Sunday, September 27, 2015

Caring for God's World - making connections for Harvest

Welcome and Call to Worship

283 All things bright and beautiful

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

It’s wonderful when things all connect up together!  Janet Brown’s brother shared it with Janet.  Janet shared it with Jean Gregory, our Ministry leader for Mission and Outreach, Jean shared it with the team of Ministry Leaders, who proposed it as the charity to support alongside our own Highbury mission for our Harvest collection.  Mary Michael wrote up a piece for September’s Highbury News which David and Sheila Mitchell read!  How wonderful, they thought and gave me a ring to say so!  When they ran a bookshop and music shop in Oban one of the regulars who called in was Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, the man behind Mary’s Meals!!!  Passionate about his Christian faith he wanted to do something to make a difference.  What began as Scottish International Relief, became Mary’s Meals in 2012 and now is a global movement supported by people from many walks of life and different backgrounds committed to the vision that “every child receives a nutritious daily meal in a place of education. “  And next Sunday afternoon at 2-30 who should be speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, but Magnus!  Do support our Harvest appeal in our collection today.

So … round two of Only Connect – this time there are four things that are connected – you have to work out what the fourth in the sequence is.   If you guess what the fourth is when you see the first one you get four points, after the second one three points and after the third one 2 points.

1.      A Bean
2.      A Bean Plant
3.      A Runner Bean
4.      A Bean
I bought a pack of runner beans about five years ago.  In the summer the runner beans are beautifully green and lovely to eat.  But as the Autumn came the pods began to die off.  They became all wizened and brown and rubbishy.  But inside was a big bean.   I stored them all and the next Spring planted the bans.  I have done that for about fivv years ago – I haven’t bought any more runner beans.

Isn’t it wonderful!

Something wonderful happened in my garden this summer too.

During our sabbatical Felicity has been researching her family history and it’s been really interesting.  At the same time we have been celebrating a little bit of my family history.

I studied for the ministry in Coleg Bala-Bangor – Bala-Bangor theological college – a funny name.  It started off in Bala.  Then it moved to Bangor and came to be known as Bala-Bangor – sadly it is no more – which is why I am so passionate about the course we have put together in our churches.

About 160 years the then principal, Michael D Jones had a vision that he shared with great excitement of setting up a Christian community where people could be equal and where they could speak in their own language and conduct all their affairs in their own language, Welsh.;

It was 150 years ago in 1865 that       people who had caught the vision set sail from Liverpool docks in a tea-clipper just like the Cutty Sark you can see in Greenwich, called the Mimosa.  It was a long and gruelling journey across the Atlantic Ocean, across the Equator to the coast of Patagonia.

They had been promised a land lush with green valleys … they arrived in what was virtually desert.  Thjey stayed a while on the coast and then made a trek towards the Chubut valley where there was a river.  It wasn’t long before they were able to plant some of the grain they had brought with them.   And there was great excitement when the first harvest came.

Twenty years later my Great Great Grandfather’s brother emigrated to Patagonia.  He and his children and his grandchildren and his great grandchildren kept in touch with my family over here.  And then in 1997 Owen Tydur Jones, my Great Great Grandfather’s brother’s Great Great Grandson won the coveted first prize for poetry in the Patagonia Eiseddfod, he won the Chair.

His poem was addressed to his Auntie Susie, asking her why she had not visited him in Patagonia as he had visited her.

When he won he wrote to tell her of his triumph only to find the letter returned, not known at this address.

That very week the relative he knew as Auntie Susie had died.  And that Auntie Susie was my Auntie Susie.  He wrote to her sisters, of whom my mother was one, only to have his letters returned, not known at this address.  For they had all died.

I wrote from my Auntie Susie’s address book to another member of the family: I had no response.  It turned out he too had died.

It was about five or six years ago that I had an email from Owen … and ever since we have been in touch.  And the only language we correspond in is Welsh as he speaks no English and I speak no Spanish.

You can imagine, therefore, that it was very exciting joining in the celebrations at the National Eisteddfod in Wales this year and then in Anglesey tracking down the graves of my Great Great Grandfather and of the sisters of his brother’s wife!

Earlier in the summer, Felicity and I had been to a wonderful theatre production in, of all places, the Royal Opera House Stores in Aberdare  where every set for every Royal Opera House production is stored in an enormous warehouse on the site of a disused colliery.  It was appropriate that it was there that the National Theatre of Wales, Theatr Cymru and S4C collaborated in telling the story of the beginnings of the Welsh community in Patagonia because more than 50 of the original settlers had come from Aberdare.

