices
Real feelings, real thoughts
With something very real to share with us for this Christmas.
Something very real when things are going brilliantly and everything is great
Something very real when things go horribly wrong.

1          Who would think that what was needed
            to transform and save the earth
            might not be a plan or army,
            proud in purpose proved in worth?
            Who would think despite derision,
            that a child might lead the way?
            God surprises earth with heaven,
            coming here on Christmas Day.

2          Shepherds watch and wise men wonder,
            monarchs scorn and angels sing;
            such a place as none would reckon
            hosts a holy, helpless thing;
            stable beasts and by-passed strangers
            watch a baby laid in hay:
            God surprises earth with heaven,
            coming here on Christmas Day.

3          Centuries of skill and science
            span the past from which we move,
            yet experience questions whether,
            with such progress we improve.
            While the human lot we ponder,
            lest our hopes and humour fray,
            God surprises earth with heaven,
            coming here on Christmas Day.

John L Bell (born 1949) and Graham Maule (born 1958)
Used By Permission. CCL Licence No. 3540

Over the years we have welcomed young people taking a gap year here at Highbury and supported our young people to do voluntary service through our world church partnerships – in the New Year we are going to welcome Faith Taylor who will be spending part of an internship year in mission with us.  It was on such a mission work camp fifteen years ago that Graham Adams went on that we made a link for a while with a church in Penrhys, high above the Rhondda Valley in South Wales.  Through our world mission partnership CWM we got to know a young woman from Madagascar who was over here for a gap year.  Hanta went back to the children’s home in Madagascar, Akeny Avoko, where she had grown up, she trained as a Social Worker, and through Guiding and Scouting links has kept in touch first with our own Olga Slack and also with Felicity.  After a very troubled time for Akeny Avoko she has been appointed Director … and our Christmas collection this year is supporting the work of Akeny Avoko and the care it gives to some of the neediest children in Madagascar.    If you want to make a contribution there’s a container on each table for you to leave a contribution if you would like to … and  Gift Aid envelopes you can fill in if you are able to.

We are now going to share in prayers for Christmas – as each candle is lit bring to mind your own prayers, maybe for people you know personally, maybe for yourself, maybe for the wider world and its many concerns.

We are going to light our candles and as we do think of the real world around us and think of that light that can come into the darkest corners of our world.

As we light the first of our candles
Let’s think of people we know,
People who are not well, people who are sad in bereavement,
People who will find this Christmas particularly difficult
People who face problems at home, at work

As we light the second of our candles
Let’s think of the troubles there are in our world
People whose homes and whose families have been destroyed by war
People who are fleeing the devastation of war
People whose homes and whose families have been destroyed as a result of climate change
People who have been flooded out of their homes

As we light the third of our candles
Let’s think of Hanta and her family and all the work she is doing at Akeny Avoko
Let’s think of the children in their care as they are growing up
Let’s think of the people of Madagascar.

As we light the fourth of our candles
Let’s think of ourselves and the needs we each of us have
May the light of God’s presence, shining in the love of Jesus
Shine in the dark corners of our lives
To bring peace, to bring healing and wholeness, to bring a sense of that love that will never let us go.

Let’s all join together in saying the words of our Lord’s prayer.

Hark the herald angels sing!

May our lives and our voices
Our thoughts and our feelings
Be like lights shining in dark places.
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace
In our hearts, in our homes and in our world.  Amen.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The greatest gift of all ... life in all its fullness

It’s the greatest gift of all
and yet it’s so fragile.
It’s the gift we all share
and yet it’s easy to squander.
It begins as a cell divides
and yet it began so much earlier.
It ends with a last breath
and yet begins all over again.
It’s full of meaning
and yet so difficult to understand
In him was life
and the life was the light of all people
He came as the way, the truth and the life
He came as the resurrection and the life
He came that we might have life,
Life in all its richness,
Life in all its glory,
Life in all its fullness.
Abundant life.
And he spoke the word of life
Through believing we may have life in his name.

I think we’ve had a good week!  It was great to see so many people at the Christmas Fair yesterday and to welcome so many different groups from the community around the church, not least the Word of Mouth choir as they finished the afternoon with carols!

