The Nativity

Is God with us?

christmas-shopping

To come to know Christ in our lives is quite a privilege because through Christ we come to know God’s love and direction in our lives. It is also quite a privilege to be able to share the love of Christ with others and the Nativity story and Nativity service is a wonderful time to remind and encourage people of God’s love for them. Christmas becomes a time not of shopping all the time but of sharing God’s love with one another because God is with us!

I have been to several children’s nativities over the years which is a real privilege because as a man and a Father working many hours I never did get to see my own children in their nativities. So to see many nativities now is wonderful!

I have seen animals in the stable including a wise owl, a very loud cockerel and a couple of cows who didn’t like each other and started fighting. I have seen nativity stories with Superman, Batman and Robin. I have seen one nativity story where the prayerful angels came down the aisle and one of them was carrying a bucket because her friend was feeling sick!

Nativity services are often imaginative.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou might have heard of the Nativity play where Mary & Joseph were knocking on doors only to receive the reply ‘No Room’ several times when a little girl came up to them and said ‘Well you should have booked’!.

This year at St David’s we have had our own nativity service with praise and dancing, we have had a nativity service from Warren Hills School where the head teacher had tears in her eyes because she was so proud of what the children had achieved and 3 Carol services from Broom Leys school all of which had a lovely atmosphere of praise and thanksgiving, including the loud and energetic singing of one little boy which could be heard above everyone else’s voices.

There have been nativity stories told in Playgroup and Nurseries by Mary and I have heard of the wonderful ones put on by Sarah and Bec in their pre-schools and we had a lively Carol service with Brigade last week and a totally unrehearsed one at After School Church!.

In all these nativities we meet with God through the delight of children, we come from the stresses and strains of our day or our week to be delighted by children’s performances and emerge feeling that Christmas has started, that we feel a little different, more inclined to wish goodwill to all people than we did before perhaps.

The danger of course is to keep the nativity story with the children, as a children’s story told through children’s eyes and not engage with it as Adults, to not take away that ‘God is with us’ and wants to make his presence known to us.

Matthew writes in his Gospel (Matthew 1:18-25), ‘his Good News account of God coming to be with us’, eye witness accounts and testimonies of those who have witnessed the events of Jesus life. Matthew is one of Jesus followers and a disciple and he writes his eye witness accounts to a mainly Jewish audience. He writes an account of God being with us. But he writes this account with the knowledge that God has always been involved with his people, rescuing them and saving them from the situations they found themselves in. He makes reference to the prophet Isaiah telling King Ahaz, who was presiding over a declining nation; that God would not forsake his people and that a young woman would bear a child who would be God’s witness. This virgin was most likely the one who bore a son to Ahaz called Hezekiah, but Matthew notices that God’s intervention with his people that was once through prophets like Isaiah, becomes something different this time. This time God actually comes to be with us as a baby Jesus, to be with his people, to accompany them, but God doesn’t come in glory, he doesn’t come in triumph, he comes to ordinary people, many who are outcast and in poverty, living lives that are hard.

Mary is a young girl, she is betrothed and would most likely be around 11 to 12 years old, a virgin. Betrothal was a binding contract, almost like a marriage, although the couple would not live together. Mary’s whole life changes when Gabriel tells her that she is to have a child from God, in fact it is God himself. A child to a betrothed unmarried young girl, would bring assumptions and rumours about her worthiness and character, she would be in disgrace and shame, she would become an outcast, her betrothal would be broken and she would never be able to marry. Yet ‘Mary says to Gabriel, here I am a servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word’. How can God put Mary through this, I often think, but she conceives under the power of the Holy Spirit, she gives birth as any normal woman would and in fact goes onto have children with Joseph after Jesus is born. She is an ordinary girl who says yes to God despite the consequences. Joseph the man Mary is betrothed to, is an ordinary working carpenter who wants to mitigate the shame upon Mary, until Gabriel appears to him and Joseph decides not to divorce but to marry her.