As the production unfolded we became aware that we were following a woman who was beckoning us on.  Towards the end we found ourselves sitting around massive tables.  Dancers came with grain and they poured the grain into our hands … and Felicity and I put the handful of grain into our pockets.

Then the woman we were following beckoned us on, the great rollover door in the side of the warehouse big enough for an enormous lorry pulled up and we could see the woman beckoning us on into the beautiful green valley, lit in beautiful shades of green and purple as the sun was setting.


When I got hom I thought, why not, and planted the grains in the garden.

Just before we went on holiday I noticed they were beginning to grow.

On holiday at the Eisteddfod we found they had moved the big tables on to the festival site in the corner where the theatre productions were on – we went to another play about the Mimosa which was afterwards going over to Patagonia.

And there in the gaps of the tables we saw the grain sprouting.

What would it be?

A couple of weeks ago  I went into the garden and spotted – it’s barley!  The first time I’ve grown such a crop.

What a wonderful picture of a grain, a seed, coming to new life.

That’s the picture Jesus chose of dying, death and resurrection.

It’s a wonderful picture.  To my mind the most exciting of all his pictures of dying, death and what’s beyond in resurrection.

Reading:  John 12:20-26

Some Greeks were among those who had gone to Jerusalem to worship during the festival.21 They went to Philip (he was from Bethsaida in Galilee) and said, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.”22 Philip went and told Andrew, and the two of them went and told Jesus.23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has now come for the Son of Man to receive great glory.24 I am telling you the truth: a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains.25 Those who love their own life will lose it; those who hate their own life in this world will keep it for life eternal.26 Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be with me where I am. And my Father will honour anyone who serves me.

Leave a seed on a shelf and it remains just a seed.  Bury it so that it seems to die and it comes to life – and the new life that comes is a whole new plant.

That’s an exciting picture that was taken up by Paul in that wonderful passage in 1 Corinthians 15.

But someone will ask,
‘How are the dead raised?
With what kind of body do they come?’
[Remember the seeds that you sow in the ground:]
What you sow does not come to life unless it dies
And as for what you sow,
you do not sow the body that is to be,
but a bare seed,
perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.
But God gives it a body, as he has chosen,
and to each kind of seed its own body.
So it is with the resurrection of the dead.
What is sown is perishable,
            what is raised is imperishable.
It is sown in dishonour,
            it is raised in glory.
It is sown in weakness,
            it is raised in power.
It is sown a physical body,
            it is raised a spiritual body.

A Hy-Spirit song

Our Harvest Offering
Shared between our Highbury Mission Project and Mary’s Meals

Activities for all over 3

It’s been exciting this year exchanging emails with Owen ac Eurgain, his wife, as we have been sharing in the celebrations.  It gives you a sense of belonging to a community far, far away.

There are about 20,000 who would think of themselves as Welsh and of those about 5,000 speak some Welsh and in the last twenty years there has been a resurgence of Welsh as strong links have been built between the Welsh Assembly government and the Welsh Community in Patagonia.

But the story is of course more complex.

When the 160 on the Mimosa landed they expected a green and lush land as they had had in Wales.  It really was a desert kind of place.  There were no houses for them to move into.  They started living in caves.

There were people there – and the relationship with the Native American Indians is something you are very conscious of today – the book I purchased telling the story in pictures and in Welsh, English and Spanish starts with a section on those peoples and their relationships with the Welsh settlers.

The trek across to the Chubut Valley was a desolate one and many were inbclined to give up their dreams.

If you look at the area on Google Earth, and its satellite photographs you can see it is all beige.  This is the Argentinian Pampas, a region of steppe-like plains almost bare of vegetation with a covering of shingle.

There wasn’t even any vegetation around the Chubut River … and then one of the women came up with an idea.   They made a simple but very effective mechanism that would lift the water from the river into channels and they began a process of irrigation.

Trelew is the main town – Tre the Welsh for Town and Lew from Lewis Jones, one of the founders of the community.  And then over to Gaiman, where Owen ac Eurgain live, and Dolavon – there are chapels and Welsh tea rooms, and farms – a lush green.

Shortly after my great great Grandfather’s brother arrived they pushed West in search of better pasture land … and found it 500 miles away in the foothills of the Andes – they called the area they found – the Lovely Valley, Cwm Hyfryd.  They built a rail road … and a big mill, just like the corn mill in Tewkesbury, and so they called the town there Town of the Mill – Trevelin.  Next to one of the Welsh chapels this year they are building a new Welsh school.

