The Mountain Top Experience

Finding Glory in Brokenness

There is a phrase that is sometimes used called ‘the mountain top experience’  and it aims to describe a powerful Christian encounter with God. Scripture has many Mountain Top Experiences.

Abraham showed his faith to God by being prepared to sacrifice his son on a mountain top, now believed to be where Jerusalem is built.

Moses receive the 10 commandments from God on a mountain top.

Elijah met with God on Mount Carmel.

Jesus starts his earthly ministry being tempted by the Devil on a mountain top and he ascends into heaven at the end of his earthly ministry from a mountain top.

Being on a Mountain top can bring another view of our world as you look down onto the world below. Asturias 2

Last year my wife & I where fortunate enough to visit Northern Spain, to a place called Asturias, full of Mountains. We travelled up the mountain side by bus getting higher and higher until we moved above the clouds to look down onto mountains poking up through the clouds, it was glorious and on top of this mountain was a beautiful lake surrounded by snow topped mountains and cows grazing. It was really beautiful and you felt as though you were on top of the world.Asturias 1

Another experience was to have some photographs given to us by the steeple jacks who came to make the Church Tower safe. The views from the Tower showed how incredibly green it is in the place where we live. Greenhill Road lives up to its name. What a different view we get from a higher place.Church Tower

I was fortunate enough to go up onto Mount Tabor, south of the sea of Galilee, up the mountain reputed to be the Mount of the Transfiguration, this is what I wrote at the end of the day.

“We finished the day with a visit to Mount Tabor, where the Transfiguration took place. The Mountain is very high and we had to get mini buses to take us up there as the road is very windy. Jesus and the disciples must have been very fit and taken a long time to get up the mountain, which was the highest in the region. A Church had been built at the top and it was possible to reflect in the small downstairs chapel and to reflect outside by selecting a quiet spot overlooking the terrain. I can understand in this place the physical presence of God, Moses and Elijah being at the top of this mountain, almost in the clouds”. There is a Glory about being on a mountain top looking at the world in a different way.

Jesus walks up Mount Tabor for many hours, perhaps even days until, with Peter, James and John, he reaches the top, not to see the glorious view but to be glorified himself and Peter, James and John see him in a very different way. Peter later writes “For Jesus received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.”. It would seem to be a pinnacle in Jesus ministry.

Mount Tabor

The Transfiguration is written about in Matthew, Mark & Luke, the synoptic Gospels and it marks a turning point in Jesus ministry. In the first half of his ministry he is teaching about God’s kingdom, about God’s love for his people, about how to live a Godly life, about turning away from sins and receiving forgiveness and being free to start a new life in God. He shows his authority and who he is ‘God on earth’ through miracles of healing and driving out demons and confronting evil. This part of his ministry culminates in Peter declaring to Jesus “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” and Jesus declares that he is turning to Jerusalem to face his destiny where he must “undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” to pay for the sins of the world, to replace the judgement we would receive and to bring us into an intimate living relationship with God, if we seek this.

To mark this change, Jesus walks up the mountain and meets with the heavenly figures of Moses and Elijah representing the law and the prophets. It is Jesus Mountain top experience, but this isn’t to be the pinnacle of his achievements, this mountain top experience is to prepare him for the final journey, the final Exodus. In the first Exodus, Moses led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, Jesus will lead the final Exodus, taking all God’s people out of the slavery of sin and death, out of brokenness, to the new Promised Land, redeemed to God himself bought by the death of Jesus, no wonder his Father says ‘This is my Son, the chosen, listen to him’. Jesus is glorified between Moses and Elijah and the disciples see Jesus in his heavenly glory, the divine person bringing the kingdom of God to our world. There are links to Easter morning where the disciples encounter the empty tomb that confirms all that Jesus has been telling them, there are links to the ascension of Jesus into heaven to be glorified and sit at God’s right hand. There is the anticipation of Jesus coming again in glory to bring the whole world under his judgement. The Transfiguration is linking all that has been prophesied such as that in Daniel and all that will be such as Peter writes about as a witness to the glory of God in Jesus. It all becomes together in Jesus at his Transfiguration, but his glory is not the pinnacle of his ministry.

Transfiguration

As he is glorified standing between Moses and Elijah we have a glimpse of the brokenness he is about to enter as he is nailed to a cross between two criminals.

In his glory Jesus descends the mountain top into the brokenness of the world healing the demon possessed boy,  confronting the sin in the Temple, encountering the aggression against him, teaching about God’s love and how we should live and then submitting to arrest, torture and execution as he is broken on the cross for us, so that our sins are taken onto him.

Jesus in his Glory, the Son of God, God on earth, immerses himself in the brokenness of our world and then becomes broken himself for the broken.

Last week I prayed with people unfamiliar in so many ways with who Jesus Christ is as they grieved in brokenness the loss of a family member and friend and Christ came and gave them strength and peace and hope to live their lives. Last week I prayed with someone who is experiencing great sickness and the Holy Spirit came in such a powerful way in this brokenness showing Christ’s love and presence to give peace and strength and hope. Last week I was with someone who sought to put their total trust in Christ for their life ahead and to know peace and strength and hope.Prayer1

Christ in his Glory doesn’t separate himself but enters the brokenness of humanity and becomes broken himself so that we in our brokenness can know his Glory and know his peace and strength and hope in our lives. It is through Christ in his glory entering our brokenness that we can come together as a Church and enjoy the Summer Fair and welcome others to experience the joy and peace of Christ’s presence.

Do we deserve this pouring out of God’s love to heal us? Are we worthy of this sacrifice of God on our behalf to mend our brokenness? Are we thankful and grateful for what he has done for us, even in suffering and especially in joy?

We cannot possibly be worthy enough or thankful enough or deserving enough for God’s grace, but Christ allows us in our brokenness to enter his glory, because in his glory he has entered our brokenness and become broken himself for us.

Our Mountain Top experience is to come to seek to know Christ in our brokenness and to receive his healing and his glory and to be transformed.

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Unity in the Church?

Dwelling in Christ together

A talk from our Joint Church Service

It is a really good to come together for worship and these times I think are important as God’s family, the Church.FishermenYou may have heard the story of a Roman Catholic, a Methodist, a Baptist, and an Anglican who were all out fishing together on an ecumenical fishing trip. They got into a discussion on what denomination Jesus would be. The Roman Catholic said that there was no doubt he would be part of the Mother Church. The Anglican said, “No, no. When you consider all that Martin Luther did for the Christian faith, there is no question he would unite with the Reformed tradition.” The Methodist said, “Well maybe but when you also consider all that John and Charles Wesley did for the Christian faith, there is no question he would unite with the Methodist conviction. The Baptist looked perplexed for a few minutes and then said wisely, “Dear Friends, I am pretty sure that Jesus isn’t going to change!”

Our Church has been split and divided many times over the years. I once met someone who was part of a Church that I hadn’t come across before and when I expressed surprise that I hadn’t met them at any of the Churches Together events they expressed reservations about contaminating themselves with Churches who didn’t have the same doctrine as they did. This did take me aback somewhat.

