Sunday, 27 February 2011

Inscribed in the palm of God's hand

At our all-age service I read this
The Kissing Hand

and linked it to the Isaiah bit about God's care.
Everyone loved it. aaw.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Final notes for Feb 27th

Yes, for a while it said 'July' there...when's the next holiday??

Anyway. here's the final version - short-ish as there's a baptism and communion to fit in..


Matthew 6: 24-34
The reading we had from Matthew is taken from a long piece of teaching given by Jesus, in chapters 5 & 6 which Matthew calls ‘the sermon on the mount’.

It starts with ‘blessed are the meek, the poor, those who mourn, the peace-makers’. Jesus is clear that God will bless them and provide what they need. Then Jesus talks about all sort of things – the law and the prophets and their relationship to his teaching, he talks about murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, giving to others, prayer, fasting, and attitudes to wealth.
Phew! In just 2 chapters of Matthew Jesus covers a lot of ground. His listeners might have been wondering where the finger was going to point next. What else does Jesus want us to do, or not do?
But as Jesus reaches the end of the sermon in many ways he come back to the theme of the start – the poor, the hungry, the meek…are all blessed by God. So don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will wear.. do not be anxious. Believe in the grace of God.

I think Jesus is keen that his followers understand that responding to God’s love means that we want to know how best to live in ways that show we are God’s children – so loving our enemies, giving to the poor, praying are all important. But Jesus knows how people tend to tip over into making these good things a condition for being loved by God. If we’re worried that we need to be good enough for God’s love, Jesus says ‘do not worry’. What’s a flower ever done? But it’s beautifully clothed by God. And all the birds have enough to eat – even though they have no way of growing or storing food.
Do not be anxious, says Jesus. God wants his creation to flourish & grow & know love: not as a reward for doing the right thing but just as a condition of being alive.
I’m really glad we’ve had this reading today as we’re celebrating Clare’s baptism. When Chris, Clare’s mum rang me to ask if this as possible, she might have been a bit surprised at the speed with which I said ‘yes’. But baptism is for anyone and everyone who asks for it. It is the symbolic celebration of God’s love for each person who lives. There are no conditions to God’s love, nothing we have to do to earn it, and so there’s nothing we have to do to deserve baptism, except ask for it. Do not worry – God does everything that needs doing in baptism: God has brought you here, met you here, and will bless you here with his holy spirit.

Sometimes you hear someone describe baptism as ‘putting on Christ’. In some church traditions the person who has been baptized might change after baptism into new clothes, to symbolize the new chapter of their life.
Jesus says do not worry about what you will wear – God will clothe you with grace and with love.

Our other celebration this morning is of the Eucharist – the sharing of bread and wine and remembering of the life and death & resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Do not worry about what you will eat – here is bread and wine: admittedly not in a great enough quantity to fill your stomach, but again it is symbolic of all that God gives us in love.

Do not worry about what you will eat – the God who loves us enough to come to us in Jesus will not let us hunger or thirst, but will bless us with all that we need.

So as we celebrate this morning, let’s trust in God to grace our lives with everything we need for our own good, and for the good of others, in Jesus name.
Amen.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Early thoughts for February 27th

Readings for Sunday:
Isaiah 49: 8-16a
Matthew 6: 24-34

Over at 'Revgalblogpals', there's a discussion of 'lectionary leanings' every Tuesday. This week the thoughts are about the Matthew reading.
'Parodie' has written:
I'm thinking about how important it is to read this passage in the context of the whole Sermon on the Mount. Do not worry about what you will eat or wear - if someone asks you for your cloak, given them that and more - blessed are the meek/poor in spirit/etc. The encouragement to not worry does not come with the promise that all will be well in the moment, but that God is present with us even when things seem hard.
Hopefully this will expand by the end of the week!



I've got as far in my thinking as Jesus seems to be all over the place in this sermon - murder, adultery, retaliation.. where will the finger point next?? Jesus finishes with Do NOT be anxious. Believe in the grace of God.

I think maybe these ideas belong together...
and also link to the Isaiah reading about God's infinite care of us - I love the idea of being inscribed on the palm of God's hands and I think this is a wonderful reading for the adult baptism tat we have this week.

Friday, 11 February 2011

So.. better! (I think)

Final version - with final section which I hope will preach the Good News.
I was very struck by what Eugene Peterson says
here, at 'Working Preacher'
that sermons should be about what God is doing, not just exhortation of the congregation.

So hopefully this sermon veers away from being a 'rant'!

