Thursday, October 22, 2015

Will it all turn out well?

It was great to welcome Stefan back to Highbury.  After doing his PhD here in Cheltenham at Gloucestershire University, Stefan and his wife, Birgit, learned Portuguese and he has been teaching biblical studies at one of Brazil's major Protestant Theological Seminaries.  It is a privilege to have Stefan as one of our mission partners.

Lately, there is one question I hear quite often. It comes up in conversations with all sorts of people – including my parents and friends. “Where shall all this lead to?” This shows a great feeling of insecurity - “How shall all this end?”

You might have asked it yourself. It is a good question – don't get me wrong. However, it always seems to expect a catastrophic ending. The great tree dieback. Inflation. Foreign infiltration. The islamisation of Europe. Harmaggedon. In other terms – the end of the world as we know it.
Unfortunately, we Christians seem to think the same way. This is quite human – but certainly not biblical. The Bible also has a vision of the world's end, although in the Bible this end is not a catastrophe. God does not bury his head in his hands, sighs and wonders where all of this will end. However, when God thinks about the end of this world it is not a tribulation.

The catastrophe will not come in the future. The catastrophe already happened long ago – and still has great impact on us today.

Remember, how the world was created? We have heard the creation narrative. How was the world created?

It was created good! Very good indeed! Next time you read the creation narrative – instead of focusing on how the world was created, pay attention to the quality of God's creation. This very world of which we are part of was created very well.

What happened next? … the catastrophe. Man wanted to be like God. Man wanted and still wants to take God's role. He wants to roll up his sleeves and form the world acording to his own aspirations and desires. This is the death of God. As Nietzsche wrote: God is dead and we killed him! And now we are damned to be gods ourselves. But with being gods we human beings are hopelessly overwhelmed.

The presumptuousness of wanting to take God's own place was the absolute and decisive catastrophe. What has happened since is a mere consequence thereof. The Bible does not speak of the death of God, as Nietzsche did, but it rather speaks of the death of man: “for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die!” (2:17) It is our hubris, our pride and arrogance, which is killing us. And with us all creation is carried away into the chaos which we caused. This is the catastrophe – and this catastrophe is old and gruesome.

Now I would like to invite you to span a bridge. I have highlighted some insights from the first chapters of the Bible and now we turn our attention to the very end of the Bible. The last two chapters in the book of Revelation are obviously meant to be read alongside the creation narrative from Genesis.

You may recognise some phrases and ideas which pop up again when John the Seer describes his vision of the end of the world. There he speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, or rather a renewed heaven and a renewed earth. He imagines light without the need of the sun. He describes sources and rivers overflowing with the water of life which flows out into all the world. There are precious stones and gold. There are gates guarded by angelic beings – but this time, the gates will be open for all nations. The tree of life reappears, now bearing fresh fruit each month and growing leaves for the healing of the nations. It will be heaven on earth. It will be God among us – in a way so astonishingly real that we run out of words to describe it.

John made this link to Genesis on purpose: everything began well and it will all end very well indeed. This world will not disappear in chaos, but will be filled anew with living order and everlasting peace.

Of course, in these last two chapters of the Bible, we also read about the coming judgement of God. Those who persistently and unerringly want to remain their own gods will be judged. These are the ones who distance themselves from the living presence of God. They show their desire for separation through their attitude and actions. It is very appropriate that this judgement will be exercised by God, for if he did not, he would be collaborating with the enemy. Justice is good news! This is the essential message of John's book: Follow Jesus and live by the values of his kingdom – distance yourselves from the enemy and the lies he tells!

So, now we have two extremes – God's good creation at the beginning and God's good renewed creation at the end. And we, where are we now? We are right in the middle. And if we are being honest, we have to admit that we personally and also we as a church have our share in the big catastrophe which dominates this world. We must not forget or excuse all the terrible things which humans did – and still do – in the name of God. We Christians are part of the problem, but we are also part of God's solution to this problem!

For us to be part of the solution rather than being the problem, we should rethink and organise our lives in a way that reflects the good end which is to come. Micah, the prophet put it like this: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8)

When Micah uses “o man” to address his audience, he does something quite strange. Normally, in the Old Testament God speaks to Israel and tells this specific ethnic group about his divine expectations for them. Now Micah addresses humankind – if you wish – in the Hebrew we find the word Adam. What exactly does God, the creator of all the world, expect from his human creatures?