That picture is a very powerful one.

Of the green and the desert land.

I’m glad we still mark Harvest, even though we are in the town.  I think it’s a reminder that we are dependent on the sheer hard toil of those who provide us our food.  Last Sunday afternoon I shared the thoughts I am sharing today in a harvest service in Longney.  A couple were there who have a farm – not around Longney – the farms there have been amalgamated into a massive 2000 acre farm managed by a couple of people, and the houses, one next to the chapel, once lived in by those working on the land are well beyond the pocket of local people and so lived in by people commuting to Gloucester and beyond.

His farm is the land around the Hatherley Manor hotel.  Mixed farm, but no longer a dairy herd.  There are only three dairy herds left in that part of the county, he said.  What’s happening in our farming communities is something we should be aware of.  If the price of milk is lower than the cost of producing it … we won’t have milking cows in our fields and the countryside will change.

It’s important to reflect on what we do with the land.  The need for us to be concerned and to have a care.

More than that – harvest directs us to the glory of God’s creation … but also the challenge we have as people to look after that creation.

For me the Christian year starts at Harvest with a celebration of God’s creation, then moves to Christmas with the coming of Jesus Christ, to Easter with the death and resurrection of Jesus, to Pentecost with the outpouring of the Spirit that gives us the strength we need for the living of our lives … and so round to harvest and the glory of creation again.

I go back to the most wonderful pieces of poetry in the Bible, a passage filled with immense truths.

Genesis 1:1-5 and 26-31

In the beginning, when God created the universe,2 the earth was formless and desolate. The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness, and the Spirit of God was moving over the water.3 Then God commanded, “Let there be light” — and light appeared.4 God was pleased with what he saw. Then he separated the light from the darkness,5 and he named the light “Day” and the darkness “Night”. Evening passed and morning came — that was the first day.

Evening passed and morning came, the second day, the third day, the fourth day, the fifth day

Then God said, “And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us. They will have power over the fish, the birds, and all animals, domestic and wild, large and small.”27 So God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female,28 blessed them, and said, “Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals.29 I have provided all kinds of grain and all kinds of fruit for you to eat;30 but for all the wild animals and for all the birds I have provided grass and leafy plants for food” — and it was done.31 God looked at everything he had made, and he was very pleased. Evening passed and morning came — that was the sixth day.

And on the seventh day … God had a sabbatical!

What a good idea!  A sabbatical every week!  But just for a day!

How true that ancient poetry is … human beings have a remarkable power …

“They will have power over the fish, the birds, and all animals, domestic and wild, large and small.”27 They will live “all over the earth and bring it under their control.”  They will be “in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals.29”

It is part of the tragedy of creation that humanity has abused that power.

The words are intriguing words.  They are perceptive down the centuries – it is a reality that human beings have a remarkable power they can use for good or for ill.

They will have power … bring it under their control … be in charge of …

If you step back and see how this is the start of a big story told in the bible … the tragedy of humanity is that people do not use the power they have for good .. instead they use it for ill.

No sooner has this great responsibility been identified but another story is told – of the mess that human beings make as they do not exercise their power in the way God wants, but in a way that cuts against God and damages and destroys.

There’s always the potential for new beginnings – new dreams … of a new way of ordering creation – glimpsed in Isaiah of Babylon – respect for life, care for the world, enough for all  in Isaiah 65.

That care for God’s planet is God’s will for his world.  An overarching way of thinking of the world is maybe worked out best in poetic language.

We don’t just sing our praises to God – we sing words that help us get our mind round the big things in our world.

I have chosen two hymns that may be new to us for harvest today, though they are not new hymns.  It’s perhaps not inappropriate that the first is set to a passion tide hymn, my song is love unknown.  There is a wistfulness, a longing in the music.

There is a powerful understanding of our place in creation … the hymn starts with the visions of Isaiah 65 and the new earth and the new heaven – this is God’s will in heaven  – and if God’s will then a model for us in seeking to do his will on hearth

1          Lord, bring the day to pass
            when forest, rock and hill,
            the beasts, the birds, the grass,
            will know your finished will: 
            when we attain our destiny
            and nature lives in harmony.

Then the hymn comes to recognise our abuse of the power that has been given us …

2          Forgive our careless use
            of water, ore and soil -
            the plenty we abuse
            supplied by others' toil:
            save us from making self our creed,
            turn us towards each other's need.

