Category Archives: Jesus

That the world may belong …

It’s Resurrection Day, the morning we celebrate the fact that the tomb was empty. Despite all the attempts of the authorities to silence Jesus and his message of overwhelming love and hope, he had broken death’s stronghold.

On Easter morning hope was reborn. As first light dawned it became clear that darkness would not have the final word and the cross – that foul instrument of torture – became a symbol of rebirth.

Here is a hymn that reminds us of all the ways the cross still stands to call the Church to action in the world for the good of others.

It is sung to the tune for Great is thy Faithfulness.

God of our sunrise and light of the morning,
dawn on our worship, renew us today.
Come by your Spirit and fill with your passion,
set us on fire with the Gospel we pray.
 
Chorus
We are your people, the Church you have chosen.
We are a gift to the weak and the strong.
We are the shape of your love for all people.
Help us to live that the world may belong.
 
Jesus your cross is the hope of the hopeless,
guide of the blind and the staff of the lame.
Here, as the nations are grieving and limping,
Give us compassion to live for your name.
 
Jesus your cross is the world’s consolation,
object of pain yet the strength of the weak.
Here, as we struggle for peace and for meaning
Jesus we ask for your courage to speak.
 
Jesus your cross is the birthplace of justice,
cloth for the naked, refreshment for thirst.
Here, as we seek ways to live out the Gospel,
May we repent of our need to be first.
 
Jesus your cross is the mystery that beckons:
drawing us close till we see face to face,
sharing your love with the world in its turmoil,
blessing with your uncontrollable grace.
Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG www.songsolutions.org

Developing the family likeness

classical-camera-1314207-639x974
All the serious photographers had a “Rollie”.

This is the latest column I’ve written for one of our local community magazines.

How many of you remember the days when photo film was very precious and you had to be really careful about the pictures you took? It was a big decision whether you could afford to buy the 36-image films before going on holiday … perhaps a couple of 12s would do instead.

Then, when taking the pictures, it was important to check before pressing the button. Had you judged the light properly, was the exposure correct, how well framed was the shot, was it in focus?

And after all that the agonising wait for the film to come back from the chemists – the chemists! Or, if you were really fortunate you had a photographic studio nearby. You opened the envelope and found that half the images had been ruined by light getting into the back off the camera or by some mysterious thumb mark on the negatives … negatives!

Then there were the real enthusiasts who had their own darkrooms and developed their own films and could tell you everything you needed to know about apertures and owned two Rolleiflex cameras at 14.

All this came back to me in the last few days when I was scrolling through hundreds of digital photos for some design work and realising how easy it is now to take more and more pictures until you have exactly what you want and discard the rest.

The internet is choc-a-bloc with sites offering copyright-free images for design. You want pictures of a church you can have 57,492! At the same time there are about 3,687,340 images of cute cats so more can’t always be better.

It seems we no longer keep images for posterity in the same way either. We have a multitude of photo albums in the house crammed with pictures that mark our childhoods, our weroll-3-1421867-639x462dding and the lives of our children. But they end more or less when digital photos became the only way to mark life’s milestones.

Now, instead of physical albums we have folders on computer hard drives so how do you know which image is the one which matters?

The Bible says there’s only one. Jesus is described as “the image of the invisible God”. In other words, if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. If you want to understand how God deals with people, look at Jesus. If you want to get an idea of how God would react if you approached him, look at how Jesus responded when people approached him in the Bible.

Jesus was welcoming to tax cheats, partygoers, wedding guests, bereaved relatives, caring friends of people with disabilities, the blind, the theologically-confused, those who were too holy for their own good … and really good news even for people who were dead. Look it up sometime.

The picture of God that Jesus presents is of acceptance, forgiveness and a willingness to listen but not of being a soft touch.

We have no pictures of Jesus but today his work is carried on by those who have committed to follow him. Many of those are in church on Sundays. We not join us and help us develop more of the family likeness?

Death … interrupted

My Easter sermon for 2016.

Stop     … they found the stone rolled away, but they did not find the body

 Luke 24: 1-2

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb.

