Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Journey of Faith - Practising the Presence of God

Text for the Week: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

Welcome to our services today and a special welcome to old friends and new! Do join us for coffee and biscuits at the back of the church after the service. Today is our Gift Day. All we do as a church is funded by us and by no one else. Our planned giving scheme is a way of giving that enables us to give regularly. Do take one of our Giving for Growth leaflets and find out more about that scheme. Twice a year we have a special focus on giving and today is one of those days. For today’s Gift day we have a special focus on giving to support our mission project working with children and families. We hope you will be able to give a special gift today for that work. Please use one of the yellow envelopes and mark it for Gift Day. If you are able to Gift Aid please fill in your details on the envelope. In a couple of weeks we are going to begin Christian Aid Week with the Big Brekkie and invite everyone to start Sunday with a breakfast and make a special gift towards Christian Aid. We collect from the streets around the church. If you are able to join in collecting please have a word with Laura or with Louise. We need more volunteers. Where it be giving for the growth of our church or giving for the work of Christian Aid, it’s all about the faith we share that finds its focus in Jesus Christ. He asks us to share in love for one another and in love for all. And that takes faith!

Welcome and Call to Worship
200 Christ is made the sure foundation
Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
Stephen’s Story
Reading: Acts 8:1-4
A Hy-Spirit Song
Activities for all over 3

A way of Being Church

If you want to know how to do church Acts is a good place to start.

It’s all about the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42

It’s all about bringing healing to hurting people (2:43), it’s about sharing with each other in the fellowship of the church (2:44).

It’s about witnessing to Jesus Christ Acts 2,3,4 – even, or maybe better, particularly, in the face of opposition from the powers that be Acts 4.

It’s about working collectively to move forward together.

Acts 6:1-7 is one of those passages where we find our roots in our Congregational way of doing church.

Acts 6:1-7

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.

There are always tensions in church life. There always have been. There always will be. If you want a church where there are no tensions and disagreements then you will look in vain. We are all people – and we all have our blemishes. As our old lower school head said in his Yorkshire accent, There’s nowt so queer as folks.

And we are all people with our failings.

There were tensions among the Jewish people in Jerusalem. There were the Hellenists who were quite happy to incorporate into their Jewish way of life Hellenistic, Greek, cultural ways, not least the language. And then there were Hebrews who were keen to stand out over against the contemporary culture and it was in their language that difference was most notably apparent.
The first church was made up of people who were Jewish and those tensions spilled over into the life of the church too.

So, at this point, the twelve apostles, those who had been sent by Jesus out into the world following the Resurrection – saw that there was a problem.

They did not resolve it themselves.

And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.’ What they said pleased the whole community,

This is a way of working that gets the whole community of disciples, the whole group in the Church to recognize the problem, own it and do something about it.

and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

This is one of those places where we trace our roots in our Congregational way of being the church.

Those who are leaders recognize something needs to be done – they don’t just go ahead and do it. They call together the whole community of the disciples in this place – that’s the whole church – that’s our Church meeting. They set out a course of action to follow – but it is important that all agrere that course of action.
So our Church Meeting it is recognizes those who sense they are called to various parts of ministry in the life of the church – pastoral care, mission and outreach, developing us as disciples, putting our worship together, involving children and families and young people.

There are practical things we are responsible for – safeguarding, health and safety, managing the property, seeing that the finances are properly managed – that’s all the responsibility of our Deacons who act as our managing trustees.

We all of us then have a responsibility that we share – and on this Gift Day we recognize that in particular.

 The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Of those seven who were set aside to carry out this specific, much needed task, it was said that they were “of good standing, full of the Spirit and of Wisdom.

As we reflect on what it takes to do church and all that lies ahead of the church family let’s make this our prayer …

619 and 620 Spirit of the living God

Sharing the Presence

Church is all about seeking and sensing the Presence of God with us, the Presence of the God who is love … and then it is about sharing that Presence of God with all around us. And that goes to the very heart of the Bible – which you can think of, not only as the Guidebook for the journey of faith, but as the Manual for the life of the Church.

