Monday, 31 May 2010

'Ordinary time'

For anyone feeling deflated by the return to ordinary time, after all the festival of Eastertide & Pentecost, you might like the Godly Play description of this as the 'green and growing' season.

So, how can we grow this week?

Readings are:
1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24)
Galatians 1:11-24
Luke 7:11-17

The stories of the raising of widows' sons are always attractive - but for some reason I feel drawn to the Galatians reading & Paul's account of how he received the gospel. In the United Reformed Church we will soon be entering the year of evangelism, after the year of prayer, and I think I want to explore the link between the 2 things - evangelism and prayer. We should never forget that winning people with the good news is God's work not ours - we shouldn't get entirely hooked on how we can tell people about God's love, and forget that God reaches out to people - that we can help to create the space where God can speak...
I might pinch the title of a retreat for ordinands I heard about 'It's not all about you'!

Friday, 28 May 2010

Trinity Sunday

Last Sunday of our student minister being with us - so being the kind, encouraging mentor that I am I asked him to preach!
Which leaves me with an all-age service - which you could argue is tougher!
Here's at least one part of what Im saying, using the image above:

This symbol is called the trisquetra and it’s used as a symbol of the Trinity.

Today is Trinity Sunday - and to be honest, it’s always a Sunday that fills preachers with trepidation.

God is one – but three persons, Father Son & Holy Spirit. It is not just that God works in three ways, but there is a relationship at the heart of God of these three.
Which brings us back to the symbol. If you trace the line that forms the edge of the shape, you’ll find that it’s not 3 overlapping shapes, as it first seems, but is formed from one, continuous line. Three petal-like shapes of the pattern, but one line. Three persons, but one God.

And the one God does one thing – love.
The love of the Father formed the world, the love of the Son saved the world, the love of the Spirit touches the world.
One love, one God… in Trinity.

And if it makes you feel any better – I don’t really understand it either! But I know I am loved by the God who is beyond my comprehension.
May you know that too.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

And here's the cartoon!

Evensong for Pentecost

Evensong for Pentecost: (Exodus 33.7-20 and 2 Corinthians 3.4-end)

My brother always tries to find me birthday cards which are both funny and religious. I suppose it tells me something about how he sees me! Last year’s was particularly funny: it showed a woman answering her front door to 2 well dressed young men. There is a figure hiding behind long curtains in her sitting room, with just 2 sandalled feet, and a suspicion of a long white robe and a beard, visible. The man at the door is asking ‘have you found Jesus?’.
Of course it works better as a cartoon: but it serves as a useful introduction to our thinking about the readings we’ve heard this evening. We might wonder what the relevance is to us of a story of the people of Israel living in tents in the desert and some slightly convoluted teaching from Paul – but I think they help us to think about the quest for the presence of God, the search for meaning in our lives, and the struggles we have with a sense of God’s absence or silence.

The passage from Exodus gives us a snapshot of life in the wilderness for the people of Israel. They were slaves in Egypt, led by Moses to defy Pharoah and escape through the Red Sea. Then, 3 months into their journey to the Promised Land, they camped at Mount Sinai, where Moses has had a series of – sometimes very long – encounters with God. Moses receives the law, including stone tablets bearing the 10 commandments, and also gets very detailed instructions from God about how to build the tabernacle – an elaborate tent structure which will eventually house the ark of the covenant. During one of Moses’ longer trips up the mountain – 40 days and 40 nights – the people get restless and persuade Aaron to let them build a golden calf as something tangible to worship. Moses is furious and smashes the first version of the stone tablets; God is furious and declares that although it is now time for the people to leave Mount Sinai, he won’t travel amongst the people for fear of destroying them. So Moses meets with God in a tent outside the camp – the ‘tent of meeting’.