Our week got off to a good start too – thank you for all your prayers for the future of our course.  I travelled up to Nottingham for a day of meetings on Monday.  A panel of five that included some key figures from York St John University responsible for quality assurance and two external representatives from Aberdeen University and Coventry University who were specialists in theology, and especially the kind of practical theology that’s roote din the life of the church.  After interviewing our Director of Studies, looking around our study facilities and meeting all the staff, they met first with our students and then with us as tutors putting us on the spot.  At the end of the day they were full of commendation for the course and for our students … and have agreed to enter into partnership with us.  That’s wonderful news for our course and its future – thank you for your prayers – and now for your prayers as we make the transition.

We plan to host a GIFT course here, Growing in Faith Together, from the Autumn next year to help us strengthen the work we do at church in faith together for the kingdom of God – watch this space!

While I was in Nottingham, Felicity had a day with her Mum in Leicester and I went over to join them on Monday evening.  On Tuesday I had a meeting with someone at Leicester University following up the project I embarked on in my sabbatical which was great.

It was as I was leaving the Archaeology and Ancient History that I noticed a big banner advertising a the Leicester Faith Trail – a 3 and a half mile walk through Leicester that takes you to eight different Faith centres.  It looks a very interesting and great initiative and good to catch a glimpse of what the University is doing in seeking to build understanding across the faiths.

There’s one page in the booklet for each of the eight faiths.  There are going to be massive limitations to any venture like that.  A pen portrait of a faith will only go so far.  In such a publication one of the things I do to gauge its value is to look at the section on Christianity.

In many ways its fair enough in its three very brief sections – Christianity: an overview; Christianity in Leicester and then a focus on one particular church, St Mary de Castro.

As I reflected further, however, I became dis-satisfied with that entry more and more.  My dis-satisfaction had to do with one little word that is the one word that is at the heart of our reflections for this third Sunday in Advent.

I wonder whether you have spotted what that one word is?

I do hope you can join us for our Nativity next Sunday morning … as we tell not only the story of the Nativity but the back-story behind the nativity and then what happened next in the life and teaching, the death and resurrection of Jesus.

It’s no good just sticking with the beginning of the story – you have to see how the story ends to get the message of the story.  That’s what prompted me to turn to the two Gospels that include the nativity story, Matthew and Luke and see how the end of the story in each Gospel throws light on what happens in the beginning.  We began at the beginning Luke’s gospel in the temple where the presence of God is felt and we saw how the gospel ends in the temple in the presence of God … but the end is not the end, it is a new beginning as we stand on the threshold of the start of something remarkable as witness is given to the risen Christ from Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria to the ends of the world.

We went on to look at Matthew’s gospel.  And we saw how in the genealogy at the beginning Matthew effectively gives the whole of the back-story of the Old Testament, seeing it as three ages – the age from Abraham to David leading up to the establishment of a Kingdom in Israel, the age of the Kingdom or rather sadly as it split in two of the Kingdoms from David to the collapse of the kingdom in exile, the deportation to Babylon.  And then the age after the kingdom when the people were in subjection to the Persians, the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Syrians and finally the Romans.  And now as the Gospel begins the age of the Kingdom of Heaven is ushered in … a new age in which  God’s predsence is made real in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, and the Gospel finishes with that wonderful promise – I will be with you each and every day to the end of the age, the age of the Kingdom of God, the rule of God that we are now in.

And today we come to John’s Gospel.

There are lots of wonderful words in the opening verses of John’s Gospel.  It’s not a nativity reading … but it is one of those great readings that so often, this year included, we read on Christmas Day.  In these few verses there are a number of wonderful words, each of which is rich with meaning.  But there’s one word in particular that caught my eye reading these words afresh.

The reason it caught my eye is to be found not in the opening verses of John’s gospel but in the closing verses.

John’s gospel works like a modern book in some ways.  One of the things you can do if you are spoilt for choice in a library or a bookshop trying to decide whether to give a book a go is to read the opening sentence.  Does it catch your imagination?

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.  Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

And my favourite …

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

John’s Gospel works in the same way – In the beginning was the Word.

The next thing to do is to look at the blurb on the back cover.