The trouble is that the Bible can be a very difficult book to read, not least in the pages of what we call the Old Testament, which of course for the people of this very earliest church was the extent of the Bible.

On the day of resurrection Jesus had spent hours with the two on the road to Emmaus and with his other disciples in the upper room opening up that part of the Bible, giving them a way of reading the Law, the Prophets and the Writings that make up the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, with Christ at the centre. For the first time those followers of Jesus got it. Luke tells the story of the beginnings of the church in such a way as to give us a glimpse of Jesus’ way into reading the Old Testament.

It’s the way for us to follow in reading that book too.

Of those seven, Stephen is the one who is known for the power of his preaching and for the wonderful way he brought healing into the lives of hurting people. And in Jerusalem he came up against the very powers that be who had put Jesus to death.

They had a way of reading what we call the Old Testament that focused on the Presence of God. It’s the presence of God with us that makes all the difference. And the presence of God is focused on a particular place, the House of God, built on the very rock in Jerusalem where Abraham had been willing to sacrifice Isaac his son. The Temple. Modelled on the earlier Tabernacle the people had taken with them through their wandering in the wilderness, it had a sequence of courtyards. Anyone could go into the outer court, then only men, then only priests, then the Holiesst of Holy places could only be entered on the Day of Atonement by the High Priest.

This was where the Presence of God was made most real.

So when it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC that was catastrophic for the Jewish people and as soon as they returned to Jerusalem their first priority was to rebuild the temple. It had had its ups and downs. When it was violated 165 years before Christ it led to the Maccabean revolt and then the Roman General Pompey violated and damaged it 63 years BC … and then when Herod the Great came to power he completely rebuilt it as what he hoped would be seen as one of the wonders of the world – lavishly clad in gold leaf and seen from miles around.

And Jesus took offence. When he saw it, he wept over it, would that you had known the things that make for peace but you did not.

And when he entered the temple he was outraged, My Father’s house should be a house of prayer and you have made it a den of thieves.

According to John he went so far as to say that it would be destroyed and raised again in three days. Which as John points out was a reference to his own resurrection.

His followers sensed that there was something of the presence of God in Jesus himself.

As the Sermon on the mount came to an end he challenged his followers to listen to his words and act on them.

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.

The wise man in the Old Testament who had built a house on the rock had been Solomon.

It was as if Jesus was saying that the presence of God was let loose in the world through him, and that all who followed him and acted on his words would let loose that presence of God into the world as well.

Paul took this thinking to heart and said that we are each part of the body of Christ and each one of us individually is a temple for the Holy Spirit.

This  is a powerful strain of thought – and it comes from Jesus’ reading of the Old Testament – the insights he gave, Luke suggests, on that Day of resurrection which you then see played out in the speeches of Acts.

And it is this train of thought that emerges here in Acts 6.

For Stephen is taken to task – and false witnesses are raised up just as they had been at the trial of Jesus and they accuse him quite specifically.

Acts 6:12-15

2They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. 13They set up false witnesses who said, ‘This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; 14for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.’ 15And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

What follows is one of two places in the New Testament where you get a potted account of the story of the Old Testament told to highlight the key theme of the Old Testament.

It’s a bit like those summaries you get in the paper of a whole book reduced to one page.

He tetlls the story of Abraham, Isaac verses 1-8 and Jacob and Joseph and the captivity in Egypt 9-22 and Moses – and liberation at the Exodus 23-43 and then it focuses on the Tabernacle – the Tent of God’s Presence with them in the desert (GNB) verse 44 and David and Solomon focusing on the house of God 45-48.

And now we reach the climax – because this is about the temple – and Stephen notices something. There’s one strand in the Old Testament that focuses on the Temple as the place of the presence of God – but the Old Testament has other views as well.