Then coomes a prayer that when we exercise rule, dominion we should do it in a servant way of rule as Christ has modelled for us.  It is telling that the Greek translation uses the word ‘Lord’ that in the

3          Help us, when we release
            creation's secret powers,
            to harness them for peace,     
            our children's peace and ours:
            teach us the art of mastering
            in servant form, like Christ our King.

And finally the hymn draws in imagery that Paul uses of the creation groaning and looking with longing.

4          Creation groans, travails
futile its present plight,
            bound - till the hour it hails
            God's children born of light:
            that we may gain our true estate,
            come, Lord, new heavens and earth create.

Ian Masson Fraser (born 1917)  ©1969 Stainer and Bell Ltd
CCL Licence No. 3540   Tune:  Love Unknown

We need to recognise the responsibility we have for the planet we have been given … that is a responsibility each of us has to fulfil.

A time for reflection … and for sharing … what is it that you feel we can do?

A time to share

1          God in such love for us lent us this planet,
            Gave it a purpose in time and in space:
            Small as a spark from the fire of creation,
            Cradle of life and the home of our race.

2          Thanks be to God for its bounty and beauty,
            Life that sustains us in body and mind:
            Plenty for all, if we learn how to share it,
            Riches undreamed of to fathom and find.

3          Long have our human wars ruined its harvest;
            Long has earth bowed to the terror of force;
            Long have we wasted what others have need of,
            Poisoned the fountain of life at its source.

4          Earth is the Lord's: it is ours to enjoy it,
            Ours, as God's stewards, to farm and defend.
            From its pollution, misuse, and destruction,
            Good Lord deliver us, world without end!

Fred Pratt Green 1903-2000
© 1973 Stainer & Bell Ltd.  CCCL 3540
Tune: Epiphany

Prayers of Concern

It’s in that second part of Isaiah that there is a vision of how things might be – of a world properly cared for … and it’s from the end of Isaiah 55 with its wonderful vision that our next song comes …

Song: You shall go out with joy

Words of Blessing

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Only Connect!

A time of praise and worship
Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

Welcome to our worship today!
“Only connect!” was the watchword of one of our older members.  Founder of the English Speaking Board, Christabel Burniston was passionate about getting people to ‘connect’ through using their voice.  She was given the MBE for her services to education.  At 90 she achieved a life-time’s ambition and wrote a novel about one of the first women to train as a doctor.  “The Brass and the Velvet” was published at the turn of the Millennium and set 100 years earlier.  In November we’ll be celebrating the 100th birthday of her life-long companion and friend, Jocelyn Bell.

And if you want to read the novel – here it is.

“Only connect” is the watchword for our services today and every week.  In our singing we seek to express our praise of God, our understanding of the faith we share and our concern for the world.  In our praying we express our love for each other and for the world around us.  In reading the Bible we focus on Jesus and the way he opened up for us to follow.  In all we do we hope to make connections with what’s going on in our hearts, in our homes and in our world.

Maybe that’s why my favourite quiz of the week is “Only Connect”!

So just for fun we are going to play a round of Only Connect.

A Ship Halfpenny

A Spider

The 1905 All Blacks in Cheltenham

A Welsh jacket

The Connections

Leigh Halfpenny – injured Welsh Full Back

Rhys Webb – injured Welsh full back

1905 All Blacks played against Cheltenham
And went on to play Wales at Cardiff Arms Park – the All Blacks did their customary Hakka, but the Wales team had something under their sleeve as a surprise response – the Hakka over the kickoff should have happened but one of the Welsh team began to sing, the rest of the team joined in and soon the whole stadium was singing … the Welsh National Anthem.  It was the first time a National Anthem had been sung before any sports match and the first time the Welsh National Anthem had been sung as an anthem.  Now it’s all part of the ritual!  And that was the first time Wales won – the last time was 1963 and the next time will be on 31st October when we have a starlight party with a difference and hope to show the final of the Rugby World Cup …
Welsh fleece

In the church where Felicity and I grew up we used to collect ship halfpennies for a Missionary ship that linked the islands of the Pacific.  I went back to that church back in May – and there was a young family there.  A space for the children to play.  A Japanese Mum and the Dad was really tall.  Really tall.  I got talking to them.  So what do you do?  I asked innocently and my knees quaked.

I play for Leicester Tigers, he said.

Christian Loamanu – Tonga born, got a scholarship to go to Japan at 18 became the youngest Japan international … stuff happened, he left.  He’s ended up playing for Leicester Tigers – not in the Tonga World Cup team that was welcomed to Cheltenham last week and were playing at Kingsholm yesterday … interesting in that conversation hearing him say how important his faith was to him and how important it was to be part of a church family for support to him and his family.