It is under these circumstances that God decides to be with us. To faithful young ordinary people who now face disgrace and shame, who face a long journey to Bethlehem, who face a birth in a room where animals are fed, who face poverty and who become persecuted by Herod and become refugees. These are the circumstances of frailty and fragility and need that God decides to be with us and it is under these circumstances that Mary and Joseph know God’s presence and strength with them.

refugeesFor us, saying yes to God in our lives for the first time or the 101st time, is again saying Emmanuel ‘God be with us’ under all circumstances. It is saying yes to God to come and save us from our sins and the sins of the world and to accompany us on our journey of faith in our lives. We ask him to be our Saviour, to be with us.

This year at St David’s we have celebrated our 50th anniversary of this Church building and God’s people her in Coalville, in Broom Leys. We celebrate not just such a fantastic building but the witness of God being with us as ordinary people have said yes to him. This time last year we celebrated this anniversary and many friends and clergy who had serve here came back to see us or wrote to us.

The only reason these Ministers served here was because God is with us. They didn’t come to buy a house here, or to get a job here, or to retire her. The only reason they came was because God called them, because God is with us. I am so pleased that we invested in a board with their names on that is a witness to God being here with us. In fact the first Vicar here, Joe Edwards, has only recently died after many years of service and witness to God being with us.

I am also so pleased that we have invested in a Paschal candle stand. This holds a candle that is dedicated each year on Easter day and witnesses to the light of Christ here in our lives, that God is with us. We light it to show that significance this morning. God is with us.

I am also so pleased that we are able to use the generous gifts that were contributed in memory of Maurice Eames our former Verger and the generous contributions given in memory of our friend Roger Harris to buy these 2 important symbols to that remind us of God being with us as he is also with both of them.

In the Nativity story, God comes to be with us as his son Jesus Christ, he comes to ordinary people, some of whom live in oppression and poverty, and he comes to strengthen them, to rescue them, to rebuild lives that have been broken and to save them from the sins and evils of the world so that they may not be lost but may know God’s love. This is not a story told through children’s eyes but is one for all adults.

This is the God who comes to be with us this Christmas if we ask him, this is the God who gives us the gift of grace and calls us to obedience and saves us to himself. This is the God who wants to accompany you on your journey of faith. May you know him and know the peace and love of Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, this Christmas.

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Can we know the glory of God?

planet-earth-2

There is an interesting programme on BBC 1 called Planet Earth II narrated by David Attenborough.

It is fascinating because you get to see this wonderful photography of the beauty and wonder and glory of nature. What strikes me is how abundant and how beautiful the world around us is. In Genesis 1 we are reminded that God created us to know his love and to return that love and he provides a place of abundance and beauty and glory for us to live in.

God said to the first humans, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

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I watched some clips of one of the Planet Earth programmes that I had missed, on the grasslands. There was this incredible shot of a widow bird bouncing up and down in the tall grass to attract a mate and the harvest mouse climbing precariously up a strand of grass to eat the seeds at the end of it and beautiful colourful birds called bee-eaters that would fly just in front of the tusks of a bull elephant as it walks through the grass disturbing the insects, which the bee-eaters would grab and eat.

Here you can see the clip of Bull elephants.

They were charming scenes of God’s creation showing something of his Glory, until we are also reminded of the savagery of nature as well. The pack of lions hunting a water buffalo attacking the animal, bringing it down and devouring its flesh. In fact many of the scenes from Planet Earth II illustrate the savagery of nature, the striving to survive, what scientists would call evolution through the laws of natural selection, as the fittest fight to survive.

water-buffalo

The abundance and delight of nature mixed with the savagery of survival mimics of course the human world we live in as we delight in family and friends and the abundance of what our world has to offer and then compete with each other to gain power, to gain land, to gain influence, to promote our views and lifestyles and we see the conflicts and destruction and savagery that results. The Glory of God in his creation is tarnished, is defaced, is distorted, sometimes beyond recognition when we see the scenes from Syria and Iraq and yet we continue to yearn and to pray in our Christian lives to know the Glory of God, to know his coming again, because it is then that everything will be fixed!

How much more must the people of Judah and Israel have felt as they became subject to oppression to invasion and even to be taken from their homes and these were God’s people, where was God’s glory for them? They had been invaded by Assyria, they had been taken into a foreign country into Iraq, into Babylon and everything they had inherited was taken away from them, they had nothing, they were slaves.