Brokenness and division is so much part of our world and our country. We perhaps wonder what is happening with political divides and changes, communities expressing so much discontent on the way that people are treated, aggression against a western way of life from faith groups, religion and God’s name being used to promote evil, the ever increasing gap between rich and poor and I can’t help but think of Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:22-23) where he says “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies”. Creation was groaning in Paul’s time and is groaning now. The Church of England is currently groaning under the debates on the Church and human sexuality and the use of Facebook and social media seems to be aimed at promoting divisions and exchanging insults rather than civilised and reasoned debate based upon scripture and the Holy Spirit.

Yet… We, Christians on the street, are gathered here today to worship our saviour Jesus Christ together and to respond I think to that incredibly prayer of Jesus which we can read in the Gospel of John that brings unity out of brokenness. (John 17:20-26)

unity

Jesus farewell prayer isn’t made on a sickbed but at the end of the Last Supper shared between his disciples to commemorate the Passover. It is made as Jesus goes out of Jerusalem to face his destiny, across the Kidron Valley up the Mount of Olives and into the Garden of Gethsemane. It is made as he prepares to meet his betrayer. It is made as he is prepared to let go of all control over his life and to suffer and be executed. It is made as he in all his wholeness and fullness of life in God, enters the brokenness and division of humanity.

Mount of Olives

Incredibly, Jesus prays for you and me. He prays for unity and not division, but what does that unity mean? Primarily Jesus is praying that you and I and those who come to believe in him and follow him, know the redeeming and saving work of God in the world and that we are part of it. This work is redeeming the broken relationship of you and me to one of unity with God, in the Trinity.

God the Father sends out his love to the world and it becomes reality in Jesus Christ, his son who mends the broken relationship that we have with God and who would then send us the person of the Holy Spirit to equip us to grow deeper into this love and to bring this love to the world. In fact Jesus prays that as God the Father has an intimate relationship with his son Jesus Christ and his son Jesus Christ has an intimate relationship with God the Father, so may we also know the SAME relationship, that we may call God the Father, our Father and that we may call Jesus Christ his son, our brother. He prays that we may know that he is exalted by God our Father so that we may know his love for the World and that we may also partake in loving service to the world.

This is why Jesus prays that we may know the love of the Father and the Son and that we may exchange that love between ourselves in unity, not division. Once we are able to know and exchange the love of God, in the Trinity, between ourselves, the world will see we are loved by God and want to be part of the redeeming and saving work of God, the Trinity in our world.

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This unity, God’s unity through his love, transcends all human efforts in reconciling the conflicting interests of people, including those of Christians, in our endeavours to harmonise our own interests.

It is so wonderful, I think, to be able to come into any Church around the world and receive the love of God shared between Christians, no matter our denomination, culture, tradition, social norms, political persuasion, background or foibles, of which there are usually many! It is the love of God (not our own love) that we share and it is this love that bridges all differences.

Paul recounts the startling events of his conversion on the road to Damascus to King Agrippa as part of his defence against defiling the Temple in Jerusalem by bringing Greek Christians into it (Acts 26:12-18). These foreigners are separated from God by Jewish law, yet Paul affirms and defends his ministry as rooted in scripture, bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ as redeemer and saviour to the Gentiles as part of God’s family, redeemed through the suffering of Christ on the cross, who is raised from death so that God’s love may shine on all people alike. Paul lives out Jesus prayer for unity in God’s love, brought to us and bought by Jesus Christ.

This evening is an opportunity for us to worship together in the unity of God’s love, not our own love, but it is also one perhaps where we can go from here as examples to our community of a unity that the world cannot understand but will want to be part of. It is a unity in God’s love, a unity that emanates from the love God has for his people and his world, a unity that is known in God, the Trinity, between Christian people, even though we may worship in different ways.

How incredible that we can celebrate this gift from God and respond to the prayer that Jesus has for each one of us. In a world and a Church full of division, it is us, the Christian on the street, that can show the unity of the Body of Christ that expresses God’s redeeming love amongst us to our community.

Unity in Brokenness

My story about the Roman Catholic, the Methodist, the Baptist and the Anglican may have been a little bit of fun, but at least they all know the love of God and they went fishing together, not separately!

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Grace and the Broad Bean Blackfly

Cleansed through Christ

Romans 8:1-11; Luke 19:41-20:8

I come to you this evening a little disappointed. You see I have a small vegetable patch in which I love to grow vegetables. Being able to grow many vegetables in a small space is important to me. I have cut and grow lettuce that abuts closely to tightly packed carrots and beetroot with radishes spread between them. In one corner I grow beans. The broad beans are planted in a small circle around a wigwam of poles that they grow up. I have been successful in previous years with this method and had a good crop of broad beans to enjoy. But this year I am a little disappointed. You see I have had only 6 broad beans from these plants. The reason I think behind such a poor crop is that my broad beans have become contaminated by the blight of the beans, black fly!

Blackfly

These black fly have covered the beans, feeding off the sap and excreting a sugary honeydew that ants adore and I have ants hurtling up and down my broad beans in some sort of frenzy. The black fly are stunting and weakening my plants growth and reducing the number of beans that crop. I have tried to stop the contamination by nipping out the tops of the bean plants and using spray, but all to no avail and what a sorry sight these beans are and that is why I am a little disappointed.

However, about 2 feet from the broad beans I have planted a circle of runner beans which are again growing up a wigwam of poles. These beans were planted a little later than my broad beans and they are thriving! They have grown quite tall with plenty of flowers and plenty of young runner beans coming to maturity.  What a sight to behold they are!

runnerbean

On one side of my small garden plot we have the stunted broad beans bearing little fruit and contaminated by black fly and on the other side the vigorous and plentiful healthy runner beans. When I look at the runner beans I can see what the broad beans could have been like if they hadn’t become contaminated, given over to black fly and ants which I am of course hoping stay on the broad beans now and don’t contaminate my runner beans. The Broad Beans could have been so much better if they hadn’t become contaminated.

Jesus comes down the Mount of Olives and sees the city of God, Jerusalem in all its splendour nestling before him in the valley with David’s wall surrounding it and the Temple where God’s people meet with him and Jesus sees a city where God’s people have resisted his call for repentance and forgiveness, his call for peace and the message of grace that his son Jesus brings. He sees a contaminated city that could have been so much better. – Jesus knows that they will be handed over to God’s judgement, they have become contaminated by sin and their own ambitions and they will be stunted as a nation and bear no fruit for the kingdom. Jesus knows what they could have been, a healthy nation bringing God’s grace to other people, spreading his message of Good News and bearing fruit for his kingdom and he weeps! He isn’t a little disappointed, he weeps in sorrow at what could have been, he weeps in sadness at the judgement to come and he weeps in anguish at the suffering that he knows he will be subjected to from this contaminated people.

Jerusalem

Jesus enters Jerusalem and comes to the Temple, the place where God is encountered, his Father’s house. The inner central room of the Temple is called the Holy of Holies and is where Solomon placed the Ark of the Covenant surrounded by a curtain and carried by God’s people, through the desert and where God spoke to Moses.

Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest enters into the Holy of Holies to present sacrifices on behalf of the people in order that their sins that contaminated them may be cleansed and that they could become pure in front of a living God and know his blessings.

People would come to the temple once a year and would enter its outer courtyards only after they washed themselves in special bathing places, so that they could be ceremonially clean in the temple, a holy place where God’s presence was expected.

They would then go into the temple courtyards and purchase a pure lamb that would be sacrificed on their behalf for their sins so that they could be clean of their contamination again in front of God. The lamb, rather than themselves, would be sacrificed for their sins. If you couldn’t afford a lamb then you would buy a dove.

herodsinnertempleHuman nature never changes though even in the Holiest of places, it is full of sin because you couldn’t buy a lamb or a dove with ordinary money, you would need to use temple money and you had to change your hard earned cash into temple currency and the money changer would take a commission.

Then you would need to buy your animal and this would be charged at an exorbitant rate because you couldn’t bring your own sacrifice in. Even the cleansing pools were charged for.

Then there was the temple tax to pay for the running of the temple and priests were becoming rich when surrounding them were the poor.

The temple economy was booming in very hard times and taking advantage of the poor, all so that people could become cleansed from their sin and contamination, in front of God and know his blessing! How Jesus wept at the human sin preventing ordinary people knowing God’s presence.

Jesus walks into the Temple courtyards and sees the contamination of his Father’s house, the house of prayer turned into a den for thieves and robbers, his Father’s house full of sin and he angrily turns out the money changers and the sellers of lambs and doves and he turns upside down the thriving temple economy, and the chief priests, in their sin, look for a way to kill him and asked him where his authority came from.

the-cleansing-of-the-temple

But Jesus knew that to be cleansed from contamination and sin, in order to stand in front of God and to be blessed by him, would turn the stunted growth of the people into the healthy vibrant plant bearing fruit.

God didn’t need the Temple economy to do this for him, instead he came himself as Jesus Christ, uncontaminated, sinless and pure; the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth and in his human flesh Jesus became like sin, taking all the contamination onto himself in the flesh and it was in his flesh, his body that he condemned all sin, our sin, taking it to death on the cross as the final temple sacrifice.

No longer do people need to come and be cleansed at the Temple in Jerusalem, because Christ has become the new Temple the new way to know God and the place where our sins are condemned. In Christ there is no condemnation for those who believe in and follow and belong to Christ. We have been freed from contamination, we are free to grow healthily and to bear fruit for God’s kingdom, no matter the state of our physical lives in the flesh. We are cleansed by the blood of Christ to receive God’s Holy Spirit into our inner being so we can live our lives in the Spirit and not in the flesh, we are free to know God’s love and to return that love. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

jesus-on-the-cross

Grace is a wonderful thing….. How wonderful that in all my human failings, of which there are many, I can live my life in Christ and be filled with his Holy Spirit that calls me to be a minister and shows me God’s love for all people, no matter who they are and how they live. How wonderful is grace that you can be free to live the Christian life, not in your own human strength and weaknesses, but in the strength of Christ where your sin is condemned in the body of Christ on the cross.  Can we accept this forgiveness and grace and freedom from contamination? Can we live healthily in God’s grace and bear fruit for his kingdom or do we still live lives contaminated like the broad beans covered in black fly. Can we turn away from sin and turn to Christ putting the cross at the centre? Can we accept his forgiveness into our lives through faith and be free from contamination to live our Christian lives by and with the Holy Spirit, to Glorify God and share his grace with others?

We don’t need to be great amongst people to receive forgiveness, to be free of contamination, to know no condemnation. We come in faith to Christ, to the new Temple and receive the free gift of grace and trust in him for our lives. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, thank you that you know me, thank you that you would want me to grow healthily and bear fruit for your kingdom, I want to know you afresh, free me from my sins and I receive gratefully your forgiveness and your gift of grace. Amen.

runnerbeanBlackfly

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Faith and the Garden Hosepipe

Faith in God is really hard!

Holy Spirit Person

Faith in God, I think is really hard, because you have to do something first in order to know if God is true or not. You can look at all the evidence, but unless you are prepared to open your mind and heart to the possibilities that God is a living God who comes to make himself known to us by living with us, as his son Jesus Christ, who through his death, resurrection and ascension has victory over all evil and who comes to show us his love today through filling us with his living Holy Spirit; you never get to know God. Which is a shame I think, because our world needs to know our living God. Faith in God is really hard, especially if you are a thinking person.

Boy on park benchA boy was sitting on a park bench with one hand resting on an open Bible. He was loudly exclaiming his praise to God. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God is great!” he yelled without worrying whether anyone heard him or not.

Shortly after, along came a man who had recently completed some studies at a local university. Feeling himself very enlightened in the ways of the world and very eager to show this enlightenment, he asked the boy about the source of his joy.

“Hey” said the boy with a bright laugh, “Don’t you have any idea what God is able to do? I just read that God opened up the waves of the Red Sea and led the whole nation of Israel right through the middle.”

The enlightened man laughed lightly, sat down next to the boy and began to try to open his eyes to the “realities” of the miracles of the Bible. “That can all be very easily explained. Modern scholarship has shown that the Red Sea in that area was only 10-inches deep at that time. It was no problem for the Israelites to wade across.”

The boy was stumped. His eyes wandered from the man back to the Bible laying open in his lap. The man, content that he had enlightened a poor, naive young person to the finer points of scientific insight, turned to go. Scarcely had he taken two steps when the boy began to rejoice and praise louder than before. The man turned to ask the reason for this resumed jubilation.

“Wow!” exclaimed the boy happily, “Thank you, God is greater than I thought! Not only did He lead the whole nation of Israel through the Red Sea, He topped it off by drowning the whole Egyptian army in10 inches of water!”

Faith in God is really hard, especially if you are a thinking person. I have a couple of close friends who cannot understand why I have faith in Jesus Christ so much that I would totally trust my life and the life of my family in him. One of my friends even states that he is leaving his options open. If he meets Christ when he dies then he will believe in him, if he doesn’t meet him then he has missed nothing in his life. Unfortunately without Christ in his life, he misses out on the richness of a relationship with God and when he meets Christ at his death, Christ will not know him and he will be separated from him. I also find it interesting that in their darkest times it is me they come to talk to.

We live in a world where faith, or trust, is in short supply. We do not put our faith and trust in each other easily. We only have to see the lack of trust by the people of Grenfell Tower in the authorities, over many years and the lack of trust in world leaders to provide a peaceful, caring and abundant environment for the people they serve.

TrustFaith is defined as complete trust or confidence in someone or something. No wonder that Faith in God is really hard for many people, because we are asked to put our complete trust or confidence in God whom we come to know through his son Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God is with us.

But without total trust in him, God cannot work amongst us, the power of God in our lives is reduced and sometimes disappears. Psalm 78 tells of the people of Israel testing God, “When the LORD heard, he was full of rage, a fire was kindled against Jacob, his anger mounted against Israel, because they had no faith in God, and did not trust his saving power”. Whereas Psalm 31 tell us “But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God. My times are in your hand.’”