Well that’s not so easy with John’s Gospel – but you can look at the last verse – not so recommended with a novel!  But I think the last verse is a bit like the blurb on the back cover – it tells you what the book is about.

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.  John 21:24-25.

That’s not the only bit of blurb at the end of John’s gospel!

You get the feeling John thought he had finished at the end of chapter 20 … and then he added some more as well.  This is the quote I would extract from the book and put on the back cover!

John 20:30-31

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples,
which are not written in this book.
But these are written so that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,
and that through believing you may have life in his name. 

That’s what John’s gospel is all about!

That’s the word to look out for.

That’s what the gospel is all about.


Let’s go back to the beginning of John’s Gospel and read those opening 14 verses – look out for this word – but listen carefully: it’s easy to miss!

John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
He came as a witness to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He himself was not the light,
but he came to testify to the light.
The true light,
which enlightens everyone,
was coming into the world.

He was in the world,
and the world came into being through him;
yet the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who received him,
who believed in his name,
he gave power to become children of God,
who were born,
not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man,
but of God.

And the Word became flesh
and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a father’s only son,
 full of grace and truth.

What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

It’s nothing less than life – this is what it is all about.

And this is my bone of contention with the Leicester Faith Trail – it’s not that what they say is wrong, but it gives a misleading impression that misses the mark completely when it comes to John’s gospel.

“There are many different groups of Christians throughout the world.  Typically, Christians believe in life after death …”

Well, yes, all right.  If you ask me the question, do I believe in life after death – yes I do.  But if that’s the focus it so easily becomes a caricature of what Christianity is about.  It is so very easy to give the impression that the Christian Gospel is about getting to heaven when you die.  But that’s not the language used in the Gospels.  It’s not the language I want to use.

The life that John’s Gospel is all about, the life that Jesus has come to bring to us is not just a life that begins the other side of dying.  It’s a life that begins here and now.

It’s a theme that runs through the gospel.

I am the light of the world; those who follow me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.

Following Jesus brings light into the darkness that we are aware of here and now in our world – and brings life to life now – it brings light into the darkness of our lives.

I am the way, the truth and the life – to be followed her and now.

I am the bread of life – life sustaining here and now.

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly, I came that they may have life in all its fullness.

This life is the rich life that gives colour and warmth and light to people’s lives in the here and now.

And the wonderful thing is that it has no boundary, it does not come to an end and finish, all over, at death.  It is a life that begins here and now and is lived to the full through life on earth and is not bounded by death.

One highlight of the week was carol singing at Sainsbury’s yesterday morning – always great to see the response people make – well over £100 in an hour and with all the supermarkets it’s the best part of £2000 – great.  And all for the work of Christian Aid.

They have a slogan they use from time to time.

We believe in life before death.

That’s the difference it makes – a commitment to bringing life to people at every level.

That’s my other gripe with the Leicester faith trail.  The church building it takes you to is a 12th century church in the grounds of the Norman castle – the church of St Mary de Castro – the opening times don’t include Sunday services and very limited.  The building is notable for its ‘grotesque heads’ that ‘envelop the exterior of the church, whilst the large churchyard is the oldest continuously used open space in the city centre.”

Wow! Impressive building.  And it is a great part of the city to visit.

But all the other faith buildings are vibrant centres of a community of faith. Why not choose a church to visit that’s got a vibrant snese of community as a worshipping people?  Maybe one of the lively churches with a sense of community – if you want a historic church as well, the Cathedral is just a stone’s throw away with a vibrant sense of community all around and its pattern of worshipping life.

Let’s capture a love of life, a commitment to live life to the full … and see how there is something very special that our faith in Jesus Christ can release into us as we put our faith in him. 

Let’s read the words of the Gospel and take them to heart – for

But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

How can we witness to this life in all its richness? 

In our individual lives – recognising that putting our faith in Jesus as the one who demands our allegiance provides us with a framework for the living of our lives that’s founded on love for God, love for neighbour love for enemy, that has at its core the kind of praying that is encapsulated in the Lord’s prayer, and involves living our lives in the service of other people.

In the worship and the community we share with other people who share our faith in the life of our church family too.  Let’s make sure that what we do as a church is filled with life, life in all its fullness.

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