Out of this agony and savagery comes a message through one of the prophets of the school of Isaiah (Isaiah 11.1–10), a message from God, there will be a shoot from a stump of what there once was, something small and emerging, one man who will know the Spirit of God upon him, one man who comes from the line of Jesse, the great King David’s father, one man who will be anointed by God, the Messiah. The law of natural selection, the survival of the fittest, is perhaps not the rule of God, because God intervenes into our world, his anointed Messiah will bring God’s judgement in righteousness, bringing redemption to the Needy and the Poor and the downtrodden, the weak in society. It is not necessarily the fittest that survive.

A dove in the skyGod does indeed come to live amongst his people as Jesus Christ, the shoot from the stump of Jesse, the one who rescues them and us and his focus is on the poor, the needy and the weak.

God has intervened into our world on many occasions and scripture testifies to this and we know that when he does, he transforms lives and our world. His kingdom grows through God incarnate, Emmanuel, God is with us, Jesus Christ.

But Isaiah talks of some signs of the fulfilment of God’s kingdom, which we have yet to see.

The wolf will live with the lamb, the cow will feed the bear, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the infant will play near the viper! Not the type of image we meet from Planet Earth II. These are signs of God’s Glory, not the savagery of the survival of the fittest. But this isn’t just about nature but is part of God’s intervention with us, the human race. Christ comes as the Messiah bringing God’s kingdom and Paul in his letter to the Romans tells us what this kingdom should look like for people.

“The kingdom of God is one of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” he tells us in chapter 14. It is not one of savagery. But Paul goes further, “each of us should please our neighbour and should build and encourage each other in our faith”. This is the work of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we don’t live to criticise those who are at a different point in their journey of faith, but we live to encourage each other in our journey with Christ. It isn’t the survival of the fittest, the one who seems to be most mature in their faith, but it is the encouragement of one another, coming together in a Spirit of unity that brings about God’s glory. (Romans 15.4–13)

How wonderful it is to be welcomed into a Christian community that shows the love and grace of Christ and portrays the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. Here is the Glory of God. Here are the signs of his kingdom.

So are you prepared, is this the way you live your Christian life? God’s glory is coming amongst us, Christ will come again, are we prepared for this?

queen

When the Queen visited Leicester in 2012, she came to a city prepared to receive her. The city was painted and decorated, dancers were rehearsed, schoolchildren lined the routes and cathedral services were prepared. What would happen if the Queen turned up at your home tomorrow, unexpectedly? Would you be ready to receive her or would you be quickly trying to hide the dust and the newspapers and the unwashed dishes, whilst looking for some milk for her tea in a mug, because the china cups are packed away?

The Glory of God is coming says John the Baptist to the crowds under Roman occupation and rule, the God who they hadn’t heard from in over 400 years, are you prepared for this, he asks them? (Matthew 3.1–12) Have you turned to the ways of the world or to the ways of God? Belonging to the line of Abraham or for us the Church, makes no difference, unless you live the ways of God and give your hearts to him repenting of your sins. The people naturally came in droves to receive John’s baptism of water, preparing their hearts and lives to receive Jesus’ baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Preparing ourselves during this season of Advent isn’t just about getting all the preparations for Christmas day in place, although that is clearly important, so that we can enjoy time with family and friends. But Advent is also about getting our Christian lives ready to receive Christ afresh or to receive him anew. Do we live Christian lives of pleasing our neighbour, of encouraging one another in our faith, of living in a Spirit of unity together, of accepting one another as Christ has accepted us, bringing glory to God and showing God’s kingdom, bringing his righteousness amongst us, seeking and desiring to fill our lives with his Holy Spirit? Do we live our lives ready to help the poor, the needy and the oppressed?

This is a very different kingdom to the one of nature where the survival of the fittest wins, one we might experience in our world and in nature as Planet Earth II shows us. This is a Christian kingdom, bought by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and we, as Christian people, are asked to be different. Are we prepared? Amen.

 

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The Christmas Journey

Andrew Rhoades4   Christmas seems to come upon us very quickly often leaving little time for preparation unless you are someone who is very well organised, like a friend who buys Christmas cards in the New Year sales!