Without faith and trust in him, God cannot work amongst us.

Our Bible passages this evening show extraordinary faith from Mark 5:21-43 and Acts 9:32-42.

Jairus was a synagogue leader, a respected member of the community, very much like a Churchwarden. People consulted Jairus, Jairus looked after the synagogue and he took on the administration tasks. Jairus was part of the religious leaders who were hostile to Jesus. Yet Jairus, in full view of the crowd throws himself at Jesus feet in quite an undignified manner and begs him repeatedly to lay hands on his daughter who was dying. It must have taken a lot of courage for Jairus to seek out Jesus and to have so much faith and trust in him that God’s power would work through him and heal his daughter.

Then we have the story of woman who is haemorrhaging, sandwiched between the story of Jairus and his daughter. This woman was an outcast, classified as unclean; she shouldn’t come into contact with anyone as they would be contaminated. Yet she has total faith and trust in Jesus that he will heal her, if only she could touch him and God’s power would work through him. How can she be brave enough to get to him, she couldn’t talk to him face to face as she was unworthy and unclean but perhaps she could come into touching distance of him.

Both Jairus and the woman came to Jesus in humility and in fear, but with true faith and belief in who he is and their belief brought healing. Faith becomes a channel for Jesus to work in our lives. Jesus says to the woman ‘Your faith has made you well, go in peace and be healed’. To Jairus he says ‘Do not fear, only believe’ and he goes and brings his daughter back to life.

Jesus main purpose is to bring God’s kingdom into our world, he confronts evil in our world and through his death, resurrection and ascension claims his victory which is passed onto the Apostles. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter heals Aeneas and brings Tabitha back to life, in the name of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit working within Peter, something that only Jesus could do before. These were signs of God’s kingdom growing through Jesus disciples. Peter always tells the crowd that Jesus is the one that they should put their trust in. He is the cornerstone, the one they should build their lives upon, the one who cares and brings salvation and hope from God.

It is through building our lives on the foundation of Christ in whom we put our faith and trust that we receive God’s power in our lives. This I find is easier said than done when times become hard, when we experience suffering and sickness, but how important it us not to cut off this conduit of faith into our lives and the lives of others.

Garden HosepipeI have brought in my Garden Hose Pipe. Its purpose is to deliver water to my garden. But once it is unravelled, it’s defects appear and it is these defects that stop it delivering water. I go along the pipe straightening out the kinks so that the water can travel.

Our faith is like a garden hosepipe, God needs faithful people to deliver his power into our lives and those of others, but if our faith has some defects and some kinks, his power becomes limited and non-existent.

We don’t know how God will work in our lives in good times and bad times, but what we do know is to continue to have faith and trust in him. There are clearly many questions about the miracles.

Why didn’t Jesus heal all who were sick, why didn’t he raise all who had died to life again? These are valid questions but of course they miss the point of Jesus mission. His life was about bringing God’s kingdom into our world, he brought signs of God’s kingdom through healing, he showed the generosity of God’s kingdom, he confronts the evil that distorts our world and he brings new life, death is no more. Jesus Christ brings a new relationship with God, we receive forgiveness for confessed sins, we receive a new peace in our lives and we receive wholeness in our relationship with God that is beyond our understanding.

Faith and trust in God are the conduits that allow him to work in our lives and those of others and for us to live our lives in the fullness of a relationship with God himself, no matter our circumstances, knowing death is no more. Faith in God, can be really hard, but Christ has the victory and in him we trust.

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A year in the life of a busy Church

A churchwardens report

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2016 was, as usual, a busy year at St David’s, with many opportunities to serve God, each other, and our neighbours as we tried to live out our lives as disciples of Christ.

The PCC continued to meet regularly, and to be organised into teams so that everyone could use their particular gifts, skills and interests, and combine to fulfil the whole of the church’s ministry, and be Christ’s body in this place.

Sunday services consisting of Common Worship and BCP Holy Communions, All-age Worship, Morning Praise, Evening Praise and Evensong continued.

A new All-age Communion, with children taking part, was introduced, and two of our older girls, after a short preparatory course, were admitted into Communion.

The numbers attending Sunday services once again showed an increase on the previous year.

A Chill-Out area for parents and under 5s was available in the Lady Chapel during the 10am Sunday service.

The Thursday Holy Communion continued to be well attended and appreciated by all who attended.

There were quite a number of special services including Good Friday, Easter, Harvest, Memorial, Remembrance, Ascension Day, Ash Wednesday, Shoebox Sunday, as well as United Services. There was a good variety of Advent and Christmas services, including our best-attended service, The Christingle, and the Midnight Communion was transmitted on Hermitage FM. There was a service to which those who had been recently baptised were invited, and one to celebrate marriage, where flowers were presented to four couples celebrating their Golden Weddings.

The deanery’s Archdeacon’s Visitation service was held at St David’s.

During May we had our famous ‘Two Bishops Week’, when the church was visited by Bishop Martyn, our new Diocesan Bishop, and Bishop Stanley from the Diocese of Mount Kilimanjaro and Kiteto. It was an honour to welcome them both to St David’s.

A wonderful Confirmation Service led by Bishop Martyn was held at St David’s in November with 13 candidates, 4 of whom were from our church.

In celebration of our 50th Anniversary year a new Paschal Candle holder was commissioned and ready for Easter Sunday, and the Ministers Board was put in place.

Monthly services continued at Tillson House Care Home.

Café Church thrived and was enjoyed by all who attended. It continued to provide an opportunity for retired people or people on their own to socialise and worship in an accessible way.

CoffeeLatte

Home Communion was taken to those who were house-bound or in care homes.

Some of us travelled to Leicester Cathedral in May to Bishop Martyn’s Service of Welcome, and even more of us were there in October as Jenny Holland was provisionally licensed as our Pastoral Assistant. Two wonderful occasions!

Our ministry team had to work even harder as we said goodbye to Revd Rhona Passey who retired in January and to Rev Derek Whittaker who was married in March in a joyful Spirit-filled service at St David’s, and moved to Yorkshire with his new wife.

Morning Prayer on each week-day continued to provide a good start to the day; the monthly prayer group met; some prayer triplets continued;the quarterly prayer mornings provided a welcome opportunity for quiet reflection; and a special time of prayer was held before Pentecost. All these things strengthened our prayer life and  helped to ensure that all our decisions and  initiatives are underpinned by prayer.

Home Groups continued to be invaluable ways of meeting together to learn more about God, our faith and one another and to deepen relationships. There were six regular groups and several seeker courses were held when needed.

Pastoral Link visiting continued, as did the sending of cards on special occasions, distribution of Hospital Bags, and the get-togethers for everyone. Under new leadership the Pastoral Link team looked at updating the scheme and finding new ways to build up the fellowship.

Door-to- door Parish Visiting was on-going as homes in Oakham Drive  were visited.