The tradition of the Exodus contains episodes of saving activity by God, times of God speaking to his people, and then periods of silence or distance, when faith is required to continue to walk in God’s way. The question for the people and for Moses is ‘if God is keeping his distance from us, how will we know that God is with us?’. This might seem an extraordinary question from Moses – the man who has regular conversations with God, and whose face glows as a result. But it is a very human impulse: no matter what experience there has been in the past, the impact of that fades, and Moses is left wondering how he can be sure of God.

This may be a familiar question for us to wonder about: perhaps at some point of our lives we have had an experience of God’s presence. But that certainty about the reality of God with us cannot last… and we might be left wondering if God is really with us – have we really found Jesus? Is God really present and active in our world?

We might decide that we should look for evidence of God around us, try to find signs that God is there. Mathematicians have long identified the Fibonacci sequences of numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13. The next number of the sequence is formed by adding the two previous numbers together. It seems at first just like one of those logic puzzles you find in IQ tests.
But the sequence is found repeatedly in nature: in the growth of seashells, and seed heads, and population numbers. Once you know the Fibonacci sequence, you can find it in many places in the world around us. Some people use the same argument to search for God - if we know what God’s activity looks like, perhaps we can spot signs of it around us. Such people are sometimes termed ‘seekers’ – people who are trying to find God in their lives.

But seeking patterns in life is not the advice Paul gives in his letter to the Corinthians, if they want to know God. He writes about the activity of the people of God in the desert as if they were people trying to create the conditions in which God would appear – in elaborate ritual and precisely built tents and a series of barriers to be overcome. Then Paul speaks of a God who relates to people – who removes every veil. The coming of Jesus Christ shows us God with us in flesh and blood and without ritual or ceremony. We can have confidence in a God who doesn’t need to be hunted down, but who seeks us out.

At the risk of this sounding more like Christmas than Pentecost – a God who comes to us and abides with us, Immanuel – God with us. So at Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and we see that the Spirit brings God’s power – but not in an act of vengeance or anger, to destroy unbelievers - but as the one who shows us God in action and convinces us of the truth of God’s presence.

So in the end our meeting with God does not happen because we look in the right place (behind the curtains, perhaps), or because we create the right conditions (by performing the right rituals). We meet with God because it is God’s will that we should, because the Spirit is sent to show us the truth, and because in Jesus Christ we meet God made flesh.

Thanks be to the God who wishes to know us and love us and meet with us. Amen.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Ah - no - the upload wouldn't.
But the link is

And I'm using the first part almost verbatim:

I’d like to use a reflection I found on the internet:

Go on admit it.
You’re wondering about the future. Maybe worrying.
Do we even have a future? Will our church survive?
Will our children have faith? Will our faith have children?
There are so many challenges.
We don’t know the people next door anymore.
Why would they want to come to our church?
People pass by. We don’t know them. No-one comes in.
They are outside. We are inside.
And so we wait and watch and worry.
But we don’t know what to do. Won’t someone come to help us?
But have you noticed there’s a story just like this in the Bible.
There are only a few left. People pass by outside. They are inside.
Waiting and watching. They don’t know what to do.
And then it happens.
Wind. Fire. Noise…
No-one came and took away their problems.
Instead the Spirit comes.

And this same Spirit can come to us. Today.
And come in bread and wine
And lead us into truth.
And the truth is – God is with us.
Thanks be to God.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Food for thought

Never tried uploading a video before so not sure it will work. I found this on Working - and I love the way it draws parallels between where we are & the early church. I think I'll use the ideas at my 8am service.
Still pondering the evening...

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Pentecost's coming!

This year we have a joint service for seven churches on the morning of Pentecost - I'm presiding and my colleague is preaching.
So no sermon AGAIN!
Ah but I am preaching at an evensong service in the evening.
The readings are:
Exodus 33.7-20 and 2 Corinthians 3.4-end.