Let’s take up the reading

Acts 6:46-50

44 ‘Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the wilderness, as God directed when he spoke to Moses, ordering him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. 45Our ancestors in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors. And it was there until the time of David, 46who found favour with God and asked that he might find a dwelling-place for the house of Jacob. 47But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says,
49 “Heaven is my throne,
   and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
   or what is the place of my rest?
50 Did not my hand make all these things?”

You can almost hear the murmurs of disapproval from the council members listening to Stephen rising in a crescendo as Stephen raises his voice – as he condemns these powers that be in Jerusalem for resisting the Holy Spirit, persecuting Jesus as a prophet just as the prophets of old had been persecuted.

This is the point for Stephen – that God’s presence cannot be confined to a place, to a location, but is let loose in the world.

Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands;

And finds its focus in Jesus.

The temple was of course destroyed again by the Romans in AD 70 – for 60 years it lay in ruins. Then the Jewish people took up arms against the Romans again and Hadrian put down the second revolt and built a Temple to Jupiter on the site of the Jewish temple making Jerusalem into a classic Roman City.

When Constantine became a Christian that Temple to Jupiter was demolished and the plaza where once the temple stood empty for another 250 years until Mohammad had his vision and was as Islam maintains given the words of the Quran there on that spot. And the shrine built to mark that place that is still there as the Dome of the Rock.

Mohammed had respect for all peoples of the Book and decreed that places marked by Jews and places marked by Christians should be preserved. He was able to build the Dome of the Rock on that location because for 300 years it had been an empty piece of waste land.

So do we as Christians support those Jewish people who want to demolish the Dome of the Rock and replace it with a Temple. That’s one way many Chjristians have of reading the Bible.

Or do we read the Bible in a different way?

I believe this reading of the Bible, Luke sees as the inspiration of Jesus and his conversations on that Day of Resurection.

It points us in a different direction.

And encourages us to seek and to sense the Presence of God anywhere and everywhere but in particular as we Gather together with others – for this is what Church is.

It is about seeking and sensing the Presence of God.

And then it is about sharing that presence of God with others around us – through taking seriously acts of love.

Helen was telling me of the speaker at the Hillsong conference she had attended who spoke of the need we have to do ‘acts of love’ wherever we are.

As we do that what we are doing is making this presence of God real in the lives of those we meet and those we seek to serve.

Here as we gather together, indeed, even as 2 or 3 gather together in the name of Christ his presence is real and that presence is a presence we are to share around us too.

374 From heaven you came

Prayers of Concern

533 Will you come and follow me

Words of Blessing

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Journey of Faith - Earth Day

Welcome and Call to Worship

Today is Earth Day. Our Hy-Tide Group have been inviting us to think of all we can do to care for the wonderful world of God’s creation. They invite us to share in coffee and refreshments after the service they have prepared with Eilidh’s help the Vegan way.

Out service begins with an invitation, one for us to take to heart. Please join in with the response …

Come, let us dwell in God’s shelter.
Let us dwell in God’s work of art.
Come, because the Earth is the Lord’s,
And God’s Earth is our home.

We live in God’s World; we are not alone.
We share this life with the heavens and the earth,
With the waters and the land,
With trees and grasses,
With fish, birds, and animals,
With minerals and creatures of every form,
And with all our brothers and sisters.
God is good and everything God makes is good.
God is love and everything God makes is love’s fruit.

Let us worship God … as we sing the first three verses of our first hymn 

All creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia, alleluia!

Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfolds God’s blessings on our way,
O praise him, alleluia!

147 All creatures … 1-3

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

Let’s turn in the Church Bibles to Psalm 19 – page.

We are going to join in saying Psalm 19

It is a wonderful Psalm that begins with a celebration of God’s glory in creation in verses 1-6.

It then goes on to remind us of the Law of the Lord and the way the Bible gives us all the guidance we need to care for God’s creation in verses 7 to 11.

Verses 12-13 are a prayer of confession for the wrong things we do that damage the world of  God’s creation.

And then verse 14 is a wonderful prayer each of us can make our own.

I’ll say one line and then we all respond with the second line through the Psalm – there’s a rhythm right through the Psalm as the second line echoes the meaning of the first.