We continued to have working relationships with Hall Lane Methodist Church and Greenhill Community Church, having some joint services and distributing shared Easter and Christmas cards.

A new incumbent, Rev Liz Angell was appointed to our Mission Partners at Whitwick, Thringstone and Swannington. Meetings of the Mission Partnership, Cluster services and joint Lent Groups were held, and relationships were strengthened.

St David’s was a member of Coalville Churches Together with representation on the organising committee.

Sunday Club met with three regular leaders and a number of new helpers. During the summer volunteers provided activities for children in the choir vestry. The Brigade continued to meet weekly, and a small Christian drama group for teenagers began.

After School Church met every Wednesday during term time, with crafts, games, refreshments and a half-hour time of worship. There was much enthusiasm from children, their parents and carers and good relationships were built up.

After School Church

The church hosted services for Broom Leys School, Warren Hills School, CL&CGB and Heartland Youth for Christ.

Our work with young people outside the church building continued. We carried on taking Open the Book  into Warren Hills and Broom Leys Schools. It meant that well over 500 children, who might otherwise have had little or no contact with a church were hearing God’s story every fortnight. 

The after-school club Rock Solid  continued to meet at Castle Rock High School. There were additional visits to all three schools by members of St David’s for a variety of purposes, and we are  represented on the governing body of both the primary schools.

Visits were made to our Play Group and Warren Hills Nursery to tell Bible stories.

Our Child Protection Policy was updated and a Vulnerable Adults Policy began to be formulated.

There were a number of different social events to encourage fellowship between church members, some regular ones, and others included a lunch to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday and a treasure hunt.

The Golden Anniversary themed Summer Fair was a time of fun, teamwork and witness to the community, as well as a great fund-raiser, and the November Market  was a further successful fund-raising event.

Communication was maintained through the website, the magazine, posters and handouts, Facebook and Twitter. Sermons can now be found on the website and blog.  New outdoor notice boards were put place and have been well used advertising what is happening in our church. Monthly newsletters are emailed to baptism and wedding families.

St David’s was a referral agency for Food banks. The church continued to collect food donations, and members  were involved in food collections at supermarkets.

We continued to be represented within the Neighbourhood Action Group.

A Christmas Day Lunch for those who would otherwise have been alone was once again held in the church hall.

The Hall was well-used by both church groups, youth groups, charities and the community for both regular and one-off events, and the main hall was decorated.

The PCC had an away day in September to look at our Vision and Ministry, to assess where we are, and to ‘dream dreams’. During the subsequent PCC meetings  we started to prioritise these  and see haw they relate to our desire to ‘Grow in Faith and Live in Christ’. (You will be hearing much more about this from Andy very soon!)

Much was achieved in 2016, but there is still much more to be done. We are fortunate  to have so many people who are committed to the church, to each other and, above all, to God. And what a privilege it is that God has chosen us to carry out his work here! There are exciting times ahead so let’s dedicate ourselves once again to his service.  The future of this church is entrusted to us, so, together, united in one body, in the power of the Holy Spirit, let us give our all to further God’s kingdom and see his will done in this place.

holy-spirit-dove

Mary Smith

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Lost and found

lost smiley

Have you ever been lost, or has a member of your family been lost? I don’t know about you, but I find it is such an awful feeling. It can be quite a lonely and anxious place to be.

In my previous job before I became a minister, I visited many different companies in this country and abroad. I was fortunate enough to get a new car to use to drive to companies and to airports and it had a satellite navigation system. Now for those of you who have such a system you will know from experience that you need to be careful how you use them, they aren’t infallible. I didn’t know that, I thought they would know better than I how to get from A to B. So I needed to get from Coventry where I worked to Stansted airport to get a flight to Stockholm in Sweden. I was the main speaker at a meeting with a potentially important new customer. I would normally have travelled on the A14 and then the M11 to get to Stansted, but I dialled in Stansted airport on my new SATNAV and it said go down the M1 across the M25 and up the M11 and I thought that must be a quicker way. Except that it wasn’t and not only that it took me to a roundabout with roadworks on it that it didn’t know about and all the exits where blocked except the one I had joined on and I could only go back the way I came. I thought, no problem, I will drive a bit and the SATNAV will re-route me and it did, only to take me back to this same roundabout again and I was stuck and lost and panicking and already late for the plane. I had no idea where I was, I was lost. So, I rang my wife on my hands-free phone and said quick get a map out and find a way for me to get to Stansted from this roundabout. After many many minutes she finally managed to guide me onto the right route and I arrived at Stansted late and missed my flight.

The consequences were not good. The team I was working with in Sweden were not happy, we arranged a conference call with the Customer for the next morning, but the Customer was not happy and we lost the sale and I became an unpopular person, an outcast and I felt awful and quite lonely.  Getting lost brings about such an awful feeling.

Wiping tear emoticon

Well we can also find ourselves lost in our lives as well, outcast from the main stream, not being part of the crowd, it can be an awful feeling.

(Luke 18:35-19:10) Jesus comes to seek out and save the lost and here we have two examples of those who find themselves lost and are saved by Jesus and they both take place near and within the city of Jericho.

Jericho is a significant place, this is the place that Joshua came to when he brought God’s people out of the desert wilderness into the Promised Land. Here in Jericho is a flat plain amongst the mountains and the desert. It is the lowest and oldest town on earth and therefore the place of probably the oldest civilisation on earth. It is a fertile plain with natural springs forming an oasis. Jericho is surrounded by the Judean desert a place where bandits, thieves and freedom fighters controlled the paths through the desert to Jerusalem. You can imagine that this was a place of plenty, of food and drink, and sanctuary for God’s people lost for so many years in the wilderness of the desert.

Yet amongst saved people thousands of years later, are those who are outcast and lost, lonely and on their own. They are regarded as sinners, not suitable to be amongst God’s people.

the-jordan-valley-and-jerichoThe blind beggar on the roadside outside Jericho looking for some means of supporting his life. He hears the crowd and asks them what all the fuss is about and when he hears it is Jesus of Nazareth coming into Jericho, he seeks his face. Jesus reputation as the Messiah, the promised king in the line of David, has gone before him, his reputation that he is a man from God who heals has gone before him.

The blind man doesn’t sit there though questioning who Jesus is in his own mind, or hoping that people might bring Jesus to him. No he takes his destiny into his own hands and full of faith in who Jesus is he calls out ‘Jesus, son of David have mercy on me’ and even when the crowd tell him to be quiet, trying to keep him as the unworthy outcast beggar lost to society, he cries out again ‘Son of David have mercy on me’. He actively seeks the face of Jesus and is brought to him. Jesus asks him what he would like and his sight is restored and he is restored and he is no longer lost and outcast but accepted as part of God’s family, saved by Jesus Christ.

During our life we experience sickness and doubt and we may have people praying for us, it is up to us as well to seek the healing face of Jesus and put our total trust in him? Sometimes shouting out ‘Jesus, have mercy upon me’ is a cry we need to make and believe in. After all, he is a merciful God.