I would like to comment first on the last requirement: “to walk humbly with your God”. This is exactly what the first Adam did not do – paradigmatically. To walk humbly with God would be to accept that he alone is God and that I am not. This means in consequence, that I would also stop trying to behave like a god. It means that I accept my god-given role in God's wider creation. I cannot go back to Genesis to explain it in detail so a very short summary may suffice: As humans we are to mirror God's wise ordering of the creation. We are his representatives in this world trying to bring back order, justice and peace so that all creation should be flourishing in the best possible ways. Walking humbly with God means to accept this role and fulfil it with all our wisdom and strength.
Now the two other requirements God gave us: “to do justice” and “to love kindness”. Both are already included in walking humbly, but Micah seems to be a realist. Towards the end of the 8th century it was as it is today – walking humbly with God could be understood as something purely spiritual. Of course it has a strong spiritual aspect, but it never is limited to something like prayer or religious rituals. To live with God implies the love for justice and a deep attitude of kindness. And this leads to action.

Just begin to imagine how the world could look like if we all as Christians were to rethink and organise our lives in a way that reflects the good end which is to come! How would it look like if we already were to anticipate the values and goodness of the world to come in the brokenness of the present world? Let us learn the grammar and the vocabulary of the only language which will continue to exist in God's renewed future world – the language of love. Let us rethink this world from its end and then live in it bringing the end forward into our present.

The challenge is not to become super humans – this will never work. God rather expects us to become more and more human. The kind of human beings which he imagined us to be from the very beginning. This is all not terribly complicated but it will require a conscious effort to rethink the world and act accordingly – in a bold and appealing way. We need to proclaim a good God and do good things so our message is congruent. We only have positive reasons to hope in a hopeless world.
Of course each and everyone of us has to face their own challenges when trying to apply all this to our everyday lives. At the seminary in southern Brazil where I teach OT and NT, we call this approach to theology “holistic mission”. This is a complicated word for exactly what we were thinking about just now. To do missions is an effort to bring together what never should have been put asunder – the proclamation of a good God, of his forgiveness, and the actions in response to the divine challenge to do tangible good to our fellow humans. In Brazil, there is a long way to go to mend a huge gap between spiritual concerns of the churches and the social and ecological responsibility of all humans including the ones who call themselves Christians. There are many who emphasise either or, but few who try to keep these things together.

Things will be different here in England. They are different in Germany. The many refugees pose a new challenge to us and I see it as a great chance to really rethink our system. Consumerism and capitalism will not do to serve as a reliable base to handle the issues. It will not be easy to find a genuinely Christian answer – and maybe there will never be an elegant solution for an ugly problem. But to burry the head in a fit of fear and wait for the end of the world will not do either. Fear always paralyses and makes aggressive. To only look fearfully at a black cloud which we call “end-times” will paralyse us and also make us aggressive. Let us focus on God's renewed creation and do good, because we are already the children of this new creation. Let us mirror God's love in the ways we can do it – always knowing that perfect times only will come at the very end.

Let us do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God. And let us do it well – for the good of all. Amen. 

Trust and Contentment: Matthew 6:25-34

It was great to welcome Stefan Kurle back to Highbury.  Stefan did a pastoral placement with us fifteen years ago while he was doing a PhD at Gloucestershire University.  He went on to learn Portugese and for the last 8 years has been teaching biblical studies at one of the major protestant theological seminaries in Brazil.  it is a privilege to have Stefan as one of our mission partners linking us with the world church.