One of the best things is that sense of ‘being friends’ and supporting each other in that spirit of friendship.

Reading John 15:11-17

 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.12 My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you.13 The greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them.14 And you are my friends if you do what I command you.15 I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.16 You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name.17 This, then, is what I command you: love one another.

A Hy-Spirit song

Activity groups

It’s great at church to make connections – with people in all sorts of different settings.  Over the years we have built up a strong connection with a family who have moved over to southern Brazil where Stefan works to help equip young pastors for ministry in a seminary and Birgit is involved with a drugs project among women – they have hit upon some problems and it has been good to help support them more at the moment.  And will be great to welcome Stefan who is going to be here for a week soon.

Sue has connected us with Children’s Homes in Kerala State and updates us with her visits.

This month we are supporting Mary’s Meals and its vision to give children in education a square meal – that and our own mission project is the focus for our Harvest collection next week – it was great to discover that Sheila and David know the founder of that organisation, Magnus MacFarlane Barrow who will be speaking at the Literature Festival on Sunday, 4th October at 2-30 – book a ticket!

Felicity most recently has made connections with groups in Cheltenham taking supplies to refugees initially in Calais and this week in one of the Greek islands.

Through Katherine and Adrian we have connections with Langley House Trust and the Knole a residential home here in Cheltenham for ex offenders and will be supporting them during November.

Judi Marsh has connected us with Moffatt who is in prison in Zambia – great to see in Highbury News that his sentence has been changed and he is due for release in about seven years.  We help to support his 15 year old daughter Cecilia.

Connections locally and across the world are an important part of what church stands for … and they always have been.

Paul was one to make connections and then to keep in touch.  Four of the letters of Paul that are in the New Testament were written by Paul when he was in prison.  He was awaiting the outcome of a trial and an appeal ….

IN a letter to a city that is now in Western Turkey, not far from the coast, Colossae he comes to the end and he maps out the kind of values that he has come to feel are the values that bind people together most effectively in a church family … but more than that they are the kind of values that bind people together in any setting.

Colossians 3:12-17

You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.13 Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you.14 And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity.15 The peace that Christ gives is to guide you in the decisions you make; for it is to this peace that God has called you together in the one body. And be thankful.16 Christ's message in all its richness must live in your hearts. Teach and instruct each other with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing to God with thanksgiving in your hearts.17 Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father.

It’s almost as if he invites us to put on a new set of clothes – it can make you feel so much better!

you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.13 Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you.14 

In Paul’s day you would need something to hold them all together – some of us need a belt now to make sure things stay up.

And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity.15 

I love that picture of binding everything together with the most important thing – love.

We are going to sing a hymn that celebrates the kind of love that can come into our hearts.

217 Love divine, all loves excelling

It’s all very well talking about all those values … it’s all very well talking about the importance of love.

Sometimes, however, it is not so easy actually to do what needs to be done.

There are sometimes dilemmas.  Should I do this?  Or should I do that?  Think about the story of Christ – the things he does … and that can be a guide.   Are you troubled about that being the wrong thing to do?  Or are you at peace that that is the right kind of decision?
The peace that Christ gives is to guide you in the decisions you make; for it is to this peace that God has called you together in the one body. And be thankful.16 Christ's message in all its richness must live in your hearts.

That’s all very well … but how can you have that sense deep inside.  Is the instinct to do the right thing simply an innate instinct – call it conscience?  Or is it something we need to cultivate, nurture and keep healthy?

You take it for granted that we need to keep a healthy body … but how do we keep a healthy conscience, a healthy mind?

That’s where Paul has a thought that’s interesting …

Teach and instruct each other with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing to God with thanksgiving in your hearts.

In making those connections with Moffatt and Cecilia Judi has teamed up with David Butcher, with Shirley Fiddimore and with others and produced anthologies of poetry to raise money.

On Tuesday evening we are going to take a look at a collection of psalms, hymns and sacred songs that are in the Bible – the psalms.  And see how they can help us at difficult times.

About ten years ago a Governemnt minister Jonathan Aitken was convicted of perjury and sentenced to prision.  It was while in prison he found faith – and he joined us when we linked up with St Luke’s and Holy Apostles.  When he was really up against it what he found most helpful were these very ancient psalms, hymns and sacred songs.

Explore is the opportunity we have on Tuedsday evenings to explore the big questions of faith further.  This Tuesday we are going to take a look at his reflections on the Psalms, Psalms for People under pressure – and see how they can help us shape our prayers.