In this almost heavenly fertile place of Jericho, given to God’s people, there is oppression by the Roman occupiers and Zacchaeus, works for them collecting taxes. Tax collectors didn’t receive a wage for doing this job. The job would go to the highest bidder that is the one who agreed to return the highest amount of taxes to the Roman occupiers. To earn a wage the tax collector would take more money from the people than they needed in order to earn a living and of course many became very rich.

zacchaeusZacchaeus though wasn’t a tax collector, he was the Chief Tax Collector in Jericho, the one who organised the tax collection and he made sure that he became very rich. Zacchaeus was understandably, despised, outcast and lonely. He was lost and he knew it. So he decided to seek the face of Jesus and there he encounters Jesus in a very personal way as Jesus honours him, a despised sinner, by eating with him in his home. The encounter saves Zacchaeus and he responds in a remarkable way by giving half his riches to the poor and paying back 4 times the amount he has defrauded. He is saved back into God’s family because he knew he was lost and he sought the face of Christ.

During our life we may well take wrong paths, we may well find ourselves subject to temptations in life. We have seen many examples in our society today of pursuing wealth for the benefit of one person and not for the common good. It takes courage to admit we are wrong, but seeking the face of Jesus can bring us back into his fold.

It was seeking the face of Jesus that changed the lives of the blind beggar and of Zacchaeus and some might say that this was only for Jesus time. But we live in the presence of the resurrected Christ who when ascended into heaven released the power of his Holy Spirit into the lives of those who believe in him. Peter and John filled with the Holy Spirit brought an encounter in the name of Jesus Christ to the beggar at the beautiful gate. This beggar was another outcast who is restored into God’s family.

The-Name-of-JesusIt is in the name of Jesus Christ that we live and worship and pray and serve today. There is power in the name of Jesus as God’s Holy Spirit points us to him and empowers us and guides us in our life if we seek the face of Jesus Christ.

We live in a society today that looks at different faiths on an intellectual level and people decide to follow one or none at all. It is as though faith is a life choice and consequently people become lost and confused. But seeking the face of Jesus Christ is a life changing, spirit filling, saving experience of God our Father.

Jesus tells his disciples before his death and resurrection that they will be filled with the Spirit of Truth, whom the world will not know, but they will know and “on that day” he tells them “you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you”. We seek the face of Christ and we seek his filling with the Holy Spirit which the world does not understand. There is power in the name of Jesus.

lost & savedI have seen people come to seek the face of Christ in Church services, lost and in desperate need and leave as changed people. I have seen people come to seek the face of Christ lost and living in torment and in the name of Jesus have found peace and release. I have seen people lost in terrible illness, find a future and a hope in the name of Jesus. I have seen people lost, seek the face of Jesus and find a new life. There is power in the name of Jesus.

This is why we are encouraged by our Archbishops to pray in the name of Jesus Christ for the lost to come to know Christ and to seek his face. It will change our nation.

I check my SATNAV now when I go on a journey and I have learnt to seek the face of Christ in my life and the life of others because Christ is alive and his Spirit moves amongst us so we and others need never be lost again. Shall we pray?

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I wonder what it is like being a sheep?

 

SHEEP

 

I wonder what it feels like to be a sheep?

Well you and I in the Church should know because we are all part of the flock of Jesus Christ, he is our Good Shepherd (John 10:1-10)

Jesus uses this analogy of the Shepherd and the Sheep in Palestinian terms. Here the shepherd leads the flock, he doesn’t drive it. Here the shepherd gives the flock names so that he can call them to him, even in a mixed flock. Here the Shepherd will show extraordinary care to keep the flock together, seeking out the lost, carrying the stray, rescuing and saving those who are in danger. Here the Shepherd looks after the flock, even sleeping at the opening of the sheep pen to prevent anything attacking the sheep, he becomes the gate to the pen. Jesus uses this analogy to describe himself and how he cares for those that follow him, those he knows by name, those who believe in him. So what does it feel like to be sheep?

Palestinian sheep

 

In Biblical times, sheep are bred for their wool and male lambs without defect become religious sacrifices for the sins of the people. Jesus however becomes the one and only sacrifice for the sins of the people, his flock is not sacrificed, the Shepherd offers himself.

The vision of this type of Shepherd caring for his flock is often used in scripture to describe the characteristics of a King anointed by God to lead his people. It is a vision of servant leadership, a vision of a public office to serve the people.

How interesting for us as Christian people to know this model of leadership not only to reflect on the leaders of our Churches, the pastors, vicars and curates of our day; but also to reflect on the leaders of our communities and country as we come into a General Election. What is the motivation we can ask of those who would offer themselves for public office?

So what does it feel like to be a sheep?

We are I think extraordinarily fortunate as Christian people to know something different from the secular and that is a personal revelation and relationship with our Shepherd who cares for us and knows us by name and gives us insight into God’s will. This means that we can often discern the good leader, the servant leader, the caring leader rather than the leader seeking power and authority. We are given insight through Christ of right character and given the responsibility to be salt and to be light amongst our friends, families and communities.

So what does it feel like to be a sheep?

The apostles and disciples and first believers of Jesus Christ, the revelation and saving presence of God in our world, certainly felt a privilege, a new and exciting way of life under the care of Christ. They established the foundations of the Church, the essential elements to know this insight from God, to know his will through Christ. (Acts 2:42-47)

The baptised believers came together and devoted themselves to teaching from the apostles, to learn more about Christ and his teaching for the world and this responsibility for teaching is passed down in prayer and anointing to clergy and pastors today. Without this element we become subject to the teaching of the world and not of God.

They came together in fellowship, they were people who cared for one another and shared with one another, they would not desert one another and they loved one another deeply, despite their faults, they share the love of God between one another and we have taken this and extended it into our model for Pastoral link. Without this element we become superficial human beings in our world striving and searching for satisfaction and joy in things that will disappear and perish.

They came together and broke bread, they shared Holy Communion, remembering Christ’s sacrifice for them and meeting Christ in the bread and the wine. They relive the Easter message of the cross, placing it as central to their faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the one and only sacrifice for the sins of the world. They meet the holy and the heavenly as Christ’s love beaks into our world.

holy-communion

 

They came together and prayed seeking God’s will through his Holy Spirit and bringing their needs to extend his kingdom on earth. Prayer together is so essential to our Christian life, without this element we don’t hear Christ calling us, we don’t put our trust in him and we don’t know what it is to serve and to be empowered for God’s work. 

How lucky we are to be able to come together in the same way in our Church today, to be people of Christ here on earth. How does it feel to be a sheep?

At our annual meeting this year we revealed the priorities for St David’s discerned by the PCC in prayer and discussion. These priorities will be rolled out for us over the next few years, but our number one priority was to see extended prayer amongst us.

This especially meant extending our prayer life to offer from those who are called, a ministry of wholeness and healing to take place during our services. It meant encouraging us to pray together using the vehicles of prayer triplets, Morning Prayer, home groups and ½ days of prayer. It is to encourage us to pray on retreats and quiet days.