Psalm 19 using the Church Bible

And now we’ll sing verses 4,5 and 7 of our first hymn …

And all who are of tender heart,
Forgiving others take your part
Let all things their Creator bless
And worship God in humbleness
O praise him, Alleluia!

147 verses 4, 5 and 7

We welcome Linda into Church Membership

Belonging to church we commit to each other in our shared faith in God and in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour to make a difference in our world. It’s great to welcome into church membership today Linda Hoarau – our hope and prayer is that Highbury can be a place to share Christian friendship, explore Christian faith and enter into Christian mission with Christ at the centre and open to all.

On this earth day it is a reminder to us that our mission involves caring for the world around us and the wonder of God’s creation.

Our commitment is to care for the world of God’s creation – it also to care for each other. Two things were important to those very first followers of Jesus – prayer – they prayed regularly each day – and bringing healing to people who were hurting in the name of the risen Jesus Christ.

Angela is going to tell us what happened very early on in the life of the church as they continued to meet and to grow in Jerusalem

Peter and John went to pray – Angela

A Hy-Spirit Song

Activities for all over 3

The One who Leads to Life

There’s a wonderful moment in the Easter story that happens a week after Resurrection day – Doubting Thomas had not been with the others when Jesus appeared to them that day. He had been adamant when they told him they had seen the Lord …

‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

So it was one week later that he was there when Jesus appeared again and said once again,

‘Peace be with you.’

Then he said to Thomas, and looked him in the eye

 ‘Put your finger here and see my hands.
Reach out your hand and put it in my side.
Do not doubt but believe.’

Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’

The words Jesus said next are among the most wonderful words in the Gospel story.

Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

And then John explains why –

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

There are those who have the most remarkable experiences and it is as good as seeing the risen Christ. There are those who want to wait until they have such an experience before coming to a real faith.

I treasure those words of Jesus, Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

For it is in John ‘s words, through believing that we have life in his name.

I think that’s wonderful – something wonderful to take to heart for all of us.

Luke was one of those writers in the New Testament who had not actually seen Jesus with his own eyes. But he had come to believe. He had come to a newness of life. And he researched who this Jesus was. And then told the story of Jesus and the journey he made to the heart of the Jewish world in Jerusalem in the Gospel that bears his name and the story of the beginnings of the church and the many journeys followers of The Way took to bring the Good News of Jesus to Rome and the heart of the Roman Empire.

The Gospel ends with Easter and Resurrection … and Acts begins with the final appearances of Easter and Resurrection. The whole story hinges on Resurrection at Easter and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost.

Luke notices that in spite of all Jesus’ teaching, on Resurrection day his followers had still not ‘got it’. In particular they had not understood how to read the words of their Bible as Jesus intended.

That Psalm 19 we read earlier is a wonderful psalm that celebrates the Glory of God in creation and the Law of the Lord in the Bible Jesus himself used.

The problem is that the scriptures of the Old Tesatment can be difficult to read – they are prone to misunderstanding. And those friends of Jesus still hadn’t got it. They still imagined that the one who would come to bring new life, freedom, the kingdom of God, would come with military might to overthrow the hostile powers of the World.

On the day of resurrection, first with the two on the Road to Emmaus and then in the Upper Room Jesus went through the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms and all the Hebrew Scriptures showing how he was the fulfilment of them all.

And they got it. What the two friends from Emmaus said says it all ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’

What’s fascinating is that as Luke tells the story from that moment on in Acts he time and again comes back to the way the first followers of Jesus explained their faith in Jesus by showing that he really was the fulfilment of all the Scriptures of all had said.

Acts contains a remarkable number of the speeches the first followers of Jesus gave. It is as if they are drawing on the way Jesus opened up the Scriptures for them.

Peter and John continued the practice of so many in Jerusalem and shared in prayer three times a day, going to the Temple. It was at 3 o’clock in the afternoon that they were accosted by someone unable to walk – and they brought healing to him in the name of Jesus Christ the messiah of Nazareth.