The women expected things to be as it always was when someone died.

It wasn’t so much that life was carrying on as normal – death was carrying on as normal.

They had seen Jesus die. They had seen the body taken down and put in the tomb. The Sabbath then intervened but on Sunday morning they came back. What else could they do but anoint it for burial?

From then everything would go on in the same, slow, cold, dead way …

Except … they have to stop because death has been interrupted.

The two men in dazzling clothes had to begin the process of helping them to rewind through all that Jesus had taught them. How important it is to go back into Jesus’ story and recount it for ourselves: not to spend time in the place of death looking for the living words of Jesus.

 

Stand   … he is not here, but has risen. Remember!

Luke 24: 4b-6

two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember…

Life was pretty tough in first century Palestine so to be dazzled at a tomb wasn’t your everyday experience. These two men, certainly we are meant to understand them as angels from God, had terrified the women.

Don’t forget they had come in the dark to embalm a body and now it’s missing … or as they are beginning to remember, alive.

They stand there and the story begins to percolate in their hearts and bodies. Three lovely words from Luke: “then they remembered”. Imagine how that scene unfolded as they reminded each other of their shared experiences with Jesus.

They stood there holding unwanted spices for a dead man; perfumes to anoint a corpse. What do we do with these now? Throw them away?!?

They remembered! Jesus had told them it would be like this and, despite living alongside him for three years, it had not sunk into their hearts.

How often do we need to break out of what can become a sense of functional atheism? I’m in the church, I know about Jesus but will I let his death and resurrection become part of who I am.

 

Step out          … he commanded us to preach and to testify

Acts 10: 39-40, 42

39 ‘We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen… 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify…

The women left the tomb told the eleven and, initially, no one believed them until Peter went to investigate. Our second reading is part of the story of Peter preaching to the Roman soldier Cornelius and his household – being a witness to the resurrection.

Peter had crossed a great gulf between the Jewish Christian church and the Gentiles. Why? Well he says he can’t do any other.

We are witnesses to all that he did…

[God] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify …

Peter is remembering his story. He stepped in to the tomb and saw that Jesus was no longer in it. Then he stepped out looking with new eyes.

Luke says he went home amazed at what had happened. We know from the Bible that very soon he met Jesus face to face.

IMG_0208.JPG Perhaps you need to meet Jesus this morning in a new way.

To stop at the tomb and know that Good Friday is not the end of the story …

… or to stand and hear the words ‘he is risen’ and know they are true for your life too …

… or to find the right way to step out and be a witness in the place where God has put you.

Heaven’s waiting room

The continuing international crisis over refugee families trying to find a place to be safe is cast into sharp relief as Christmas approaches.

It makes the Bible story of Mary and Joseph travelling the 100 miles on foot and by donkey to Bethlehem all the more a story for our time. It makes the birth of Jesus in a stable all the more potent as a symbol of one who came as an outcast.

This song speaks of the mother who hears the angel’s promise and watches some unlikely pilgrims kneel and hail her refugee baby in the filth of a Bethlehem stable.

You can sing it to the folk song Scarlet Ribbons or, if you have a long memory, to the old Seekers’ hit The Carnival is Over. The metre is 8.7.8.7.D.

 

Mary in the stable waiting.

hears again the angel’s voice:

‘favoured one the Lord is with you,

all Creation sings: ‘Rejoice!’

Mary waits, and heaven wonders,

at the Prince of Glory’s birth

from her womb, inside that stable,

heaven’s waiting room on earth.

 

Shepherds waiting on the mountain,

Wise Men searching for a sign,

hear that outcasts can be welcomed

at the baby Jesus’ side.

So the earth’s unlikely pilgrims

find themselves upon their knees

and a teenage mother watches

as they hail a refugee.

 

Son of God and hope of heaven,

with the waiting ones on earth,

we expect a world of diff’rence

when your justice comes to birth.

So the world is waiting, hoping

for the promised day to dawn;

when our longings find fulfilment

through the babe in Bethlehem born.

Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG www.songsolutions.org

Three hymns for Christmas

If you’re planning worship over Christmas, here are three contemporary hymns you may want to consider. As usual, they are written to go with known tunes, although there is an original tune written for Mary in the stable waiting.

You can include them in your CCLI returns as well.

Mary in the stable waiting.

hears again the angel’s voice:

‘favoured one the Lord is with you,

all Creation sings: ‘Rejoice!’

Mary waits, and heaven wonders,

at the Prince of Glory’s birth

from her womb, inside that stable,

heaven’s waiting room on earth.

 

Shepherds waiting on the mountain,

Wise Men searching for a sign,

hear that outcasts can be welcomed

at the baby Jesus’ side.

So the earth’s unlikely pilgrims

find themselves upon their knees

and a teenage mother watches

as they hail a refugee.

 

Son of God and hope of heaven,

with the waiting ones on earth,

we expect a world of diff’rence

when your justice comes to birth.

So the world is waiting, hoping

for the promised day to dawn;

when our longings find fulfilment

through the babe in Bethlehem born.

Metre      8.7.8.7.D

Recommended tune: The Carnival is Over, Scarlet Ribbons or an appropriate traditional tune

Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG www.songsolutions.org

 

The mystery of God on high

lies wrapped in frail humanity.

The Word of truth is now revealed

and echoes in a baby’s cry.

Here as we celebrate and sing

Be born in us, our Lord and King.

 

As shepherds bring their gifts to him

who left behind his majesty,

the shadow of a cross is seen

against the star-lit eastern sky.

Here as we celebrate and sing

Be born in us, our Lord and King.

 

Glory and grace are laid in straw

while hosts of angels testify.

A stable for the Son of God:

his mother sees and wonders “Why?”

Here as we celebrate and sing

Be born in us, our Lord and King.

 

The paradox of Bethlehem

is captured in that mother’s sigh.

As God, who brought a world to life,

must learn to live and then to die.

Here as we celebrate and sing

Be born in us, our Lord and King.

 

And all the dreams we dare to own

find refuge in this baby’s eyes;

we see the truth of God revealed

in one who laid his glory by.

Here as we celebrate and sing

Be born in us, our Lord and King.

Recommended tune: Companion

Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG www.songsolutions.org

 

We do not look for angel choirs

or visions in the sky,

but simply pray that peace on earth

comes nearer through the Christ child’s birth

in Bethlehem for us,

in Bethlehem for us. 

 

We do not look for frankincense

or wise ones at our door

but simply ask our prayers be heard

and that our restless hearts be stirred

by Jesus’ newborn cry,

by Jesus’ newborn cry.

 

We will not rest until we know

that God makes all things new;

until our search for answered prayer

transforms the lives of all who dare

to put their trust in you,

to put their trust in you.

 

But still you send us songs of peace

and wisdom whispers near.

You call us to the way of Christ,

that in our living hope will rise

from Bethlehem to here,

from Bethlehem to here.

Recommended tune: Repton

Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG www.songsolutions.org

Don’t run on too far

I was trying to resist once again telling you about my favourite Christmas track but then Radio 2 went and played it on Sunday, so any excuse …

Hardeep_singh_kohliHardeep Singh Kholi (left) was interviewing Deacon Blue’s frontman Ricky Ross on Good Morning Sunday and dropped into the conversation that HIS favourite was Calvary, a track from Ross’ solo album Pale Rider. The track very definitely has nothing to do with the crucifixion – the whole point is about celebrating the baby and not trying to rush past the birth to seeing all that Jesus would accomplish on the cross.

It’s a failing of many of us that we want to point at the stable and say: “There you are. The Saviour of the world, destined for a cross.”

But surely one of the most stunning things in human history is to understand that lying in a manger is the Word made flesh? Also, the Incarnation is the way in which God identifies with us and shows his commitment to helping us live “life in all its fulness”, so Ross (right) sings:

One child grows and people noticeRicky Ross
he’s breaking chains
and making poor folks’ lives so heavenly
(the way it’s meant to be)

What a story – God made human and vulnerable and small and surprising and available to us.