If your prayer triplet has stopped meeting, then take responsibility to meet again, if you don’t belong to a triplet then pray about who you might meet with. Prayer is not just for the ladies, this is a movement of the Spirit to men as well to take responsibility to pray together. We are called to pray for those who don’t know Jesus Christ in their lives to come to know him. We are called to pray for the lost.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s initiative called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ is again being held throughout this country and throughout the world and throughout Christian denominations to encourage a wave of prayer between Ascension Day and Pentecost for our friends and families and communities to come to know Christ. Here at St David’s we will be opening up our Church for prayer with material to encourage us.

Thy kingdom come

 

We hold regular ½ days of prayer to call us together and we publish prayer topics on the back of each newsletter for groups to pray in silence or out loud together. Taking part brings us the vital element of knowing God’s call and to know what it is to serve our Lord and to be empowered by his Spirit for his work, and to see others come to know him. We can expect to be in awe and wonder at Christ’s work amongst us.

We are so fortunate as Christian people to know something different from the secular and that is a personal revelation and relationship with our Shepherd who cares for us and knows us by name and gives us insight into God’s will. If we come together with a generous, praiseworthy heart, as part of the flock for teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and for prayer, we will see our Church grow.

So how does it feel to be a sheep?

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Arise shine for your light has come

wise-men

2016, I suspect will mean different things to all of us here. I hesitate to highlight events, but we might want to remember Leicester City becoming Premier League Champions, Mark Selby becoming World Snooker Champion for the second time, the resurrection of Leicester as a city after Richard III’s burial in 2015 and a new Bishop coming to be with us in 2016. We might want to be reminded of 2 Bishop’s week here at St David’s when we welcomed Bishop Martin and Bishop Stanley from Kilimanjaro in an historical week for St David’s in our 50th anniversary year.

We may also of course remember times of sadness, times of suffering, events in our world that seem horrific and the turmoil in the world of politics in Europe, the Middle East, Russia and the USA.

There is a contrast between good and troubled times in our lives. Events of goodness and events of suffering and striving for power by some.

The Queen’s Christmas message on Christmas day, which you might have seen, acknowledged the tremendous achievement of Britain’s’ Paralympian and Olympian athletes in the games in Rio in 2016, quite a highlight in the year. The Queen drew out the inspiration that these Olympians had received from former athletes and the inspiration that ordinary people can be in their lives. She talked about those unsung heroes who carry out small acts of goodness with devotion and generosity of spirit that make such a huge difference in the lives of many others. The Queen’s inspiration, is of course, Jesus Christ, a guiding light in her life, born as an insignificant baby to parent’s Mary & Joseph who did not consider themselves important at all.

queen_xmas

Our Queen, our Head of State, is paying homage to Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, Emmanuel, God with us. In the same way the Magi, the wise men go to some effort to pay homage to Jesus their King.

You all, I have no doubt, know this story well, of the wise men, two or more of them, following the bright star to find the baby Jesus in the room in Bethlehem, via a quick detour to Jerusalem when they got a bit lost, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

If you critically look at the story though you would have to wonder that if the wise men were wise women, wouldn’t things have been easier, because wise women would have:

  • Asked for directions
  • Arrived on time
  • Helped deliver the baby
  • Cleaned the stable
  • Made a quiche
  • And brought more practical gifts!

But the wise men, 2 or more of them, were not women, they were most likely astrologers who had seen a bright star rise, possibly the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn which occurred several times in the years 7 to 6 BC. Jupiter was known as the royal planet and Saturn sometimes represented the Jewish nation and this may have inspired the wise men or magi to go to Jerusalem, expecting a new King of the Jewish nation to be there. The years 7 to 6 BC are considered the possible years of Jesus Birth, rather than the year 1AD set by Dionysius Exiguus who compiled our calendar, this would also have given the magi time to travel to Jerusalem before Herod’s death in 4BC.

Matthew is the only Gospel writer to record this story of the magi visiting Jesus to pay him homage. It would seem to be quite a significant event for him to write about because Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience who are expecting God’s anointed Messiah to be sent to them, to the Jewish nation. The visit of Eastern Magi is the first indication that Christ has come for all nations, the story echoes the reading from Isaiah “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you… Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn”.

Matthew is making the point that God through Christ, comes to save all people not just one nation.

The Magi naturally come into Jerusalem first, the capital city of the Jewish Nation, where they believe that the King of the Jews has been born and they naturally make for the Palace, where Herod resides and is King.

The Gospel writers use the phrase ‘King of the Jews’ only twice, the first is here when the magi visit Herod and the second is on the cross when Pontius Pilate has the sign ‘King of the Jews’ nailed above Jesus head at his crucifixion.

The encounter with Jesus demands a decision about who he is and therefore causes division between those who accept and those who reject him. Throughout Jesus life he is opposing those who use power and control over others for their own ends for their own corruption. He comes to judge those who would use power in this way and he comes to save those who are subject to it. The dynasty of Herod illustrates power, control, corruption and evil in a very real way. We meet Herod, known as Herod the Great, here at Jesus birth and we meet his son Archaleus who rules Judea after Herod the Great and then we meet Herod Antipas who confronted Jesus before his execution and imprisoned John the Baptist.

herodThe Herod dynasty aspired to be Kings, Kings of the Jews, but they had no right to be Kings of the Jews. Herod the Great, who the magi met, had been appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Emperor Augustus because his father was favoured by the Romans. Herod’s father was an Edomite and his Mother from Arab descent. In no way did Herod come from the line of David or any Royal line. After the Jewish people had returned from exile a new King arose, not from the line of David’ but from the Maccabees line and Herod in an attempt to legitimise his kingly claims, married Mariamne a descendant of the Maccabees.

Claiming power and control under circumstances that may not be seen as legitimate leads to an attitude of defensiveness and influences the actions of those who are hanging onto the power they so much desire. How much do we see this in our world today? Herod the Great became so anxious and suspicious of people’s actions that he even murdered his wife, her 2 sons, her brother, her mother and her grandmother because he thought they might depose him.

Imagine his reaction when the magi arrive looking for an innocent baby born King of the Jews, whom his advisors tell him is prophesied to be born from the legitimate line of David and who is anointed by God as the Messiah and can be found in the town of David, Bethlehem. Herod is intent on removing the threat and when the magi don’t return he sets about killing all the boys in Bethlehem under 2 years of age.

Jesus is a threat to the corrupt use of power, he brings God’s judgement on those who use it. As an innocent baby he is a threat to Herod the Great, as a grown man he is a threat to Herod Antipas, even on the cross he is a threat, in death he is a threat and in his resurrection and ascension he is a threat because everyone will at some time face death and stand before his heavenly throne. But for those of who are subject to oppression who have become enslaved he offers freedom.

In the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christmas sermon he says:

“To all who have been or are being dehumanised by the tyranny and cruelty of a Herod or an ISIS, a Herod of today, God’s judgement comes as good news, because it promises justice. As Isaiah makes clear, God’s judgement is one piece of a bigger story of salvation – God’s apocalypse of love – which declares, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given”.