“Do not worry!” It seems to be quite radical, even extreme, what Jesus expects from us. “Do not be anxious about your life … your heavenly Father knows that you need all this.” Can this be realistic? Isn't it a bit unbalanced when phrased in this way? What did Jesus think of, when he said these words?
Yes Jesus is extreme – but what is also extreme is the excessive consumerism we are into – here in the rich western world. Maybe Jesus' ideas on worrying and trust have a very relevant contribution to make in a world dominated by excessive consumption and by a relentless strive for more possessions and wellness.
Usually, I live in Brazil and in this country the gap between the rich and the poor often is very obvious.
·         Imagine: The simplest hut, not necessarily very old, but certainly with a leaking roof, is right next door to the futuristic designer villa of a local entrepreneur.
·         Imagine: The trolley overloaded with waste paper pulled by an old sunburnt man along the road is being overtaken by the most recent Mercedes type S ignoring any notion of safety margins.
·         Imagine: In the local supermarket a family strolling down the isles, a calculator in the hand of the daughter figuring out how far the money will go until the next paycheque. In the same isle a fashionable young lady chatting loudly on her even more fashionable iPhone 6 trying to organize the party tonight.
These contrasts, closely together, are quite normal in Brazil. This is how much of the world looks like on a larger scale. Luxury and poverty. Somehow the wonderful resources of this world seem to be distributed with great unfairness. Obviously, we can complain about this – but the system has us firmly in its grip: If we were to buy only the things we really need the whole system would collapse. The result would be massive unemployment, poverty and all its social consequences – a catastrophe! Contentment is against the basic interests of our modern societies.
But, contentment does not seem to be a great and pressing danger at the moment. Obviously, the rich people are happy to sustain the system and with it themselves. Jesus would suggest that they worship the god “mammon”.
But, interestingly, many of the poor people today have the very same focus on money as their rich comrades. This is something very obvious in Brazil: People are prepared to make great debts in order to participate in the world of consumerism. Just as the rich, the poor find their identity in their acquisitive power, only that they are still looking forward to the glorious day when they will be able to buy the latest smartphone or a new car. The poor focus on the money they would like to have. Contentment would be considered as a stupidity – for if you were content you would never get out of misery.
There are even churches in Brazil which try to apply the consumerist ideology in church. To give the tithes becomes an investment insuring the continuous flow of God's blessings. These expected blessings are often unashamedly material in nature – the imported car, the newly built house. We call this type of theology the prosperity gospel. A child of God cannot possibly be poor or sick. If a Christian were poor there would be something wrong with their investment – or a lack of faith or some sort of hidden sin. This is consumerism in the middle of the church – exploiting many of the poorest who are selling their last T-Shirt in order to be able to “invest” so they could hope for abundant divine interest for their investment.
These tendencies are one reason for us to invest in theological education in Brazil. The hope is that the future ministers will have the necessary resilience against the temptation to make quick money by promising things to people which they never can deliver.
With consumerism, your identity is based on your acquisitive power. With christendom, your identity is based on your relationship with Jesus. And this new identity implies, among many other things, also a certain attitude regarding trust.
The question is:

On whom do we trust for our lives?

Jesus talks about the birds and the flowers. Not the bees and the flowers, so the topic is different here.
I do not know what you already heard about this text… Many people seem to think that the birds and the flowers serve as an example to follow – apparently we would not need to worry about our livelihood, God takes care of this in a supernatural way. Some call this “living by faith”. But this kind of lifestyle is precisely not what the text talks about.
The birds and flowers do not serve as role models. And if you wish to copy birds you should be aware, that they do hardly anything else during their day than gathering food. No, Jesus' focus here is on God's provision. God himself is concerned with the livelihood of his creation and even takes an interest in the outward appearance of his creation – just look at the beauty of the flowers.
What Jesus talks about here is the question of who is ultimately responsible for our sustenance. Looking at a beautiful loaf of bread, the wonderfully woven piece of cloth, looking at the mastery of modern medicine, we have the tendency to proudly slap ourselves on the shoulder and think that we did well. And we did do well… Nothing against this. But our hard work, our research and our thinking depends ultimately on God. This we tend to forget. The greater the distance between the final product and the original resources, the more we are convinced that it is our work which gives us wellbeing and beauty. We are convinced that all depends on ourselves – if we do not care for ourselves who else will do it? There is no place for God anymore – so we need to take his role. An agnostic or atheist is damned to be god – all depends on us humans and so we take all responsibility. This is a great burden to carry.
Jesus, on the other hand, calls us to accept our human dependence on God's provision. His point with the birds and flowers is that they receive their livelihood from God and are thankfully aware of it. It is God's care which should lead to a radical trust. This means to resist constantly the temptation to overestimate our own possibilities. This attitude of trust could bring a certain amount of composure and tranquility.