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I can remember vividly a family Christmas day when we all gathered together and our children, all under 10 years of age, proceeded to open their presents. Within 15 minutes every present was open and wrapping paper was strewn around the room and they started complaining about the presents they hadn’t received! Christmas was over! I started to think about the hours of effort that had gone into selecting gifts, writing cards, preparing food and meals, putting up Christmas decorations and all amongst a heavy working time, where we were all looking forward to a good time and a rest with family and friends. It all seemed to be over in 15 minutes! Is Christmas all about supporting our High Street stores I wondered?

The Christmas journey though isn’t about lots of preparation for 15 minutes on 25th December with a nice meal and a sleep in the afternoon. The Christmas journey is about something much deeper; bringing hope to the forgotten, purpose for the lost, healing for the broken, generosity to neighbours, peace to families, friends, communities, countries and the world. The Christmas journey is about God and the pain he sees amongst those he loves and his desire to bring to us a way of putting things right.

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The Christmas journey is about a loving God breaking into our world, not as judge and jury, as victorious dictator, as a deity assigning the sinful to hell; but as a simple baby, born as a refugee into poverty, growing into a man, fully human and fully divine, who can forgive sins, heal, teach and bring people to himself, into his kingdom, God’s kingdom.

The Christmas journey is to come to know God’s deep love in Jesus Christ; to know he is the bread of life, the light of the world, the way, the truth and the life, the giver of living water, the good shepherd, the resurrection, the gate to God’s kingdom. Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Son of the Most High, Emmanuel ‘God is with us’, our Saviour, Messiah, the Lord.

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The Christmas journey is one to engage with and to embrace. In the Church calendar it begins at the end of November on the 1st day of Advent, travels through Christmas day to the cross on Good Friday and then onto the glory of the Resurrection on Easter day and to the Holy Spirit coming amongst us on the day of Pentecost. In reality it is a lifelong journey of letting Christ into your life, bringing his love to others and growing deeper into him as we endeavour to be more like him.

On Advent Sunday we will be sending out figures of Mary & Joseph into our community. They will be hosted in schools and in homes on their travels. These figures are a symbol of taking Christ into your home and hearts with prayer and passing them onto the next person with prayer. Mary & Joseph will come into Church on Christmas day after their journey. We are encouraging people to sign up in Church to host Mary & Joseph for an evening and to take a photograph of them with a few words of your experience, so that we can build a visual record of their journey on our web site for all to see here. You may want to share a time of coffee or a meal between the giver and the receiver as a sign of fellowship and peace.

Our Christmas is nothing like the one with paper strewn around the floor and over in 15 minutes, it is one to prepare for, to savour, to grow into, to celebrate with friends, family and strangers; one to know Christ, to love Christ and to be like Christ to others.

I wish you all a Christ filled Christmas and may the peace of our Lord be always with you.

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Advent

Something new is coming!

522620_empty_boxIf you came to our prayer morning yesterday, you would I think have encountered something very special. We were introduced in prayer and reflection to the season of Advent through that famous passage at the beginning of John’s Gospel.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” And John then goes into describing John the Baptist coming to prepare the way for Jesus, the light of the world and the question was raised can we bring the Christ light into our world of darkness or can we be people of light in a dark world, can we be like John the Baptist in our community preparing the way for the light of Christ?

Our world is seeking something new amongst the conflict, the neglect, the divisions in society, the gap between rich and poor and the abuse and addictions. It is looking for light and it is looking for salvation and as we prepare in Advent to celebrate the incarnation of God in the man Jesus Christ as a baby at Christmas and as we prepare for the time when he will come again, we live between the 1st and 2nd Advent and we seek to be the people of light.

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In our world and community where there are many areas of darkness, God wants to do something new amongst us and I feel that its starts this Advent Sunday.

I don’t know what you think about the Old Testament in the Bible, many people find it difficult to read it claiming it describes a judgemental God, or that the content is not historically accurate so it discredits the Bible, or that it doesn’t fit with the New Testament. But the scripture that Jesus, God’s only son, knew about was only the Old Testament scripture and he said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets (in the Old Testament); I have come not to abolish but to fulfil”. Our understanding of the Old Testament Jewish scripture is so important to our understanding of who Jesus is and what God is doing amongst us.