For those who believe and follow Jesus Christ as God’s son, Emmanuel, God with us, we have salvation, we know forgiveness, we belong to Christ who is our King and that frees and empowers ordinary people in acts of goodness and devotion in a generosity of spirit towards each other. The small acts make a big difference and they start with us.

candle

There is a great contrast between acts of goodness towards others and acts of corruption and power and control over others. Christ comes to confront these acts of power in humility and innocence and purity so that we may be free from them. In 2017 let’s encourage each other in our faith and be generous towards one another and those that we meet for it is then that we come to know the light that Christ brings into lives and in a world of change, where aggression and power for control have become widespread, Christ brings us gifts of goodness and mercy which we are encouraged to bring to others.

 

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Peace and Purity

The Meaning of Christmas

reduce-stress-holiday-shopping-01-afI wonder what your Christmas has been like for you so far? Have you managed to buy the gifts you wanted for people? Have you managed to post all the greetings cards? Have you got the food in for Christmas day? Have your family and friends arranged to come and see you and you see them? Whatever you have planned and arranged, Christmas day is nearly upon us and as with every Christmas we have had some weather to cope with. This year it is storms as we experience the impact of storm Barbara and it has disrupted travel and in some areas the electricity supply. We will not it appears be having a white Christmas in the Midlands this year, although I am sure if there is even a slight chance Coalville will know about it first.

pure-snowA white Christmas of course is something that many people dream about. The gardens, the fields and the trees covered in the whiteness of snow and frost, bring a look of purity to the landscape. I often want to be the first to tread in the crisp snow leaving my footprints, to be the first to have trodden there, but of course those footprints ruin the look of the snow on the field or garden. To all good things there is an opposite, the snow may look good, but like storms and rain, it brings havoc to our roads and rail systems and the pure whiteness of the snow turns to that muddy slushy mess with ice underneath. The snow doesn’t stay as the pure picturesque whiteness, it becomes trodden and dirty. Our world as we know only too well is filled with great goodness and human kindness which is sullied by human evil, the clean can soon become the muddy and the dirty.

But Christmas is for celebrating, for giving and receiving gifts, to enjoy all the benefits of our preparation, to wish goodwill to all people, despite the weather and the events in our world.  I wonder then, why we are drawn here, late in the evening, when we could be relaxing in the warmth of our home or the celebration of a party. Could it be something about the story we had read to us from the Gospel of Luke, could it be something else we need to connect with, could it be something that is mysterious, that is spiritual, that is wonderful and is pure and full of goodness and is full of truth? Could it be something that is bringing good news of great joy that we don’t fully understand, but is totally free and might make a difference to our Christmas day?

tracks-on-snowWe can read this story of Jesus birth (Luke 2:1-20) with our human eyes and see it as a quaint story from two thousand years ago of a young insignificant couple engaged to be married and struggling with the fact that she is pregnant and disgraced because her fiancée isn’t the Father and no one wants them in their home and so he takes her 80 miles to Bethlehem, to be registered in the census, where she gives birth with only Joseph there in a dirty place housing animals, where she wraps the baby after giving birth in some strips of cloth and places it in a feeding trough, a manger.

This couple have had a bad start in life and it’s probably going to get worse for them and it’s a little bit sad and sordid. We can read this story with our human eyes and see the shepherds desperate to be accepted in society coming up with a story of heavenly beings in order to become accepted and listened to because no-one wants to know them either. We can read this as a story that our children should perhaps know about because it’s part of our heritage but it doesn’t really impact our lives. We can read this story with our human eyes and see the muddiness, the slushiness and the humanity and dismiss any relevance it has to our life at all.

muddy-snowBut perhaps we are drawn here by God himself, someone full of wonder, of mystery and of love and purity, like the fresh snow without any footprints, and this story becomes very different through his eyes.

Through God’s eyes he sees the people he loves not knowing him, the ones he created to love him not being able to touch and experience pure goodness in their lives. He sees the evil and hurt in the world perpetrated by the few seeking power and control over others. He sees the people he loves needing rescuing and saving from themselves.

So he comes and lives with them, not as a powerful almighty person to tell people what to do and how to live, but as a pure baby, born of a virgin mother, created by God’s Holy Spirit, full of goodness and grace like the fresh snow, born in vulnerability into a world which is impure, so that that world can connect with all that is good and pure, so that it can connect with something that is beyond its understanding or comprehension, the wonderful, the mystical, the spiritual, the lovely full of love. He comes to live amongst the people he loves not in a nice comfortable palace, but where the dirt and the loneliness and the cynical and the abusive are at its height to bring love and wonder and purity. He sends his messengers, angels, to those who are outcast and abused, whose lives are full of hardship and impurity and tells them that there is a sign for them that God loves them, that they will find this sign in a manger and they can touch the pure and the wonderful, rather than know the hardship and oppression. The angel says ‘I bring you good news of great joy’ so that the impure can experience the pure, humanity can experience God. The muddy and soiled snow encounters the pure snow. No wonder Mary exclaims when she is filled with God’s Holy Spirit and becomes pregnant with Jesus Christ ‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’. She doesn’t feel the muddiness and slushiness of her life, she only feels the love and purity of God in her life and he has saved her. To see this story through God’s eyes requires faith and trust before we can experience the good and the pure and the love of God.

jesus-birthOf course where is God now? Where is Jesus Christ?

Two thousand years ago people could hear Jesus speak, they could see him perform miracles, they could see the wonder and the mystery of God in front of them, they could touch him and experience his love, but we can’t do that now.

How do we touch the pure and the good, the wonderful and the mystery, how do we experience God’s love. Well the purity of Christ took on the impurity and evil of humanity and died with that impurity and evil on a cross so that we could be born to a new life and touch the pure and experience God’s love and be filled with Christ himself through his living Holy Spirit here with us now waiting to fill our hearts with his love. This is why we come on Christmas Eve to experience the wonder and the mystery of seeing ourselves and other people through God’s eyes, to touch the pure and the lovely, the wonder and the spiritual and to live Christmas day knowing that God see us in a very different way, as fresh snow, rather than muddy snow, as pure, rather than impure and he wants us to experience him through his Holy Spirit and touch something that is beyond our comprehension and outside of our understanding.

Soldier-praying-with-JesusThat’s why we are here and that’s why we come to communion to connect with Christ and in faith to see the world and ourselves through God’s eyes and recognise what he did for us on Christmas day two thousand years ago and what he wants to do for us today through his Holy Spirit. Our relationship with God is not down to how good we try to be, because we can never be good enough, it’s about believing in Christ as God’s son and turning to him like the shepherds did and experiencing the grace of God, something that is unearned and undeserved and is full of love. No wonder the angels exclaimed Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to those whom he favours, those who come to him in faith. It’s an exciting day and it’s an exciting time where we know that the purity of Christ covers our impurities and we can ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with God’s love this Christmas day and in turn we can return that love asking for forgiveness and knowing his Holy Spirit in our hearts. This is what makes Christmas a happy day and may more of our world take notice of this good news from God himself and seek his face and know his peace.

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