The implications, however, are not small at all. A child destined to break chains demands a people who will continue that work – speaking up and living a life where everyone has value.

Night falls, still a broken step
this old mule’s legs
will take you many days from here
Tired limbs and ruddy cheeks
will bandage up your aching hands and feet

I don’t need to know what everyone sees
different roads can take you where other paths lead
I’m not even trying to get as far as Calvary

The challenge is in not running ahead too quickly but allowing the stunning reality of Immanuel – God with us – to shape our Christmas celebrations and affect the way we live beyond the festive period.

Why is Jesus so difficult?

Jesus is so difficult to follow. The problem with him is that just when you want him to conveniently approve of something you do he says just the opposite.

So just as America – “one nation under God” – celebrates the death of Osama Bin Laden the words of Jesus, uttered on a middle-Eastern hillside and recorded in Luke’s Gospel in the Bible come back to haunt them.

27 But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
    28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.
    29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.
    30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
    31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
    32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them.
    33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.
    34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners’, expecting to be repaid in full.
    35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
    36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

That’s just not in the US rhetoric now, at least not in the public rhetoric.Obama image

“Rot in hell,” says the he

adline.

“It’s a good day for America,” says President Obama.

“Obama 1, Osama 0,” said one banner.

But Jesus won’t let it go; the Bible won’t let it go. As Brian McLaren says on his blog: ‘Joyfully celebrating the killing of a killer who joyfully celebrated killing carries an irony that I hope will not be lost on us. Are we learning anything, or simply spinning harder in the cycle of violence?’

I remember reading Barack Obama’s first book with a rising sense of hope that here was a leader who would be different; who would be a man of moral purpose. Now as I hear him utter the same things previous world leaders have said – including past and present British Prime Ministers – my heart sinks.

Where is the change I hoped for, and would have voted for if I was American?

And then a little voice whispers in my ear as I sit comfortably in a British coffee shop – well, ironically an American coffee shop in Britain! ‘Do you remember what the church in Corinth was told?’

1 Corinthians 10

Warnings From Israel’s History
 1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.
    2 They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
    3 They all ate the same spiritual food
    4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.
    5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
    6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.
    7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.
    8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did— and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.
    9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did— and were killed by snakes.
    10 And do not grumble, as some of them did— and were killed by the destroying angel.
    11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come.
    12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

It can be so easy to point the finger from the comfort of my coffee. I am still uneasy – more than uneasy, I am deeply disturbed by the kind of triumphal scenes being paraded at the death of Bin Laden.

I also know, however, that it’s too easy to point a finger and claim to be prophetic and at the same time be on the brink of an equally-catastrophic failure of my own. I may not have ordered anyone’s killing but I don’t have the weight of the Western world on my shoulders each day.

It is the duty of every follower of Christ to speak out against injustice and to remind the world that the crucified carpenter would not let violence be the answer. But we also have to guard our own hearts. As someone used to remind me – every time we point our finger at someone, three others point back at ourselves.

What motivates our worship?

Deuteronomy 6

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.
7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
9 Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.
10 When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you— a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build,
11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant— then when you eat and are satisfied,
12 be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

 

Our Life Group wrestled last night with the issue of what motivates our worship. The conversation began in a peculiar place – binge drinking – and what makes club owners worship profit so much that they will allow all women in free to entice the men in, or charge an entrance price after which all drinks are free or play other games to ensure people come in and drink themselves stupid. We talked with the Street Pastor in our group about the kind of issues they encounter at 4am.

We reflected on the dangers of taking things out of context, including Bible texts and read from Steve Chalke and Alan Mann’s book Different Eyes: the Art of Living Beautifully in which he quotes an episode of The West Wing where President Jed Bartlett tackles a radio show host with a habit of decrying homosexuality with a Bible verse from Leviticus. The YouTube clip is .

We then recognised our own fixed boundaries – things that “they do” in a neighbouring church; the things which make them different and sadly so often make us see them as wrong. We recognised that our unwillingness to see God in other people’s worship makes it hard for God to see true worship in ours.