They then go on to explain what has happened …

Reading: Acts 3:11-16

11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished. 12When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, ‘You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

Notice verse 13 – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, the  God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus … just that single statement is rooted in the way Jesus opened up the Scriptures on the Day of Resurrection.

Who is this Jesus? – verse 14 – the Holy and Righteous One … the Author of Life whom God raised from the dead. This is the one to whom we are witnesses.

Let’s pause a moment in the words of a song express something of the wonder of this Jesus, the holy and righteous one who is the Author of Life – the one who is holy and good and leads to life.

A Hy-Spirit Song

All Things Made New

It is this name that brings strength, that brings healing and wholeness.
There’s a danger in these words!

One we are being made aware of to our shame as a society. It is the danger of anti-semitism.

It is very dangerous to read these words as if Peter were belonging to one religion – Christianity – and he is speaking to the Israelites who belong to another religion and are Jews.

That way of reading these words is the way too many have read them – and it results in antisemitism.

What is important, however, is to realise that Jesus is Jewish, he is rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures, and his followers are also fully Jewish. This is one set of Jewish people engaging with others who are Jewish exploring what it means to be Jewish.

Anti-semitism is quite wrong.

It was not ‘the Jews’ who killed Jesus … it was the Jewish Herodian Regime who in collaboration with Pilate that killed Jesus. And it was quite in order for Jewish people to be critical of that regime – that’s what the Prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures had always done – holding the powers that be to account.

It is quite proper to hold any government to account – and it is quite proper to do that of the current government in Israel.

What is totally wrong is to read texts like this as if they laid the blame for the death of Jesus at the door of all Jews – the text simply does not say that. It is so important to see what’s happening here.

Luke notices something in the preaching of the first followers of Jesus that he finds goes back to Jesus himself. And that is that the message of the Kingdom has to do with everyone everywhere. There is a universality about it too.

That’s made absolutely clear in the next verse with its reference to the ignorance of the crowd that had been whipped up by the rulers, the leaders, due to their ignorance.

Reading Acts 3:17-26

‘And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, 20so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, 21who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. 22Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. 23And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out from the people.” 24And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. 25You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, “And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 26When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.’

There’s the same theme of the prophets coming to fulfilment in Jesus Christ, the Messiah who suffers. This time he goes back to Moses, to Samuel, to the prophets, and sees Jesus as the one who brings that line to fulfilment with words that must be heeded.

What’s called for is in verse 19 that we repent – and have a whole new way of thinking – we look to the fullness of all time …

Which will be a time of refreshing, times the GNB describes as times of spiritual strength.

And we look to the time when all things will be made new

The time of in the words of the NRSV ‘universal restoration’

And at the end the fulfilment of that promise made to Abraham – that time when ‘all the families of the earth shall be blessed – through your descendeants I will bless all the people on earth.

There is in these words a universality.

We have to have in mind the totality of all people’s of all the world – and if that is the hope of glory then our task is to bring that down to earth in the here and now.

That on earth as in heaven, God’s will may be done, God’s kingdom come.

That brings us back to the responsibilities we are challenged to meet on Earth Day as we care for the planet and the whole world of God’s creation.

238 Lord, bring the day to pass

Prayers of Concern

259 Beauty for Brokenness

Words of Blessing

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The journey of faith - Words that Change Lives

Text for the Week: This Jesus God raised up and of that we are all witnesses. Acts 22:32

Welcome to our services today and a special welcome to any worshipping with us for the first time.

Morning Worship

Welcome and Call to Worship

193 God is love: his the care

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

Words to Change the World

Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you!

The wisdom of the ages has some truth in it – I can remember taking some comfort from the thought after people had been calling me names when I was little.

However, that only goes so far.

Proverbs 18:21

You will have to live with the consequences of everything you say.
What you say can preserve life or destroy it; so you must accept the consequences of your words.

James 3:1-12

Verse 5
Just think how large a forest can be set on fire by a tiny flame! And the tongue is like a fire

Words of thanksgiving and cursing pour out from the same mouth: brothers and sisters this should not happen! Verse 10.