But is it realistic?

Isn't this a bit utopian or far-fetched? Just trust God and all your worries go away? What about all the people who already died of hunger or froze to death? Most likely there were many Christians among these. Doesn't Jesus here propagate an irresponsible carelessness?
I don't think so. What he does is to offer a rough direction. During the entire sermon on the mount, of which our text is an integral part, Jesus has a tendency to speak in extremes. I suspect that he is a very gifted teacher who firstly marks out the topics in rough lines. Only later on Jesus fills in some details, looks at particular cases. In our text he is concerned with the main point and this he phrases in his usual radicalness. By and large, he claims, we are better off once we realize that our lives depend on God. This implies radical trust. And it is quite realistic – “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (6,27)
How does God go about sustaining our lives? Well, the grain grows quite independently from us. We did not invent the idea that edible fruit develops on trees. We find resources but we generally do not create them. So were are dependent in a very physical way. God sustains us also by helping us to act in solidarity – to share and thus provide necessities for one another. Historically, large parts of our social systems, hospitals, cooperatives and family values have a biblical base.
Radical trust in God is not displayed by loafing about and expecting great blessings straight from heaven. No, radical trust in God is the awareness that our hard work can only lead to success because God guarantees the favourable circumstances. All depends on God. And this kind of worldview is very realistic indeed.

But what about the phrase  “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (6,33)?

Some have understood this phrase as urging us towards emphasising the spiritual aspects of our faith… evangelism, missions, praise, devotion, care for the soul. Then the material things including the finances will fall into place as a side effect.
But this is not the issue here.
God's kingdom is not far away somewhere in the skies, nor is it purely spiritual. God's kingdom, biblically defined, is God's realm, speaks of the way how God organises and rules this world. How does God rule this world? God has committed himself to sorting out the wrongs of this world – he seeks to put the world to rights again. The biblical language for this centres around the terms of God's righteousness and faithfulness. It is God's great project and he will follow it through. Since we are his followers, we Christians are called to participate in this project. This is Jesus' concern: That we seek to participate in God's mission to bring the world to rights again. We are called to anticipate and thus live out the values of God's kingdom. For this we need to be reshaped in our thinking, in our attitudes and value systems – and this is exactly what our text is all about. Only as renewed human beings we can give our fellow humans a foretaste of what will come when God will finally renew this creation.
It will not suffice to adopt a couple of new habits and maybe a greener or more social awareness. Although this is all very important, it is only a consequence of a much more foundational change of orientation towards a person, towards God himself. Jesus challenges us to accept God as the one who takes great interest in caring for our lives. With this perspective all other things will adjust themselves. We begin to learn what really is important. We begin to figure out what the real issues are. We begin to be less pompous about ourselves and to look thankfully to God.
Once we learn to look towards God for orientation in this complex world, we will begin to realise what is important to God himself and this is exactly what Jesus means when he urges is to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
I began talking about the unfairness in our modern economic world, the distorted luxury and sick expectations towards money. I think we may now be in a position to pinpoint a couple of practical points to learn.
1.       We are part of God's creation. This is quite a challenge for the modern man. We are so used to think of us as being over against, apart from creation, while we really are part of it. It is so easy to forget that we are creation not creators. In this sense we are on the same level as the birds and the flowers. We should be content with this position. When humans began to dominate others assuming a quasi-divine role, it generally has brought great suffering to all of creation.
2.       A keyword for us could be “contentment”. The resources of this world are sufficient for all but they are certainly not unlimited. This earth cannot sustain 7.3 billion people living the standards of luxury and wastefulness that we live in the global west. We cannot go on to consume as if there were no tomorrow. There is a very real limit and God has given us humans the wonderful capability to restrict ourselves. Contentment could be a great resource in order to live responsibly. What is necessary? What is luxury? What are basic needs? Contentment will be a key attitude.
3.       Reading the sermon on the mount in it's entirety would help us to see Jesus' emphasis on cooperation. Our modern individualism was unknown to Jesus and his contemporaries – but if he were living today, surely Jesus would preach against it with all his power. God sustains us by the means of solidarity. For us in Europe this could be a fruitful approach in the current situation with the many refugees – these refugees are fellow creatures and maybe God chose to sustain them through us.
Jesus wants to teach us a new way of thinking. His primary goal is not necessarily that we have less worries, but rather that we are effective angled mirrors reflecting his divine love and sustenance out into his world. To seek his kingdom first and foremost, means that we need to rethink our place and role in this world. God wants to rule through us so we should know what is important to him.
The focus is on God, not on ourselves. But this focus on God does not distance us from this world, it rather changes us in a way that enables us to encounter the world in new and meaningful way.
It is a wonderful exercise to imagine what a new trust in God could change – with respect to our worries and with respect to our fellow creatures. The task is not easy – but God is patient and he expects from us only things we can manage. The perfect world is yet to come and it will not come by our effort, but by God's gracious intervention.