A group of us got together last Tuesday and made our own version of Psalm 46 … I amalgamated them together …

In troubled times,
In times of distress and destruction

God is our harbour,
Our ship is safe in its home port
We shall not be scared when the waves rush in
when the sea seeks to drag the mountaints to its depths
and the mountains collapse around us and upon us;
we shall not be scared.

From darkness
Will bring a dawn of salvation

Look behind the curtain of fear
Feel the presence of the Lord

God, your strength looks after us
When trouble comes you are there to help

God is our Protector
He gives us His strength

For God is with us
God is with all of us.

There’s reminder of a strength that we can draw on in all that we share.

One last thought.  Right back to the connections we made with the Rugby world cup.  By all accounts it was great welcoming the Tonga team to Cheltenham – our son Dave and grandson Lake were there!  Great to see the pride the players have in representing their country.

So think of yourself as representing something that’s really important to you …

17 Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father.

We are going to join in singing together a recent setting of the 23rd Psalm.

Song The Lord’s my shepherd

Prayers of Concern

The banners all use it – a world in union

The slogan is still there.

I wasn’t’ sure whether they would use it as a theme tune for the World Cup again – it has its connections with Cheltenham.

And our last hymn is that tune …

36 O God beyond all praising

Words of Blessing

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Faith Focused on Jesus

This was my first Sunday back after a four month sabbatical - it was good to be home!

Welcome and Call to Worship
36 O God beyond all praising
Prayers and Lord’s Prayer

The Faith we share – finds its focus in Jesus

Let’s hear the first five verses of chapter 2 of Philippians and then we will all join in at verse 6 and say verses 6-11 together – so please pause after verse 5 and then we shall all come in together.

Philippians 2:1-11

Receiving Paula Rea into Church Membership

It’s great to be receiving Paula into church membership.  Church matters, it makes a difference.  And it’s important. And we are church.  In a fortnight the Big Welcome – do think of someone you can invite – maybe in your family, maybe a neighbour – the big welcome invitations arfe for us to take and use!  And then let’s be welcoming.  We were reminded by Jean of the McCullough rule – 3 minutes – spend three minutes talking with someone you don’t know before getting into conversation with someone you do!  Try it this morning!  And let’s give a ‘big welcome’, holding on to the vision we have for our church that Highbury be a

… place to
share Christian friendship,
explore Christian faith and
enter into Christian mission
with Christ at the centre
and open to all.

Highbury Congregational Church is affiliated to the Congregational Federation, a fellowship of independent Churches who come together to share resources and to support each other.

We are committed to each other by belief in the living God, revealed in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

We trust in our Lord’s promise to be with His people who meet in His name.

We affirm the scriptural right of every Church to maintain independence in the ordering of its affairs according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

We recognise the oneness of all Christians within the rich diversity of the world-wide Church.  We seek the unity for which Christ prayed by the means He wills.

We are partners in God’s mission with the Churches of the Council for World Mission, a world-wide mission partnership, and with Churches Together.

We worship, work and serve with all who love our Lord to realise His Kingdom in the world, and to help people everywhere to know the joy of His companionship.

God has already placed Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation: there can be no other foundation.  Jesus said, “Where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.  I give you a new commandment to love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
1 Corinthians 3:11, Matthew 18:20,  John 13:34-35

Church Membership: its basis and responsibilities

Church Members are admitted to the Church
·         on confession of faith in God and in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour
·         by renewing that confession of faith on transfer of Membership from another Christian Church

Names of potential Members shall be considered and approved by the Minister, Deacons and Church Meeting.

The Deacons will keep a written record of those who are Church Members and shall review this on a regular basis and present it to the Church Meeting for formal approval on an annual basis.

Each Church Member is asked to be committed to one or more areas of Church life in action and / or prayer.

Church Members are called to
·         Worship God regularly with the whole Church family
·         Remember the covenant with God in the Lord’s Supper
·         Read the Bible and pray regularly 
·         Share in the life and work of the Church Meeting gathered together in Christ’s name.
·         Witness by the power of the Holy Spirit to the truth of the Gospel through what they are, what they do and what they say.
·         Give their gifts of time, service and money to the work of the Kingdom as they are able.

In all they do they rejoice in the forgiving love of God, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, knowing that when they fail they do not give up but go on in the strength of God.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  Love your neighbour as yourself.    Mark 12:30-31

Receive Paula into membership
Helen and Shirley to give right hand of fellowship

Faith for the journey

My tribute to Mary Clifford

The story of Who would true valour see

One of those great publishing events – bookshops open at midnight – Terry Pratchett’s last Discworld novel.