Moses meeting with God in the 'tent of meeting' and then Paul's rather odd teaching about the new dispensation, in which we don't need to veil our faces before God.
I think I want somehow to look at our experiences of meeting God - in the dramatic coming of the spirit and in other ways - to ask what veils God for us, how we can remove the veil, how we can reflect the glory...
Not an easy preach - and to a Cambridge college, so there's always the 'what is someone like me doing here' factor to contend with.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

2 weeks running without a 'long' sermon??

Well, our lovely student minister goes off to his first charge in 3 weeks or so, so I mustn't get used to not preaching!

Lectionary readings are:

Acts 16:16-34
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17:20-26

I confess to always being a bit annoyed by this 'Paul & Silas in prison' story: what about the poor, unnamed slave girl, healed by Paul, who Luke describes as 'very much annoyed' in some translations. Apart from the fact that she is the reason Paul & Silas end up in prison, it becomes a story about their heroic escape, not her healing at all. I struggle with this story - it seems so unlike the gospel stories of Jesus acts of healing of the lowest and the least.
Not sure where my thoughts are going, yet - but I'll keep my brain ticking over & see what I come up with - even if I won't get a chance to preach it!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

What we did today!

Apologies to anyone wanting a sermon here: I preached without notes (along the lines of the last posting) - then at the 9.30 we had a 'prayer walk' (details below) , and at the 11.15 our student minister preached (getting maximum out of his last month!).

Creative church: Prayer walk

Hymn: ‘I will walk in the presence of God’ (Common Ground - based on Psalm 116)

The Church
Give thanks for the building of the church, for all those generations who have prayed here & found God here. Allow the stillness of this place to still any anxieties in you.

Reading: Luke 24: 13-15

Ask God to open your eyes so that you may know the presence of Jesus with you as you pray & walk.

The Churchyard LOOK around you... take in the whole scene... and look closely at details... study for example a plant, and see how well it has been made.
LISTEN to all the sounds around you... what can you hear?
.. people's voices?... wind?... birds?... traffic?... your own breathing?
TOUCH something. When did you last feel the bark of a tree, or the texture of a brick wall?
 Notice the feel of the air/wind/sun/rain on your skin... and the feel of the air you breathe in... become aware of the sensations you are feeling in your body...
SMELL the air. What can you smell... damp earth... pollen... wet wood?
Be aware of God's creation all around you... and know that you are a part of it... Rest in that certainty.

The corner of the Lawn If there are people playing sports, give thanks with them for the pleasure of activity and leisure. Pray for anyone you can see, or anyone you meet on the walk. Look at the houses around the Lawn and any other buildings you can see. Give thanks to God for our village community.

The war memorial The Kohima memorial in India includes the words ‘When you go home tell them of us and say for your tomorrow we gave our today.’
Pause to give thanks for those who gave their lives, who are named on our memorial. Pray for all those killed or injured in war, and those still caught up in fighting today. Pray for peace.

The Guildhall Up until 1966 this was a community building. From here you can see other community space - the shop & Post Office, and the Tickell Arms, for example. Pray for all the places where people gather, including our churches and William Westley school.

Return to the church
Reading: Genesis: 28: 10-16


Hymn: 538 Teach me my God and king


Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Easter 6

So we're nearly at Ascension - the last week of Eastertide. I'm not sure I'm ready to put my alleluias down just yet - but perhaps that's my fault for having 2 whole Sundays since Easter when I haven't preached.
I have an image in my head of the good news of the resurrection spreading out, sending ripples into the world and then gathering up into the amazing moment of the Ascension, before exploding back out again at Pentecost.

This week's readings are:
Acts 16: 9-15
John 5: 1-9

I've chosen the healing at the pool with the hellish scene of Jesus amongst the most desperate of his society. It reminds me of the harrowing of hell - I think it's here in the lectionary to remind us that the resurrection is good news to the very ends of the earth and the very dregs of society. There is nowhere God's new life in Jesus cannot reach.
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Notes for sermon 2/5/10

God has no favourites Acts 11: 1-18, John 13: 31-35

Every minister in the land with a radio mike is now being reminded not to ‘do a Gordon Brown’ at the end of the service! I am not of course going to tell you whether you should feel sorry for him & vote Labour or decide he’s an idiot and vote for someone else. I am however going to remind you to vote on Thursday – because I think everyone should.