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The Old Testament is a testimony of God’s saving power amongst his chosen people, the people of God, the Jewish race. It is a testimony of God’s loving intervention into a world that needs saving from itself, it is a testimony of God rescuing his people, not once but many times, it is a testimony of his promises, his covenants, which are never broken.

God comes to the Father of faith, Abraham an elderly man and promises that he and his elderly wife Sarah will have a child and from him will come many descendants, God’s people.

God sees those people in slavery in Egypt and comes to the Father of faith, Moses in a burning bush and commissions him to go and bring his people out of slavery, to rescue them. (Exodus 3:1-6)

An Angel of the Lord appears to the wife of Manoah and tells her that she will bear son in old age who would be named Samson and who will rescue God’s people.

Hannah prays earnestly to God to grant her a son who is dedicated to God and became the greatest of Israel’s judges guiding and rescuing God’s people from corruption, his name was Samuel.

The prophet Elijah called God’s people back to him from foreign idols and called them to repentance so that they could be saved from famine and drought.

The prophets of the school of Isaiah bring God’s message of comfort and of rescue to those in exile and bring God’s message of his kingdom coming into the whole world not just those who were from Abraham.(Isaiah 40:1-11)

The Old Testament is a testimony of God’s loving intervention, not once but many times into a world where people need saving and rescuing and here in the New Testament at the start of the Gospel of Luke, we find history repeating itself, a new prophet, John the Baptist, is to be born, he will bring people back to God in repentance, like Elijah, he will rescue God’s people and, like Samson and Samuel, he will not let them drink strong drink.

But this time God will do something new, he will come amongst his people himself and he will save them from darkness and bring them into light and John will prepare the way.

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How does this happen, an angel of the Lord appears to an elderly faithful priest from a righteous line whose wife from an equally righteous line is barren and he tells Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth shall bear a child to be called John, the history of God’s loving intervention to save and rescue his people repeats itself but this time there is something very new. (Luke 1:5-25)

God will come and dwell in the midst of his people himself, calling them back to himself and John will prepare the way for the light to shine in the darkness. An Angel of the Lord appears to a young girl, called Mary, a relative of Elizabeth. An ordinary righteous and pure girl engaged to Joseph who is descended from a Kingly line. It is to Mary that God will be born as a baby called Jesus, Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Son of the Most High, Emmanuel ‘God is with us’, our Saviour, Messiah, the Lord.

gabriel-and-mary

This time history does not repeat itself, this time there is something very new, God comes to live amongst us as a baby, Jesus, who comes to redeem and to save God’s people once and for all to himself. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets”, says Jesus; “I have come not to abolish but to fulfil”.

God is used to intervening in our world to save his people, but by coming himself in the incarnation as Jesus Christ, he has done something very new and he asks us to show people so that he can do something new in their lives. We are called to be like John the Baptist, to prepare the way for the light of Christ in people’s lives.

We live between Advent 1 and Advent 2 and once we realise this and know that we are part of God’s saving plan, we can take on that responsibility of showing the way to those who are seeking hope, to point them to Jesus, we can be John the Baptists.

God wants to do something new in people’s lives and it starts with Advent.

As we open ourselves up to the reality that God intervenes into our world to save us and redeem us to himself, let’s also prepare ourselves to God coming into our lives, into our hearts and pray that he will do something new amongst us this Advent in our lives, in our Church, in our community and in our world. Let’s welcome him afresh.

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Christ the King

What is a King? What is truth?

Bible readings for this Sunday were Psalm 72:1-7, 1Samuel 8:4-20 and John 18:33-38

king_of_hearts2-svg queen_of_hearts2-svg

What is a King or a Queen to you? We of course relate perhaps to the reign of our own monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, a fellow sister in Christ who is our constitutional monarch. She is our head of state and head of the Church of England and represents our country, all that we are to the world around us. She isn’t an absolute monarch who holds power and absolute authority over the direction of our country, for this is left to elected representatives in her Government.

In Samuel’s time things were different, very different for God’s people. Samuel was a prophetic judge of Israel, he heard from God, he sought his face and he guided the nation in God’s purposes, judging their actions and leading them into God’s purposes. I suppose he might be a bit like the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Pope leading the people into God’s kingdom. God after all was their King.