Words count and make a difference.

Shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded room causes a stampede to the exit in which people are crushed … and it’s just a joke – no, words have consequences, words can kill.

I was there yesterday – I’ll cheer for my side for all I’m worth: but I don’t like calling the opposition names for real – tongue in cheek maybe! But there’s something ugly in an angry football crowd.

And as for social media. Take care what you say.

Don’t call names.

Diplomacy by tweet has its consequences.

But … words can have a life-transforming power.

That’s the power of the words the risen Jesus wanted us to share.

He wanted us to share words to change people’s lives.

Reading: Matthew 28:16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

That’s what we are involved in together … passing on that word, making disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded.

A Hy-Spirit Song

A new way of working – Iain as our new Church Secretary

We would usually welcome people and commission them … I had thought we would do that around now – but I have thought again. Things are falling into place for the vacancy – and we are going to have a re-commissioning of our team of officers, Diaconate, Ministry Leaders, I hope, in June when we will be very much looking forward to new things in church.

But now Iain is going to have a word about how things will work as Church Secretary – and tell us of the appointment of an Adminstrator.


Activities for all 0ver 3

There’s a lot of truth in the old children’s chorus I sang as a youngster in the annual CSSM beach mission on Criccieth beach, a beach mission that still meets each year!

The best book to read is the Bible,
the best book to read is the Bible:
if you read it every day it will help you on your way:
the best book to read is the Bible.

Lots of people at church are doing just that with the help of Fresh From the Word – there are still one or two copies of the notes available and a leaflet with all the readings and themes for the year.

There’s a catch, however.

How you read the Bible makes a world of difference.

Over the years the Bible has been used to justify all manner of hateful, vengeful things. That’s particularly apparent in the pages of the Old Testament. There are ways of reading those bits of the Bible that lead on to massive hurt and massive pain.

Think of the way whole swathes of the Bible were used to justify slavery. The defenders of slavery justified their position turning to passages in the early part of the Bible and through the Bible that accept having slaves and give instructions on how to deal with them. They pointed out those passages and justified retaining slavery. Others read other passages in the Bible, that we are all made in the image of God, that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free for we are all one in Christ. And they opposed slavery. a century and a half later there's no Christian who would justify modern slavery from the Bible. Ways of reading the Bible do change.Whole swathes of the Bible were used to justify the supremacy of one race over another in Apartheid South Africa. Whole swathes of the Bible can be used to justify all manner of hatred.

We've just marked the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. The last speech he gave was as inspirational as his speeches had always been ... and it's moving to listen to. It's a reminder of the power of words for good. They are rooted in a way of reading the Bible that sees at its heart the love of God in Christ for all people. As a sixth former we would listen to his speeches and they became part of us. Shortly after his assassination my father took me to a memorial service in a black-led church in Leicester. It was one of those moving occasions that has remained with me for a lifetime.

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of another speech. Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood speech had an incendiary effect, arousing the fears of racism. Never broadcast in full on Radio or TV it's to be included in a Radio programme this weekend to mark the 50th Anniversary and that has aroused great controversy.  And yet he was rooted in a Christian tradition that took seriously the Bible.

How do we measure up which way of reading the Bible to follow?

The choice between the way of Martin Luther King and the way of Enoch Powell is not a historical choice. It's real today as well. We encountered directly the Government's policy of having a 'hostile environment' for immigration, when our Caretaker was summarily dismissed from her job of 37 years by her employer here in Cheltenham. The employer had no option as she was required to provide documentary evidence of her citizenship. She had been born in Pakistan of a British born father who had spent a lifetime in the British army and at independence had been asked to stay on by the newly independent Pakistan government because he was held in such high regard.

When tiny, our Caretaker came to this country on her mother's passport. She has worked a lifetime here, paid taxes, voted, been a County Councillor. But after travelling as a teenager on a temporary passport she had not been abroad and so didn't have a passport.