But it was interesting that amongst all the furore about what Gordon Brown said about Mrs Duffy, there has been relatively little discussion of the issue of immigration which she raised. Again, don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you what how to vote on the issue of people from other countries coming to the UK, to work or as asylum-seekers, but I am going to share a story with you.

Michael Jagessar, is a URC minister and a theology tutor who is Indo-Caribbean: Michael was born in Guyana, descended from Indian people who were taken to Guyana as indentured labourers. A few years ago at a ministers’ spring school he read out part of a letter from the Bishop of Birmingham to the Archbishop of Canterbury, written as many Caribbean men were coming to the UK after 1948, to take up unfilled jobs. The bishop wrote that he didn’t want to see these black men in Anglican churches – they would only want to eye up the women and then marry them and then they would take over!

I was left wondering how people – and especially how people in the church - could exclude people on the basis of the colour of their skin?

Yet it seems to be human nature to gravitate towards what my sister refers to as PLUs = people like us.
There is usually a point where we come to the end of our comfort zone. We might say ‘everyone is welcome here: we are all brothers and sisters in Christ’. But what about noisy people, or people who want to change everything, someone whose lifestyle is different (a different class, or who are dressed oddly, or with different sexual preferences).
How welcoming are we really, deep down, when we start to feel uncomfortable?

Some years ago in a previous church where I was minster we had a ‘gentleman of the road’ who joined us one Sunday. He undoubtedly came in out of the cold, and was the ‘real thing’ – matted hair, holes in his shoes, and the longest, dirtiest fingernails I have ever seen. He sat quietly through the service, then accepted a cup of tea and stood and ate all the biscuits. When I asked if we could get him some food from the shop across the street he said he’d like 3 Mars bars. He came back the next week, and the next.. never asking for money, never any trouble apart from the rather disconcerting smell as he warmed up. Then he started telling me he was descended from the Spanish Royal family – he became less and less in touch with reality.. and finally one week, for no apparent reason, he became verbally abusive and threatening. We were all relieved when he didn’t come back the next week – no one more than me. Here was someone who took us well beyond our comfort zone and perhaps I failed to act on the words of Jesus ‘love one another as I have loved you’.

We might read the story from Acts and think it’s a story about food – Peter is being told by God to relax about Jewish food laws and learn to accept a more liberal approach. We might listen to the context and realise that this story is about accepting non-Jews into the new Christian church – and a good thing too, or else Christianity would have remained a small sect of Judaism and we wouldn’t be here.
But if we’re not careful we consign this story to the past and to the history of the church forget that it’s a story about us.
God’s spirit falls on those God chooses – Peter says the spirit fell on ‘them’ as it feel on ‘us’ - irrespective of human barriers, our prejudices and our certainties.

I once heard Joe Aldred, a bishop in a Pentecostal church in Birmingham tell the story of the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles in 1906. Here the Spirit fell on a one-eyed, black, semi-literate man, William Seymour, who was the son of former slaves. He became the leader of a Pentecostal movement in the United States – chosen by God despite his background.

God’s love and God’s call is for everyone, without boundary or limit.
In Jesus’ final discourses, when he wants to reinforce the main point of his ministry for his disciples, Jesus says ‘love one another as I have loved you.. then all will know you are my disciples’.

However you vote on Thursday, vote with love for others in your heart and be open to what God is calling you to be and to do.
And pray that our churches may be places of welcome to all people, of all views, and all types.
Remember that this table is open to all: this bread and wine, signs of God’s love shown in Jesus for everyone.
This church needs to be a church for all, declaring God’s love for all, whoever they are and whatever our own prejudices.
Come and know God’s love for you and be ready to share it.
In Jesus name.