When Samuel became old he handed over his prophetic ministry to his sons who unfortunately failed to listen to God and so they fell into disrepute and the people demanded a human King, just like the countries around them and we hear this painful warning through Samuel from God.

Listen to the voice of the people says God to Samuel, they haven’t rejected you they have rejected me as their King. The one who has rescued them and saved them out of slavery into a land they can call home.

Go ahead let them have a King but be warned! An absolute Monarch will demand that the people serve him. He will take your sons and your daughters, he will take the best of your food and drink, he will take one tenth of your goods and you will cry out to be released but God will not hear you.

It is a prophetic and startling revelation of what we would know as an absolute monarch, someone who commands absolute power and authority over our lives. Someone who we would swear allegiance to and who we would serve. We only need to look at our own history to see what an absolute monarch is like. King John was a cruel dictator reigning rough shod over his people, demanding ever greater taxes only to be forced in the end to sign a bill of rights, embodied in Magna Carta. This is what life can be like serving an absolute monarch.

You might have heard of the court jester who went too far one day and insulted his king. The king became so infuriated that he sentenced the jester to be executed. There was to be no trial. His court preyed upon the king to have mercy for this man who had served him well for so many years. After a time, the king relented only enough to give the jester his “choice” as to how he would like to die. True to form, the jester replied, “if it’s all the same to you my Lord, I’d like to die of old age.”

God’s people continued to have absolute monarchs as their leaders. Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was King of the Jews in Jesus time under the auspices of the Roman Empire, where the Roman Emperor Tiberius was worshipped as a god and Pontius Pilate was his Governor.

The subject of who is King and who held absolute power and who the people served was a question of great importance.

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I can’t help but think of our world today and where power is being exercised. We are living in a world of change; Brexit, The American Presidential Elections, Global Warming, Russian ascendancy, extremist aggression, and peoples persecuted around the world and people in developed countries feeling neglected and left in poverty. We are living in an age which we are told is called ‘Post Truth’, where truth no longer matters, it’s the end result that matters.

Who and what is our King today and what is truth?

Jesus comes in front of Pilate. Here is the man from God coming into a world where there is rebellion against God, where there is evil and he comes to bring God’s kingdom into this world, into our world, to rescue us and save us from the all that is wrong by showing us how to live. Here is a King who comes to serve, not to be served and his Kingdom is one of God, of his direction and purposes, of grace, sacrifice, salvation, serving and truth!

No wonder Pilate doesn’t quite understand. What is important to him is where absolute power resides.

jesus-before-pilate‘Are you the King of the Jews’ he asks Jesus, because as far as he is concerned Herod Antipas is the King of the Jews but absolute power resides with Pilate under the authority of the Emperor Tiberius who is a god. Pilate is concerned to keep power where it belongs so that the people serve the Emperor. Jesus indicates that his kingdom is not like a worldly kingdom, where people will fight for absolute power, but one of God’s kingdom where truth is known. This truth is that God, through Christ, is King. Christ is King. Not an absolute monarch or dictator but one who guides, nurtures, loves, encourages, and saves those who belong to him and shows his people how to live together with him.

The truth is that God comes to serve humanity in Jesus Christ and gives his life in order that others may be redeemed and be free.

It is illustrated in the story of Barabbas a revolutionary and convict being freed and replaced by Jesus at his execution. It is illustrated by the criminal on the cross being redeemed by Christ into God’s kingdom. It is illustrated by you and me, people who are free and redeemed to live our life with God in our hearts and in our minds and with each other. It is illustrated by the power of evil being defeated in our lives and in our world, so we can choose to lead a different life with God in his kingdom.

This is bought by another power, the power of the cross on which Christ our King gave his life. This is the truth that Jesus came to witness to and to be. It is the truth that Pilate could not comprehend, so he said ‘what is truth’?