In the six months that led us to having a date for an Employment Tribunal hearing we found how hard it was to get advice. With 40% cuts in the Home Office there was no advice to be had - phone calls simply said call back in 6 months time. Emails bounced back with the same message. There is no solicitor in Gloucestershire offering brief pro bono advice on immigration matters - there is no legal aid either. It took more than 60 hours of my time, and a wonderful solicitor linked to a member of teh church who put us in touch with a Barrister specialising in citizenship law and eventually she simply got a passport.

It was a nightmare.

And that nightmare is now happening to the young children who would have been in that Congregation 50 years ago in Leicester. They had come from the Caribbean with their British parents, settled here, worked a life time here. And now they are being summarily dismissed from employment, are being asked to produce four official documents for each year since they arrived in teh country [I thought Government advice was to keep tax records etc for 7 years!!!].

And they are facing destitution.

50 years on from those two speeches I know which one I support. And I know why. It accords, it seems to me with the way Jesus opens up for us to read the Bible and especially those bits of the Old Testament that can be taken to justify all manner of hate and separate people out.

If you do find bits of the Old Testament hard to get your head round you are not alone! 

Initially, the first followers of Jesus didn’t get it at all. 

And that exasperated Jesus: “‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! (Luke 24:25).

Jesus opened their eyes, their minds and their hearts to read the Old Testament and see him at the centre of it all. It’s as we put Jesus at the centre of it all that it comes alive in ways to transform our lives too.

That’s what we are going to explore in our services today.

Staying with Luke, I get the feeling that the priority Jesus had on the day of Resurrection was to open the eyes of those two on the Road to Emmaus so that they could read the Bible and see Jesus at its centre, Jesus as the fulfilment of it all: Law, Prophets and Writings.

I get the feeling that the priority Jesus had on the day of Resurrection was to open the eyes of the other followers he had meeting in that upper room so that they could read the Bible and see Jesus at its centre, Jesus as the fulfilment of it all: Law, Prophets and Writings.

The two on the Road to Emmaus got it. So did the others in the Upper Room.

They met in the Upper Room. They prayed. They read those Hebrew Scriptures we think of as the Old Testament with new eyes.

They saw things differently.

And on the fiftieth day after the Resurrection they were gathered in that upper room once again when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Like tongues as of fire, like a mighty rushing wind – it was that strength, that power from beyond themselves they had been waiting for, that Comforter, that Strengthener, that unseen yet so real Helper they had been waiting for.

And they rushed down on to the streets … all understood something of what had happened but some were skeptical.

And so it was that Peter got up and addressed the crowds.

Speeches have the power to change things.  On the 50th Anniversary of his death, the PM programme played the last of Martin Luther King’s speeches in full. It was powerful to listen to as he spoke of being on the mountain top and having to return to the valley.

Those speeches of his we played on LP’s at school when I was a sixth former – they were powerful and they shaped a generation in their thinking – my generation.

What you notice in Acts as Luke tells the story of the journeys that take the good news of Jesus from Jerusalem to Rome and the heart of the Roman Empire is that there are a sequence of speeches. They are great speeches. And they have a similarity to them.

It is as if in those speeches you catch a glimpse of something that transformed people’s lives then, has done down through the centuries and still does today!

And so many of them start in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the Old Testament. And all of them see Jesus at its centre, see Jesus as the fulfilment of all those Scriptures stood for.

This is the way of reading the Scriptures, Luke would have us believe, that Jesus opened up on the Day of Resurrection for the two on the Road to Emmaus and for the others in the Upper Room.

Four things leap out at me, reading the first of the great speeches that somehow encapsulate the preaching of the early church and the very first followers of Jesus.

The Old Testament so often looks to the day of the Lord, a time when all is fulfilled and the glory of God is revealed.

There’s a forward momentum in so much of the Old Testament and in so many of the prophets.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Book of Joel.

Joel looks to the coming of the Day of the Lord – is it to be feared? Is it to be welcomed? Is it to come soon.

It’s here says Peter.