Finally, we tried to imagine living as people who always remember that our worship should reflect thankfulness because God in Christ has given us a hope and a future.

Seeing isn’t always believing

It’s probably a good lesson in life not to believe everything people tell you – and we discovered that with a disappointing trip to Limoges.
The second stage of our round-France marathon has brought us to the Perigord region of the Dordogne, an area we love and have enjoyed holidays in before.
Because most of the country shuts down from Saturday night until 2pm on Monday we consulted our guidebook for somewhere we hadn’t seen that promised to be worthwhile.
Limoges is renowned for its porcelain and was described as a beautiful old town with many charms, so off we headed.
We arrived at lunchtime – we always do! – but the indoor market said it was open until 2pm. We walked in around 1pm and everything was shut except for one fruit stall which was in the process of closing and the stallholder looked very grumpy so we beat a hasty retreat.
There were a few examples of Limoges’ history – a half-timbered street just off the market square and an impressive mural painted on the sides of two high-rise building on the opposite side (pictured).
We kept walking and saw the magnificent Hotel de Ville (pictured top) where clearly a number of people gather for their lunch break for conversation and to sit in the sun.
Our guidebook had told us to prepare for a great day in Limoges – being amazed. Actually most of the time we were walking past shut down businesses; not just closed for the morning but places that had stopped trading; sometimes whole streets with only one or two active shops in them.
As we walked around I was reminded of a passage in Matthew’s gospel in the Bible where Jesus is ripping into the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders who were always giving everyone else advice on how to live.
At one point Jesus tells the Pharisees they are like “dead men’s graves” – all painted on the outside but full of dead mens’ bones inside. Limoges as a whole wasn’t that bad but some of the shops were. On the outside they still had the signs up for the business that once operated there – even some of the bargain posters stuck on the door.
But inside there was no life at all. Just an empty space.
In fact, when we got back to the camp site one of the other people here said that even the best displays of Limoge porcelain isn’t in Limoges … you have to leave the town behind to find it.
We found it hard to believe that the guidebook could have got it so wrong about Limoges – it promised such a lot and delivered a boring place that was really not worth the journey.
Jesus used to fall out with the disciples a lot because he found it hard to believe that people who had so much head knowledge of God could be so far off-track with their lives.
I wonder what happens when people encounter us?

Reality on the menu please

LPO street party 1

The sun has reappeared after 24 hours of rain – God’s timing spot on as always because the blue skies returned just in time for Sunday lunchtime’s street party here at Le Pas Opton in the Vendee.

It’s something of a tradition now at Spring Harvest Holidays for the main entrance to be blocked off by tables and chairs and a bank of red-hot barbecues as families join in with their picnics. You see the people who have cooked pasta or made salads sitting next to those who have shot into the site’s shop and bought a pack of saucissons – and those who’ve just brought along a baguette!

But the great thing is that people who’ve never before spoken to each other sit side by side and chat like long-lost friends. As a former minister of mine used to say “well if I’m going to spend eternity with you I ought to find out something about you.”

Food was really important to Jesus, of course. He made sure the disciples caught enough fish after a fruitless night at sea because they needed to be able to feed themselves and sell some to make money; he feed 5,000 men (plus women and children) with a packed lunch; he enjoyed parties – especially with the wrong kind of people; he loved the conversations that came out of sitting at a meal with people.

And of course, on the night before he died – the night people were plotting to do away with him – he took bread and wine and turned a simple meal into a profound encounter. He took bread and broke it and declared it to be his body. He lifted up the wine and said it was his blood – a new covenant for the world for the forgiveness of sins.

As church we need to learn to a

ppreciate food for its own sake; that it’s good just to eat and be together. You don’t need an ulterior motive – ooh, perhaps if I make a really good cassoulet it may convince my next door neighbour that they ought to try Family Service on Sunday. Or perhaps they may just get to like you a bit!

Of course we want people to come to faith and discover Jesus for themselves but surely because they realise that the people who are in the church are Good News people in every way?