World of Terry Pratchett … and J.K.Rowling is full of scary things – hobgoblins, foul fiends.

So I got Tabi to track some of them down.

42 novels in all.

It’s what you do when you have a good novel published.

The very first English novel was written by John Bunyan … and it too was full of giants and hobgoblins fierce frightening lions, a fire breathing dragon like monster – Mary Clifford grew up in John Bunyan’s church … we miss her.  So this is my tribute.

Mary Clifford took great pride in having grown up in John Bunyan’s birthplace and of a remarkable family association with John Bunyan’s church that stretches continuously from 1889 to the present day!

At a time when people were not free to practise their faith in this country, John Bunyan was imprisoned for his faith.  It was in prison that he wrote a wonderful story about Christian and his journey from this world to that which is to come. Pilgrim’s Progress.  It was such a success he did what all good writers do and wrote a sequel.  That told the story of Christian’s wife, Christiana and her journey from this world to that which is to come, a journey she made with her children.

This is the story Mary grew up with, it’s the story that has shaped her faith.  The faith in this story is not one that gives us the opportunity to escape the horrors of this world and its nastiness.  It’s a faith that enables us to have strength to face those horrors and say as Mary did just before she died, “No, I’m not fearful.”

Towards the end of the journey Christiana meets up with two friends – all the people on the road in Pilgrim’s Progress have wonderful names – you can’t trust Mr Worldly Wiseman, but as for Mr Greatheart he had room for everyone in the love he had for all – and Mr Valiant for Truth stood by the truth at all costs.

Greatheart is in conversation with Mr Valiant for Truth who describes the journey Christian took, the journey Christiana took, the journey he himself had taken.

It’s a journey that speaks of the whole of life – Mary’s life included.

As Mr Valiant for Truth says, the world can be a pretty horrible place – as you sometimes have to go through “the wood and dark mountains of the Hill Difficulty” as you face the menacing lions, and ‘the three giants, Bloody-Man, Maul and Slaygood’.

The journey through life can be something scary – Christian came up against ‘the foul fiend that haunted the Valley of Humiliation”  He found he had to “go over the Valley of the Shadow of death, where the hobgoblins are , where the light is darkness, where the way is full of snares, pits’ and horrible traps.  He had to go through the Slough of Despond and meet up with Giant Despair in Doubting Castle.

Mr Valiant for Truth spoke of the Enchanted Ground Christian had to go through as he came nearer to dying, that drowsy, dreamy time as a kind of sleep came over him … and he spoke of the final river he had to cross.

All the time, Greatheart has been listening with some fear and trepidation. He turns to Valiant for Truth and asks …

“And did none of these things discourage you?”

“No,” said Valiant for truth, “they seemed but as so many nothings to me.”

“Then, this was your victory,” said Greatheart, “even your faith?”

And Valiant for truth said, “It was so.  I believed and therefore came out, got into the way, fought all that set themselves against me, and by believing am come to this place.”  To this place of passing from this world to that which is to come.

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather,
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Who so beset him round
With dismal stories,
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
But he will have a right
To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit;
He knows, he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say;
He’ll labour night and day to be a pilgrim.

CP486 Who would true valour see

Activities for all over 3’s

Later in our service our communion collection is for Mary’s Meals – that will also be part of our harvest appeal.  I had a phone call from David and Sheila Mitchell with great excitement because … well let him explain!

David Mitchell on Mary’s Meals

Philippians 3:10-14
The Way to follow

A great big thank you to everyone at church from Felicity and me for making our sabbatical possible.  I’d been reluctant to have a Sabbatical but I am persuaded.  I feel as if I have cleared the cobwebs and done really important things with family and the project I have been doing.  And the church has had to do things differently and in new ways which we all hope we can now build on … and not just go back to what we did before!

I’ve spent the last four months immersed in the world of the Bible.  And it’s the world we live in.

I passionately believe that it’s through the words of the Bible that God speaks his word to us and shapes the way we lead our lives.  Sometimes we just need a word of comfort, sometimes we need a word of challenge.

What we don’t need is an expert to tell us what to think.  Maybe we all of us need to be prepared to listen to each other, to explore things together and take seek through all the words we read and the words we share that Word of God we need to hear.

Not what I say that counts

But what each of us hears in God’s Word and then what each of us does in response – that’s what matters.

