Text of the Week: The king said to her, ‘What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.’ Esther 5:3
Welcome to our services today and a special welcome if you are worshipping with us for the first time. This Tuesday sees the start of our short course leading up to Easter, The Life of Faith. Whether you have joined our church family recently or been part of our church family for the first time it’s a good opportunity to look at the faith that binds us together as a church family. This Tuesday we are going to begin by looking at what Christians believe from the perspective we share as a church family. Do join us if you can. On Sundays we have been looking at what it means to be church here at Highbury: we are called to be Christ-centred, Spirit-filled, Rooted in the Bible, Open to All, Worshipful, Prayerful, Missional, and today, Visionary. In many ways today is the first of two Sundays when we have the opportunity to prepare for our Annual Church Meeting when we are going to review the three years since we introduced a new way of working for our church. If you haven’t already filled in a survey please fill one in today. Three years ago we shared a vision for our church: is that the vision we share today? What’s your vision for our church today? Do join us at our Church Meeting on Thursday 2nd March at 7-30. Cheltenham’s second Christian Arts Festival is coming – be sure to take a brochure and book the dates in your diary!
Welcome and Call to Worship
Praise with Hy-Spirit
Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
Reading: Esther 6:14 – 7:3
A Hy-Spirit Song
Activities for all over 3
A Vision to Share
Hebrews 12:1-2 and 13:1-7
Hymn: Be thou my vision
Prayers of Concern
The Lord’s Supper
Communion Offering & Dedication
Hymn: In Christ alone
Words of Blessing
Of all the words that Jesus used to describe his followers one of the most precious to my mind was a word he used as he gathered with those followers to share one last supper with them. As we gather together to share around the table in bread that is broken and cup that is shared it’s a word that to my mind is as precious now as it was then.
“I do not call you servants any longer … but I have called you friends”
In some ways it’s a word that has come into its own in our age of Facebook. In other ways it’s a word that has been diminished in meaning by its over use on Facebook.
After the horrors of the second world war every effort was made to build friendships that would build bridges between peoples who had been at war. Barbara Cullis has a wonderful story to tell of her class being linked up with a class from a school in Germnay so they could all have pen pals. There weren’t enough girls in the German class for all the girls in her class at Pate’s Girls School as it was then. So she made do with a boy. And she has corresponded with him ever since.
Friendships across those divides is what has been celebrated in Sandford Park – with links to Cheltenham’s twin towns. I have a liking for the Friendship circle – a two dimensional pattern that is realised in three different ways set in a circle – circles of friendship that take on all sorts of different forms.
Whatever form that friendship takes we can recognize ‘friendship’. It was the way Jesus described his followers at the table. And with that description comes a command that he gives.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Ever since I first encountered Quakers through the one who was my best friend at primary School something has drawn me to their ways – they think of themselves not so much as Quakers as the Society of Friends. It is what binds them together as followers of Christ, that they are friends together.
It’s at the heart of the vision we shared three years ago when we were thinking about new structures for the life of our church. On Thursday, 2nd March, a week on Thursday at our annual meeting we are going to reflect on the last three years of the life of the church here at Highbury – if you haven’t already, do fill in one of those surveys – today is the last chance to do that.
One of the things we did three years ago was to reaffirm the vision we had shared for the life of the church. And this is where it starts, around this table where Jesus says to us, “I have called you my friends’
Our prayer is that Highbury be a place to share Christian friendship. Where we can come alongside each other as equals, where we can support one another, care for one another, and discover the value of Christian friendship.
When Jesus used those words he wanted his followers not just to think of themselves as friends with each other, but as friends of his. You are my friends.
Jesus offers his friendship to all of us together, but he also offers that friendship to each of us individually. And that’s where faith comes in. Faith is not a set of creedal statements to sign up to, faith is what draws us to realise the reality of that friendship Christ offers to all of us and to each of us. The risen Christ promises to be with us always – a presence alongside us through good times and ill.
Friendships grow and change and develop – so too with Christ and the friendship he offers us. Faith is not a take-it-or-leave-it package it is something that grows and develops and changes and has its ups and downs.
It’s something to explore and to keep on exploring. Getting to know Christ more and more.
One of the things we try to do is to run short courses that introduce the Christian faith and help us to explore that faith together – we have given those evenings an overall title and think of them as our Explore evenings together on a Tuesday.
This Tuesday sees the start of our short course leading up to Easter, The Life of Faith. Whether you have joined our church family recently or been part of our church family for the first time it’s a good opportunity to look at the faith that binds us together as a church family. This Tuesday we are going to begin by looking at what Christians believe from the perspective we share as a church family. Do join us if you can.
Our prayer is that Highbury be a place to share Christian friendship, explore Christian faith and enter into Christian mission. There’s something for each of us to do – in caring for others, in making a differenced, in pastoral care, in sharing the good news of the message of Christ and the Christian faith with others around us.
We’ve been looking at what it takes to be church – Christ-centred, Spirit-filled, rooted in the Bible, open to all, worshipful, prayerful, missional and today we are looking at the way we are called to be visionary.
How important it is to have a vision for our church.
We expressed our vision for the church three years ago in this way …
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.
I like that Friendship circle in Sandford park – I like picturing church as a circle. A circle has a centre – and it is Christ at the centre of what we seek to do but the circle of our church family should be an open circle that is welcoming to all.
So heading for our Church meeting as we look to the future ahead of us a couple of verses come very much to my mind towards the end of the letter to the Hebrews.
Chapter 11 is a wonderful chapter celebrating the faith of the people who had gone before whose stories are told in the Old Testament.
And then we reach these wonderful words …
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,
and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,
who for the sake of the joy that was set before him
endured the cross, disregarding its shame,
and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
I love that image of the race – we have to keep running till the end of the course – we are called to run with perseverance – shake off the things that hinder us and weigh us down.
And as we run we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus
The pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
The one who blazes the trail ahead of us and opens up a path for us to follow through life – and brings it to completion as well.
We keep our eyes fixed on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith,
The one on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.
Keep at it.
What does that look like?
Let mutual love continue.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Remember those who are in prison,
as though you were in prison with them;
those who are being tortured,
as though you yourselves were being tortured.
Let marriage be held in honour by all,
and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled;
for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.
Keep your lives free from the love of money,
and be content with what you have;
for he has said,
‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’
So we can say with confidence,
‘The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?’
‘The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?’
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you;
consider the outcome of their way of life,
and imitate their faith.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.