It appears that truth doesn’t matter anymore in our world. Our postmodern society likes to pick its own truth and beliefs and life styles to suit ourselves, to suit each individual. Everyone has a right to their own truth and life style. The only problem is that one person’s life style impacts on another person’s life style and we have experienced in our country and in the United States a large proportion of people who feel neglected and uncared for and even condemned for their orthodox views, Christian people are amongst them. It appears that we have now entered a post truth world where politicians can publically be shown as untrustworthy, untruthful, where promises are only words and those words can be changed at anytime because the end result is the most important that. Time will tell how this new world of change can benefit all, but I hope the neglected are cared about.

What is truth I can hear these politicians saying? Power to change and the end result is what is important, not the way we act and what we say on the way.

I can hear Christ reminding us saying ‘I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Leaders ignore God at their peril.

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On the day we recognise Christ as our King, and that our King comes to serve and to bring truth, we recognise the power of the cross to save and set us free from all that is evil, as Christ becomes sin for us, so we can live a life with him in God’s kingdom. He is the one we give authority to, our servant King, our redeemer.

Christ our King, our redeemer, makes his power available to the ordinary Christian through prayer.

In personal prayer, in Morning Prayer, in home groups, in prayer triplets, in monthly prayer meetings, in our services and in our prayer mornings, another of which is next Saturday morning. This is where we as redeemed people know what a King is and who our King is and what authority is and what power means by bringing his Holy Spirit into our lives and into a world that is changing and is desperately seeking its King and its truth.

This is where we are called to tell and show people about the truth we have. We have much work to do.

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Remembrance and Resurrection

Remembrance and Resurrection

remembranceOur Service of Remembrance is held to mark the end of World War I when the armistice was signed at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. It was a war of such magnitude and suffering that over 15 million people lost their lives and it was known as the war to end all wars. But of course wars have continued.

In World War II, the war known as the deadliest military conflict in history, over 60 million people lost their lives of which just under a million were from this country. We know that if it wasn’t for those who fought and for those who gave their lives that our lives would be very different to what they are today. The conflicts, of course, haven’t ended, they have continued. Since 1948, over 16,000 service men and women have given their lives on behalf of this country and they are commemorated at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

This year we commemorate and remember the 100th anniversary of the battle of the Somme, fought from 1st July to 18th November 1916, 141 days of horror. During this time there were over 1 million casualties amongst all forces. British and Commonwealth troops lost 125,000 young men during those 141 days. In the first day of the Battle 100,000 allied troops went out of their trenches only to be repelled by German machine gun fire where over 19,000 men lost their lives. The BBC reports that when the battle ceased due to harsh winter conditions ‘the British had advanced just seven miles and failed to break the German defence. In March 1917, the Germans made a strategic retreat to the Hindenburg line rather than face the resumption of the Battle of the Somme’.

In August 1916 when news of the horror reached home memorial shrines with crosses were built on street corners to record the names of all who had gone out to serve in war, not knowing who would come back and they became places of prayer for those men.

Today in the 150 acres of the National Arboretum there are over 300 memorials to those who have given their life or served in conflict so that we may know the freedom we have. They are the names of ordinary young men and women who were called to be brave and courageous, to be bold and to be strong, in a world that suffers from conflict even today. How important it is for us to remember the horrors of war and to honour the fallen. Each stone we have placed on this memorial is in memory of someone who suffered because of conflict. The toll and impact of conflict, of leaders seeking power over others, of those who would seek to become free of oppression, is enormous.

It seems to be very difficult for us to follow Christ’s clear commandments to love God, love one another and to love our enemies.

The centre piece of the National Arboretum is the remarkable Armed Forces Memorial which has the names of all service personnel who have lost their lives since the end of World War II in over 50 conflicts around the world. Every year since 1945 has names listed of those who have given their life in conflict, but the panels that are most striking are the ones that are empty, these are the panels made ready for the names in future years of those who will lose their lives in conflict that are yet to happen. They are shocking because they have been prepared with the assumption that conflicts will not end and that many more young people will lose their lives. It’s a chilling thought.

The memorials recognise the courage and bravery and boldness of many who have served their country from the Bastion and Basra memorial wall to the Royal Leicestershire Regiment memorial and to the Church lads and Church girls brigade memorial

It is the personal stories that bring home to us the sacrifice of young lives, many of whom are in our own families and how important it is to be able to share those stories so that we never forget. We have heard this morning of the story of Private Frank Elsewood and the poem written by 9 year old Jodie Johnson. There are other personal stories.