So … over to you – think of this last week – it may be at work, it may be stuff in your own lives, it may be the stuff that’s going on in the news at the moment.

Now take hold of the Bible – is there anything from the Bible that’s speaking to something that’s going on at the moment this week for you, or anything that’s going on in the news.

If this is the moment when you go all cold and cannot think of anything at all, let alone anything to say … then that’s the point you will be just like me.

That’s the great thing about sharing and coming together in church – it may be that something that’s struck someone else is just what we need to hear.

If you want to, just have the conversation with someone near you – and share anything that’s come to mind.

But first, let’s just pray.

Gracious loving God open our minds to the Word you have for us in the words of Scripture this day and open our hearts that we may act on what we hear.

And what about me.  It has been great to have a sabbatical … a big thank you for giving us the opportunity.  I am passionate about the Bible and us all really getting to grips with what can be a difficult book.  The New Testament was written 2000 years ago in a world different world.  As we begin to dig into the Bible one of the really important things to do is to look into that world – then we see how the text of the Bible really spoke into that world.  It was a Jewish world and it was the world of the Roman empire.

Enter into that world and you can make connections with our world … and suddenly the Bible comes alive in new and unexpected ways.

Some people go to Rome to find out about the Romans – we went to Colchester.  It was grand daughter Edith’s idea!   She was just two months, and thought Taid’s idea [that’s the Welsh for Grandpa] was a brilliant one.  The keep of the Norman castle in Colchester is the biggest in the whole of Europe – and it still stands really high: you can go up into the battlements and down into the dungeons.   – it was designed by the guy who built the Tower of London – but it’s even bigger – it’s the biggest Norman Keep in the whole of Europe.  Wow!  And the dungeons are the best bit, except they aren’t really the dungeons, they are the vaulted foundations of the original building on that site.

When the Emperor Claudius decided to conquer Britain he set out just as Paul was starting his missionary travels on the other side of the Mediterranean.  Colchester was his City of Victory as he called it and became the most important city in Britain.  And so Claudius set about building the most enormous temple dedicated to himself as the son of god, complete with great statue of himself.

This was an incredible statement of power.  That’s the kind of world that Paul was travelling round.  Some of the key cities he visited had the same status as Colchester.  In each of his missionary journeys he travelled through a place in the middle of modern Turkey called Antioch in Pisidia and when he first came over to what we think of as Europe, he went to Philippi.  They were each a Colonia of Rome.  Colchester was too … and Lincoln [both have col in their names] and our own Gloucester too.

What happened to Paul in Philippi and what he was getting at in his letter to the Philippians all makes great sense if you get an idea of what a Colonia was.

I’ll tell you lots more on Tuesday evening at Explore and Wednesday afternoon after our lunch … but that’s why I turned to Philippians today.

And what do you find?   Paul maps out what it takes to be a citizen of  God’s kingdom for each of us and how each church can be a kind of colonia of the kingdom of heaven here on earth.

And what does it involve.

It all hinges on Jesus Christ.  He’s the one at the forefront, he’s the one all around us, he’s the one at the centre of all we are and all we do.

Those words from the beginning of Philippians 2:1-5 – that’s what we should be like together as a church – Paul may have been a Roman citizen but he did not look to the Emperor to shape his life, he looked to Jesus as the one to whom every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, the one every tongue should confess is anointed and Lord.

And then for us individually – again it is Jesus who shapes our life – I find that a great comfort and a great challenge … we need to keep going in the race – Paul uses wonderful imagery from the sports field – the Romans loved their sports Colchester has its chariot racing stadium – an athletics track is 400 metres round – each length of Colchester’s chariot racing stadium is 400 metres – not that you can actually see much now, but in the Castle museum you can have a go on a chariot racing simulator!

Philippians 3:10-14

I find that a comfort … personally. – he became as we are and shares in our sufferings, so that we can share in his sufferings – and sometimes when horrible things happen it is that way.  He shares in our sufferings so that we might share in his glory.

All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, 11in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life.

And then we keep going – keep at it … and do as Jesus would have us do.  That’s the thing that is the challenge, not least in the face of the kind of news we have all been aware of.

12I do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to himself. 13Of course, my brothers and sisters, I really do not think that I have already won it; the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. 14So I run straight towards the goal in order to win the prize, which is God's call through Christ Jesus to the life above.

33 Now thank we all our God

Prayers of Concern

S 19 Make me a channel – chosen by Paula

The Lord’s Supper

543 God be in my head

Words of Blessing

Retiring Collection

Music: Frank Guppy & HySpirit (HTC)

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