May our Lord Jesus renew our hearts and minds. Amen.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Jesus - a friend for life. Celebrating 25 years of Hy-Tec, our youth group

Hy-Tec Celebration Service
11th October 2015

Welcome to everyone sharing with us in our services today and a special welcome to everyone joining us to celebrate twenty-five years of Hy-Tec and get to the heart of what it’s all about.

Highbury Youth – The Eternity Club is a bit of a mouthful.  So it’s always been known as Hy-Tec!  Twenty-five years ago people at church had a passion to share the Christian faith with the young people who were growing up in the church, with their friends and with others too.

Starting with Kev and Jenny Elliott, moving on to Mary Buchanan and then to Adrian Blazey and to the current team of Adrian, Geoff and Ruth, Hailey, Matt and Beth there have been a whole host of leaders who have helped out with Hy-Tec through the years.  A big thank you to them all.

At the heart of everything Hy-Tec has done has been worship and prayer.  As well as our 10-30 and 6-30 services there’s a time of worship here in church most Sunday evenings at 8-45.  It’s the culmination of a fun evening taking a sideways look at the things that matter through the eyes of Jesus and brings each Sunday to a close with praise and then, linking hands, prayer.   So celebrate with us, think about the things that matter … and join in prayer!

Praise and worship with Hy-Spirit

We began with a couple of the very early songs that were favourites at Hy-Tec, Come on and celebrate and over all the earth.

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

Only Connect

It’s great celebrating Hy-Tec – 25 years – Highbury Youth – The Eternity Club

We miss Mary Buchanan, one time leader of Hy-Tec and now our Youth Ministry leader, who is up in Glasgow where her mother is far from well – she has sent an email asking for prayers especially for her mum and her family as her mum is not well.

Was trying to think of some sort of 'inspirational' message to pass on to everyone - but at the moment inspiration is failing! So I'll settle for 
- sincere apologies for the absence of haggis cake. 
- hope it's a memorable weekend (please put the pics on facebook, I'm getting hooked and I have got some internet access!)
- lots of love to all
- thanks to everyone who has had to pitch in and do extra because of my absence. 

I'll be with you in spirit.

Love Mary

We are thinking of Mary – who is with us in spirit – and we are thinking of her mum, Margaret.

It’s great to feel that connection with Mary now as we are sharing in our worship.

It’s great to make connections – between the youngest one here and the oldest one here – say 90 years. Youngest is Lucy at 2 – oldest is the oldest is Ellen at a little over 90!
 It’s 1982 years since the death and resurrection of Jesus – 90’s into 1980 –
22 people – fewer than the number who have come specially to the Hy-Tec celebration! - That’s what connects us to Jesus – historically.

Wow – a very close connection with Jesus himself.

So we have a quiz to do – the Hy-Tec Only Connect Wall – inspired by the fourth round of the great quiz show, Only Connect.

You can have a go on the wall here … through unless you know our Hy-Tec you won’t be able to get very far!

The Hy-Tec Only Connect Wall

Explain the connections

The original eternity clubbers

Mary and Martha –

The Mary Connection

Mary was a very spiritual peson and Martha a very active person – we need both, we need to be both – but they lost their brother – and Jesus was a great comfort to them - Martha just wanted to talk, and Jesus talked with her and said I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in me, though they die yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.  Mary couldn’t say anything she just was weeping – and Jesus just wept with her – now words.  And then he brought them resurrection for their brother.

We remember in the very first year of Hy-Tec Emma died – and we remember her and remember her family today.