Choose
This is proper ‘Old Testament God’ stuff from Deuteronomy:
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish”.

On the face of it this is fairly straight forward – choose to follow God’s laws, or perish.
And it’s no good looking for a get-out in the words of Jesus, either. The Gospel reading had Jesus saying:
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, `You shall not murder'; and `whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, `You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

But before we all fall quaking to our knees, let’s just go back to that word ‘choice’. God says to the people of Israel – choose life. Choose to walk in God‘s way. Choose to be mindful of God’s laws, and to keep them – not because otherwise you fear punishment, but because this is the way to live full and happy lives. So do not kill – not because you will be punished by God if you do, but because when everyone keeps this law society is richer and better. Do not break God’s laws, because in laying down the laws, God has shown people the best ways to live.
But how do we choose well, not when it is fairy easy and straight-forward to tell right from wrong, but when life is a lot more murky?
Faced with the choice to kill someone or not to kill them, I think we all know what the right choice is.

But Jesus warns his followers ‘if you are angry you will be liable to judgement’. If you are angry with someone you are choosing the path that leads to sin – the path that ultimately can lead to murder. Jesus wants his followers to orientate themselves towards the will of God – to know how to turn at every twist in the path of life. Jesus wants us to choose well, and to choose always what enhances life and affirms and builds up, rather than destroying life and hope.

To underline how important it is to make the right choices, even when they seem small choices, Jesus points out that anger can eventually lead to murder, that looking lustfully can eventually lead to adultery, that divorce should not be entered into lightly and thoughtlessly, any more than marriage should be in the first place.

And in case his listeners think that sin is only about big things and not the little choices, Jesus uses some dramatic language:
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Jesus doesn’t want us to be able to blame a wandering eye or itchy fingers for what we might think of as ‘minor’ sins.
Jesus wants us to be wholehearted in our walk in God’s way - loving God with all our heart, soul mind and strength and choosing the right path, even in the little things of life.

So the good news so far is that we are not walking in fear, trying to be good in order to avoid Gods wrath & judgement. But it’s still not feeling like really good news, is it? It still seems that so far we’ve been thinking about what we need to do to get our lives right.

But let’s not forget that we do not walk in fear and we do not walk alone. We are following Jesus. This is just some of his teaching to a crowd of followers in the fifth chapter of Matthew, that we call ‘the sermon on the mount’. Matthew places this teaching right at the start of Jesus’ ministry. And where does Jesus start? With blessings: ‘Blessed are the poor, the humble, the hurt & grieving’. Jesus starts with a message of God’s love for all people – especially the ones who might feel that life suggests they are cursed, not blessed. Then Jesus talks about his followers as salt and light for the world – spreading the good news of God’s new light & life to everyone. Then, and only then, does Jesus turn to the law, and warns ‘I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it’.

Jesus says know you are loved & blessed, be ready to share that Good news with the world, but don’t think you can live however you like – live as children of God who walk in God’s light. Jesus will move on to teach about revenge, love, giving, prayer and money. But the conclusion of this ‘sermon’ is simple ‘do not worry. Your father in heaven knows what you need’.

God knows the strength we need to be enabled to make all the right and good choices in life.
So it is good that we meet today around the Lord’s table. Here we have a reminder of all that God’s love has done for us and all that God wants to give to us. Here we can receive the strength we need to choose well and live well and walk well.
Here the Holy Spirit will come among us and dwell in us, to help us to live as God’s beloved children.

Children who are loved, and blessed and enabled to walk with God.

To his praise and glory.
Amen.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

So far...

Here are Sunday's notes so far - I think I want to avoid hectoring and find a way of ending the sermon with some encouragement about how we can walk God's way in faith and not in fear... will come back to this tomorrow!

Choose
This is proper ‘Old Testament God’ stuff from Deuteronomy:
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish”.

On the face of it this is fairly straight forward – choose to follow God’s laws, or perish.
And it’s no good looking for a get-out in the words of Jesus, either. The Gospel reading had Jesus saying:
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, `You shall not murder'; and `whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, `You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

But before we all fall quaking to our knees, let’s just go back to that word ‘choice’. God says to the people of Israel – choose life. Choose to walk in God‘s way. Choose to by mindful of God’s laws, and to keep them – not because otherwise you fear punishment, but because this is the way to live full and happy lives. So do not kill – not because you will be punished by God if you do, but because when everyone keeps this law society is richer and better. Do not break God’s laws, because in laying down the laws, God has shown people the best ways to live.
But how do we choose well, not when it is fairy easy and straight-forward to tell right from wrong, but when life is a lot more murky?
Faced with the choice to kill someone or not to kill them, I think we all know what the right choice is.