For the first thing to realise is that Jesus is the fulfilment of all the prophets spoke of – now is the Day of the Lord.

The crowds had mistaken the exuberance of the apostles and the language they spoke, a language somehow understood by people of all languages gathered in that city for drunkenness.

Great Speeches

Acts 2:14-24

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
   and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
     and they shall prophesy.

The last days are here – this outpouring of the Holy Spirit is it. Sons and daughters will prosy, young men and old men see visions and dream dreams. Even on slaves the Spirit poured out – on men and women equally – and all, slaves and free, men and wome will have words to share that will change people’s lives and transform them as they all of them prophesy.

Peter had in mind the darkness that came over the face of the earth as Jesus had been crucified – somehow the elements themselves spoke out that day …

And I will show portents in the heaven above
   and signs on the earth below,
     blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
   and the moon to blood,
     before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Thatt’s the excitement of the message they have to share.

Everyone will be saved, made whole – restored, renewed – so many words to describe it.

And it all comes to a head in Jesus.

All that |Jesus had shared meant so much and Peter wanted to share it too.

‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

Something remarkable has happened – death itself does not have the last word.

The authorities thought they had had the last word – they hadn’t death could not contain him. Roman powers, the religious leaders of the time thought they had had the last word.

But they had not had the last word!

Through the suffering of the cross, the devastation of the death and the victory of the resurrection something had happened!

Hy-Spirit song

From the prophet Joel Peter turns to the greatest King of the Old Testament, David, and finds again straight away his gaze is turned back towards Jesus.

[For David says concerning him,
“I saw the Lord always before me,
   for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
   moreover, my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
   or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
   you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

 ‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
“He was not abandoned to Hades,
   nor did his flesh experience corruption.”]

But the Jesus who is God’s anointed is one who goes through suffering and opens up a way through the darkness of the world.

Acts 2:32-36

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
   until I make your enemies your footstool.’ ”
Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.

Wonderful to see the witness Peter and the others bore.

It is so that we may know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah – this Jesus, who was crucified.

This is the perverse, scandalous yet liberating insight.

And you have to do something about it! As with the greatest of speeches it leads on to action [maybe we should do something about the scandal of the hostile environment for immigration and do something - maybe write to our MP] – what must we do to be saved – have a whole new way of thinking, be baptized – everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.

Wonderful excitement.

3000 people are added to the number of the followers of Jesus that day.

The movement is off – in a sense already that day it’s going to move in all sorts of directions.

For among that crowd were people from, all over the Mediterranean world – and after the festival was over they would be journeying back home, taking the message with them.

And it shaped the way they led their lives as they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Healing was brought into hurting people’s lives. They shared with a selfless generosity and they were filled with the praise of God.

And day by day people were added to their number.

This is an exciting message – a way of seeing Jesus at the centre not just of the Old Testament but at the centre of all of our lives.

436 Christ triumphant

Prayers of Concern

673 Let us talents and tongues employ

The Lord’s Supper

643 For me to live is Christ
Words of Blessing

There’s a lot of truth in the old children’s chorus I sang as a youngster in the annual CSSM beach mission on Criccieth beach, a beach mission that still meets each year! The best book to read is the Bible, the best book to read is the Bible: if you read it every day it will help you on your way: the best book to read is the Bible. Lots of people at church are doing just that with the help of Fresh From the Word – there are still one or two copies of the notes available and a leaflet with all the readings and themes for the year.

There’s a catch, however.

How you read the Bible makes a world of difference.

Over the years the Bible has been used to justify all manner of hateful, vengeful things. That’s particularly apparent in the pages of the Old Testament. If you do find bits of the Old Testament hard to get your head round you are not alone! 

Initially, the first followers of Jesus didn’t get it at all.  And that exasperated Jesus: “‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! (Luke 24:25). Jesus opened their eyes, their minds and their hearts to read the Old Testament and see him at the centre of it all. It’s as we put Jesus at the centre of it all that it comes alive in ways to transform our lives too. That’s what we are going to explore in our services today.

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