Luke and John – Luke brought us the story of Jesus and the story of how the first followers of Jesus took Jesus into the heart of the Roman Empire, Rome  and John just selected seven things Jesus did and through the words of Jesus brought out what they meant – that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, that Jesus is the light of the world, that Jesus is the resurrection and the life

That’s the most important thing of all – that we each of us connect with Jesus – and find that he is a presence with us who can shape our lives and be with us come what may.

Only connect – through reading the Bible – those gospels – and getting to know who this Jesus is.

Only connect – through prayer – really important

Only connect – by simply letting him be there alongside you in the whole of your lives

John – was one of the youngest followers of Jesus – loved to share the Jesus message – when he was old carried into church – God is love – love one another.

Along with the Gospel he wrote he wrote a kind of accompanying letter that sums it all up
1 John 4:7-12

Dear friends, let us love one another,
because love comes from God.
Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God.

8 Whoever does not love does not know God,
for God is love.

9 And God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world,
so that we might have life through him.

10 This is what love is:
it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.

11 Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another.

12 No one has ever seen God,
but if we love one another, God lives in union with us,
and his love is made perfect in us.

A Hy-Spirit Song

Our God is big not small, he loves us all
His love is … amazing
Written by one of the first Hy-Tecers – James Gregory.

Sunday Special continues
For over 3’s

Making connections

[ The next little bit was in my notes … but didn’t get into the service itself!!!   Christabel Burniston would have been well over 100 – her parents were passionate for women’s rights – Christabel Pankhurst – the film Suffragette out this week.

Went to church at the end of a conference and the preacher had walked across Selma bridge with Martin Luther King – we are showing the film Selma on Saturday night

And on Saturday morning – A21


Human trafficking fuels the growth of organized crime, undermining health, safety, security, and the basic needs of humanity. It is the fastest growing crime in the world.


We are a non-profit organization who believes that together, we can end human trafficking.

 Here is our strategy:

Prevention – Protection – Prosecution – Partnership – Minster 11-00 on Saturday morning.]

There’s another TV programme that focuses on a well known TV show like Dad’s Army and then asks what happened next to the cast, the script writers, and everyone involved.

So we went on to hear what happened next to one of the very first Hy-Tecers and one of the seven who was at the very first Hy-Tec twenty-five years ago.

One of the very first leaders Jo told the story of what happened next after leading Hy-Tec in its first five years.  How she made a commitment to Christian faith in the very first Hy-Tec weekend away, then after leading Hy-Tec for five years married Matt, has a family and has become very involved in church in Midsummer Norton, where she leads a club for years 5 and 6 and hosts with Matt a house group each week.  She recalled using the script of the Cheltenham Passion Play to take the story of Jesus on to the streets in Midsummer Norton in 2008, calling it Passion – 8.  Jo spoke movingly of the way her Christian faith is such a strength to her, providing her with that solid presence of Jesus with her and alongside her through all of life’s ups and downs.

We went on to hear Helen’s story who had been at the very first Hy-Tec twenty-five years ago.  She had gone on to Uni,in Lincoln,  into teaching and has stayed in Linclon where she has been very involved in the life of a church that has a massive commitment to making a difference in the community.  After 14 years as a classroom teacher she now works as a peripatetic RE teacher and goes into church to share her Christian faith as a teacher, a very different approach from the one she had been used to as a permanent teaching in a school.  She spoke of the difference Jesus has made in her life and the strength he has been through everything.

They then went on to read wonderful words Jesus shared with his closest friends the night before he died, when he spoke of them as friends.

Maybe that’s the hope and prayer we have for us all – that we can treasure that friendship we have with Christ and the friendship he has with us and take that ‘connection’ with Jesus through the whole of our lives.

John 15:1-17

 “I am the real vine, and my Father is the gardener.2 
He breaks off every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and he prunes every branch that does bear fruit,
so that it will be clean and bear more fruit.
3 You have been made clean already by the teaching I have given you.
4 Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you.
A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine.
In the same way you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5 “I am the vine, and you are the branches.
Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit;
for you can do nothing without me.
6 Whoever does not remain in me is thrown out like a branch and dries up;
such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, where they are burnt.
7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
then you will ask for anything you wish, and you shall have it.
8 My Father's glory is shown by your bearing much fruit;
and in this way you become my disciples.
9 I love you just as the Father loves me; remain in my love.
10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love

11 “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.