But Jesus warns his followers ‘if you are angry you will be liable to judgement’. If you are angry with someone you are choosing the path that leads to sin – the path that ultimately can lead to murder. Jesus wants his followers to orientate themselves towards the will of God – to know how to turn at every twist in the path of life. Jesus wants us to choose well, and to choose always what enhances life and affirms and builds up, rather than destroying life and hope.

To underline how important it is to make the right choices, even when they seem small choices, Jesus points out that anger can eventually lead to murder, that looking lustfully can eventually lead to adultery, that divorce should not be entered into lightly and thoughtlessly, any more than marriage should be in the first place.

And in case his listeners think that sin is only about big things and not the little choices, Jesus uses some dramatic language:
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Jesus doesn’t want us to be able to blame a wandering eye or itchy fingers for what we might think of as ‘minor’ sins.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Thoughts towards Sunday...

Maybe I should rename this blog "Sunday's mercilessly rushing towards me like an express train" as that's how it's felt every week so far this year.
So here we are again more than half way through the week & nothing much done.
One service this week is our 'creative church' service, when we will be using a kind of labyrinth approach - moving between prayer stations to think about how we choose to walk in God's way (focussing particularly on the Deuteronomy reading)

Deuteronomy 30: 15-20

but also allowing ourselves to be challenged by Jesus words about being mindful about the things that lead to sin in the Gospel reading:

Matthew 5:21-37

My plan is to plan the creative church service & then use my reflections on that to write the sermon for the other (communion) service. Before Saturday, which I'm planning to take as a proper day off - because I need it. What was it Robbie Burns had ot say about 'best laid plans of mice & men'..? Perhaps it doesn't apply to women! Here's hoping.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Sunday February 6th

Salt & Light
There is a word used in my native Yorkshire which I still use quite a lot, as I have never found a satisfactory equivalent. The word is ‘sloughed’ – it has a sense of disappointment, of being down of feeling crushed and despondent. I wonder if it has its roots in John Bunyan ‘Slough of despond’. Even if you don’t use the word, you know the feeling. Sloughed.
It’s a word which could easily be applied to many churches in our country at the present time. We’re not what we were – there are too many other options for things to do on a Sunday, there are too many people who think churches are just for weddings, baptisms and funerals (& maybe Christmas) and can’t see why you want to go at other times. Even a former President of the Methodist Conference has said “we used to be someone, once”. How can we keep our spirits up – how can we make an impact on the world around us?
Jesus says to his followers “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”
Not you could be.. or even you should be.. you ARE.

‘But if salt loses its saltiness… but if the light is placed under the bushel basket.’
Is Jesus warning them that they need to keep themselves ready and able to salt and light – as salty & light-y as possible? Is Jesus warning them that they could lose their edge as disciples, that they could get sloughed? No, I don’t think so, I think Jesus is trying to underline that his followers already are the salt and the light this world needs.

We’re used to Jesus’ little joke about the camel & the eye of the needle, and some of you might have heard me say before that the parables are full of the ridiculous and the cartoon. I think here’s another example.

‘You are the salt of the earth – but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?’.
Here’s a bag of salt from my cupboard. It’s moved house with me at least twice – possibly three times – it must be 7 years old – possibly more. And…it’s still salty. I have never thrown away salt because it’s not salty anymore – it just doesn’t happen. It’s ridiculous to say ‘if salt has lost its taste…’ and I think that’s the point Jesus is making. His followers are the salt of the earth and nothing can take away that saltiness. In fact, of course we add salt to enhance the taste of things which might otherwise be bland, and far from going off itself, salt stops other things from going bad. You are salt & will always be.

‘You are the light of the world…No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket’. Because not only would you not be able to see the light – you would probably set your basket on fire. Ridiculous.

So you ARE salt & light.
Don’t believe me? – or not sure what it means, or feel that it’s a bit ‘un British’ to blow your own trumpet? Here are some real life examples…

Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday (Feb. 3), President Barak Obama explained that his daily prayers centre around three themes - petitions for strength, humility, and a desire to walk closer with God. He said
"The challenge I find then is to balance this uncertainty, this humility, with the need to fight for deeply held convictions, to be open to other points of view, but firm in our core principles. I pray for this wisdom every day. I pray that God will show me and all of us the limits of our understanding and open our ears and our hearts to our brothers and sisters with different points of view."