Hy-Spirit went on to share the song that has most recently become a favourite.

Song 10,000 reasons

Kev, the first leader of Hy-Tec then movingly shared his Christian story.  He spoke of growing up in church but coming after a short illness at the age of 10 to a realisation that God was with him.  Then going off to Uni how he felt he had been led to be in just the place God wanted him to be.  He spoke then of the way he had married, moved to Cheltenham and become very involved for the next thirty years and more in Christian youth work.

He spoke of how well that work was going when he found Highbury were looking for someone to help them set up a youth group.  Feeling he couldn’t ask anyone else to go, he and Jenny came across and started something that is still going 25 years later.

In all that he has done, with youth work nationally, setting up The Ocracy at Highbury with alternative worship, detached work in Whaddon in Cheltenham in Charlton Kings Baptist church and at Highbury the thing that has driven him has been the difference being attached to Jesus and having that presence of Jesus with him makes in the living of his life.

We went on to sing In Christ alone.
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone! - who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied -
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine -
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand:
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.

Stuart Townend & Keith Getty
Copyright © 2001 Thankyou Music

Worship at Highbury happens each Sunday at 10-30, 6-30 and again at 8-45 when Hy-Tec share in praise and worship with hy-Spirit our worship group and then link hands around the table on the platform and share prayers people request.

We linked hands around the table and around the church and shared in prayers, remembering people known to us, not least our Youth Ministry leader Mary and her mother who is not well at the moment, and especially children caught up in the refugee crisis.  With prayers for peace and the grace our Hy-Tec celebration came to an end

With a wonderful lunch to finish the weekend it was great not just to look back, but to look forward and to share the weekend with the current hy-tecers in the hope that we can pass on the faith we share so that more may come to know that Jesus Christ can shape our lives and will always be there to see us through the whole of our lives, an ever present strength, come what may.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Reaching deep into the heart of prayer

A praying church is a growing church … and a growing church is a praying church!

At the heart of the life of our church is prayer. And it goes on in all sorts of different settings.  If something in our worship touches you today and you feel you want to share in prayer then have a word with one of our Ministry leaders or simply make use of our prayer space after the service  If you have a prayer concern to share with the church family have a word with Lorraine Gasside on 239838 or email and we shall pass it round our prayer chain. To join that prayer chain see Lorraine.  Each Sunday morning we have a short time of prayer from 10-00 to 10-15 in our Prayer Space, each Wednesday morning there’s a prayer meeting and on the second Thursday evening of each month we meet in the Prayer Space from 7-30 to 8-30.  Do join us: it’s good to pray with others!  If you would like to lead prayers during our services please add your name to the list that Shirley Fiddimore is going to be keeping or have a word with me!  Most important of all, wherever you are, take time to pray!

Welcome and Call to Worship
311      Sing aloud, loud, loud
Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
Launching Operation Christmas Child
One thing to pack shoe boxes … but another is to pray
How important prayer is …
I want us each to think of a prayer we want to pray at the moment – and write down that prayer – it may be for us, it may be for someone we know – it may be for the people who will be receiving these shoe boxes.

This is just our prayer with God … in a moment

First, we are going to read a wonderful passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians … and then we are going to listen to a track and as we do that – an opportunity to write down a prayer.

Then we are going to make those prayers our offering to God – and offer them to God

Reading: Philippians 4:4-9

A track to play while people write their prayers

… and then make an offering of the prayers.

Hy-Spirit Song

Activities for all over 3

Prayer is more than words.  It’s something that touches us deep down.  It brings us into that close relationship we have with the God who hears our prayers and touches us as we pray.

Prayer is in someway an expression of our love, the love we have for people around us, the love we have for God’s world … it is an expression of love because we share our prayers with the God who is love.

Sometimes it’s good for us to reach down into the heart of prayer … and sense the presence of God with us and know this God to be the God who is love.

Let’s remain seated and sing together …

MTS 2 Be still

The way we pray is shaped by the prayers we have heard people pray, the prayers that have been shared with us, for me that goes back to the prayers my parents shared with me from the very earliest moments in my memory.