I’ve also been asking friends on Facebook to let me have their examples of being salt & light:

One wrote ‘When I was at Uni in the 80's I didn't want to hang about with the CU as they weren’t my kind of people. I was a sweary, beery, sarcastic student who was also warm and caring, I'd like to think! I went to church on a Sunday (occasionally in the first two years and regularly in the final one). On our Graduation day loads of parents told mine how glad they were that we were friends and what a good example I had set. To be honest I was a bit disgusted at the time as I had tried my best not to be singled out as different but actually I think that by not being part of the CU I was able to be more of a "normal" Christian and possibly even a tad salty!’

Another told me about her daughter “When she was in Year 1 at school, Zoe was learning about light sources as a science topic. They'd had homework where they were to look round the house and draw light sources that they see, so she'd drawn light bulbs, the television, clocks, oven light, 'fridge, candles, etc.
When we went to parents' evening, her teacher said she loved Zoe's ability to think "outside the box". They'd been discussing the light sources they'd found at home in class, when Zoe put her hand up and said "Jesus is my light source".”

Another mum wrote “K carried the candle into the candlemass assembly on Wednesday and with all her classmates was the light of the world for that day! Proud mummy tears but also recognition that they all really understood the message of Jesus as the light....a touching moment.”

Finally, one friend told me of a young woman standing up in front of a whole youth conference which was debating who should be welcomed by the church – one young man said he doubted that they should welcome single mothers. She strongly made an impassioned case for being welcoming – as she is a single mother. But the real ‘light’ moment came when she was able to thank everyone for their contribution to the weekend – even those with views which hurt her.

This same friend pointed out that it was easier to think of examples of others being salt & light than to claim it for yourself.

So here’s the challenge – hear Jesus saying ‘You are the light and the salt of the world – and ask yourself how you can bring life an dlight and joy to everyone you meet this week.

To the glory of God. Amen.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Being salt & light

I have been reading a suggestion from David Lose of the Luther Seminary, St Paul's Minnesota.
here

He suggests that to help people appreciate what Jesus says - that they ARE salt and light, we set up a 'salt & light blog'. So - humour me if you will - and tell me here any recent examples of when you have been salt & light to people around you. I hope to use some really good examples to inspire the congregation on Sunday. Have you got something to share? I'd love to hear it.

Sermon so far goes like this - now it's over to you...

Salt & Light
There is a word used in my native Yorkshire which I still use quite a lot, as I have never found a satisfactory equivalent. The word is ‘sloughed’ – it has a sense of disappointment, of being down of feeling crushed and despondent. I wonder if it has its roots in John Bunyan ‘Slough of despond’. Even if you don’t use the word, you know the feeling. Sloughed.

It’s a word which could easily be applied to many churches in our country at the present time. We’re not what we were – there are too many other options for things to do on a Sunday, there are too many people who think churches are just for weddings, baptisms and funerals (& maybe Christmas) and can’t see why you want to go at other times. Even a former President of the Methodist Conference has said “we used to be someone, once”.

How can we keep our spirits up – how can we make an impact on the world around us?

Jesus says to his followers “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”

Not you could be.. or even you should be.. you ARE.

‘But if salt loses its saltiness… but if the light is placed under the bushel basket.’
Is Jesus warning us that we need to keep ourselves ready and able to salt and light – as salty & lighty-y as possible. Is Jesus warning them that they could lose their edge as disciples, that they could get sloughed? No, I don’t think so, I think Jesus is trying to underline that his followers already are the salt and the light this world needs.

We’re used to Jesus’ little joke about the camel & the eye of the needle, and some of you might have heard me say before that the parables are full of the ridiculous and the cartoon. I think here’s another example.

‘You are the salt of the earth – but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?’.
Here’s a bag of salt from my cupboard. It’s moved house with me at least twice – possibly three times – it must be 7 years old – possibly more. And…it’s still salty. I have never thrown away salt because it’s not salty anymore – it just doesn’t happen. It’s ridiculous to say ‘if salt has lost its taste…’ and I think that’s the point Jesus is making. His followers are the salt of the earth and nothing can take away that saltiness. In fact, of course we add salt to enhance the taste of things and far from going off itself, salt stops other things from going bad. You are salt & will always be.
‘You are the light of the world…No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket’. Because not only would you not be able to see the light – you would probably set your basket on fire. Ridiculous.

So you ARE salt & light.
Don’t believe me – or not sure what it means, or feel that it’s a bit ‘un British’ to blow your own trumpet. Here are some real life examples…