In some ways prayer is an instinctive thing that comes naturally … but in other ways the way we pray is shaped by the Jesus who is at the heart of our faith.

There’s something intensely personal that goes to the heart of prayer.  But in the way Jesus wants us to pray it’s intensely important that our prayer be shot through with that sense of love, the love we have for others, the love we have for God’s world, the love that is the very nature of the God who is love.

Let’s hear the teaching Jesus shared with his closest friends about prayer … just notice something very special that is at the heart of the Jewus prayer and at the heart of the way we pray who look to Jesus as our Lord and our Saviour.

Reading:  Matthew 6:5-15

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
 ‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
 ‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
   hallowed be your name.
   Your kingdom come.
   Your will be done,
     on earth as it is in heaven.
   Give us this day our daily bread.
   And forgive us our debts,
     as we also have forgiven our debtors.
   And do not bring us to the time of trial,
     but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

The way we have prayed today is something close.  After the service I will dispose of the prayers.  Let’s suppose I decide to put them in a polythene bag and I then seal that bag.

I put them into the bin.

The rubbish is taken to the landfill site in Stoke Orchard.

Let’s suppose in 2000 years time some future archaeologist is excavating the landfill site and comes across a polythene bag sealed that has not deteriorated – she opens the bag and then has to decipher the language.  She calls in an expert on the English that was such a common language the world over at that long distant time.

They would touch us, ordinary everyday people and sense something of the way we pray and something of the God we believe in.  My guess is our prayers would be an expression of our concern for others and our conviction that the God we believe in will offer help in a loving way.

In 1978 archaeologists did just that!

A young girl who belonged to Karen Haden’s mother’s Guide company went swimming in the baths in Bath … contracted an illness and died.   All of Bath’s baths were closed to investigate the source of the contamination.  It was tracked to the spring that bubbles up from the depths of the earth and provides the water for the baths of Bath.

The spring was under the concrete floor of one of the city centre hotels that had been built one hundred years before.  The concrete had to be taken up, the reservoir that had been built by the Romans to catch the water from the spring was drained, the spring water syphoned off and drained away.  The archaeologists were brought in.  What they discovered was remarkable.  17,500 coins people had thrown in the spring.  And 130 pieces of lead the size of a postcard with writing on.  Not posh, formal Latin like you find on inscriptions, but ordinary everyday rough and ready writing.

That very same year working were laying a water main across the field next to Peggy Heckler’s Tump in Uley on the Cotswold Escarpment – they began digging up fragments of pottery and so called in the archaeologists.  What should they find but another 130 or so lead tablets with the same kind of writing on.

It took some time to decipher them, one expert called Roger Tomlin was brought in.  He worked away with others.

Something remarkable was going on.

These were, you could argue, prayers.  The prayers written by ordinary everyday people as they visited the Roman tample to Sulis Minerva in Bath and the Roman Temple to Mercury on the Costwold escarpment in Uley.

And the similarities of the prayers tell you a lot about what these people, many of them local Celtic people thought they were doing as they were praying.

Someone had stolen something and they were praying to get it back – but the prayers have a vengeful streak in them – May the divine genius of the god Mercury, or the goddess Sulis Minerva get my stolen plough or my stolen cloak back – I will give you the blood of the one who stole it and you can take their life, whether they be slave or free, man or woman.

So the ordinary every day way of saying your prayers to your god was vengeful … what would it be like for someone steeped in that way of praying if they came across Jesus, started to follow Jesus and began to read what he had to say about praying.

At the heart of his praying is the God of love who forgives and who redeems us through the shedding of Jesus’ blood, such as we have no need to seek the blood of someone else.

And at the heart of his way of praying is a wonderful love that mirrors the forgiveness that is of the nature of the God who is love.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

As if to press the point home, as if recognising that for some people this was a very different approach to prayer and to praying.

Jesus added this.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, yhour heavenly Father will also forgive you … but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

It’s powerful stuff.

So, if we are to go to reach deep into the heart of prayer we need to speak as Jesus spoke in accents of love.

Hymn: 510   Lord, speak to me that I may speak

Prayers of Concern

38        Praise my soul, the king of heaven

Words of Blessing

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