Footballer Alan, a Reading and Aston Villa star striker was killed on the Somme at the age of 29 after being shot in the abdomen and arm.

Oliver an Isle of Man TT winner shot down and killed in his plane over the Somme. His body was never found.

Derek maimed by an anti-tank mine in Afghanistan

Daniel a young bugler sounded the charge at the Somme and rose onto the battlefield with 700 of his friends and colleagues when 8 out of 9 of them lost their life, including Daniel.

Rusty flew a Spitfire in the Battle of Britain, the last line of defence this country had in World War II, when he lost his life after his plane was shot down. His body remained undiscovered for 30 years.

Tara suffered head injuries and badly damaged eyes after a bomb blast in Northern Ireland which killed some of her comrades.

Simon was trying to rescue 6 comrades under fire when he was hit in the face in Basra, Iraq, seriously injuring him.

There is a story for each person that has lost their life or has been seriously injured in conflict. They are stories of comradeship, of colleagues supporting each other, looking out for each other in the horror and ugliness of war and grieving together with the family and friends, when one is lost.

In all of this we can feel the heart of God groaning and breaking as he sees the sacrifice of those he loves. God came and lived amongst us as the man Jesus Christ so that we could know who God truly was through his Son and to receive his message of how to live our lives in goodness, not ugliness and horror; to live our lives in faith, in love and in hope. Christ wept when his friends died and he gave his own life so that the impact of evil would never again separate us from the love of God, even though some die in conflict.

003-joshua-jordanJoshua (Joshua 4:1-9) comes into the Promised Land with the people of Israel after many years in the desert and after many years of suffering in slavery in Egypt and they are carrying the Ark of the Covenant the place where God comes to them. Joshua marks the event and marks the fulfilment of God’s promise, his covenant, with stones taken from the river Jordan and he does this so that they will remember this event and that their children will remember this event. The saving by God from slavery and from a wilderness sacrifice to live a better life.

In the same way our memorials help us to remember the sacrifice of those who have given their lives so that we may live in peace.

It is this message of peace and reconciliation and the knowledge of God’s love that Christ wants us to know in our world, how important that we as a Church are able to live and spread this word. But like going into battle, it requires courage and boldness and strength from us. The disciples of Jesus were sent out amongst the wolves to proclaim God’s peace, they had nothing with them except the blessing of Jesus Christ and they entered a war zone where they were welcomed as friends or sent away as enemies. We are disciples of Christ today, our Christian life is so important to the world, the message of Christ is transformational and is welcomed by some and resisted and even attacked by others. But we have been given something special when we commit our lives to Christ, he brings us the privilege of prayer, he brings us the privilege of working for his peace changing attitudes and transforming lives and he give us an eternal life. We have all of this through the sacrifice of Christ which we remember every week all around the world through the most important memorial that of Holy Communion.

breaking-breadWe break and share bread as a reminder that Christ gave his life for us so that we can know God’s love in a powerful and transformative way. The 2 people on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:28-35) saw the resurrected Jesus Christ and knew that God had fulfilled his covenant to save his people from the evil in the world, especially the evil of death.  We in turn are empowered to bring that transforming love to others.

As we remember the horrors of war and the personal sacrifice of many, we come to remember the sacrifice of Christ so that we may have freedom to know God in our lives and to bring his transforming love and power into our world. What a responsibility and honour we have, so as we remember let us reflect on our own lives and the mission we have been given by our Saviour Jesus Christ and continue to pray and to act to remove conflicts from our lives, our communities and our world. Amen.

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Do you know how valuable you are?

Lost, then found, now celebrate! (Luke 15:1-10)

My Mother had three sisters and two brothers and they were brought up by my grandmother on her own in Edinburgh during the Second World War and in fact the eldest brother served in the forces during the war. Everyone had their own jobs to do to keep the family going during this period of rationing and of bombing and they would sleep in the Andersen Shelter in their back garden during bombing raids. The consequence of this upbringing was that they became extremely close and supportive of one another and especially supportive of their mother, my grandmother.

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When my grandmother died it was a huge loss for the whole family and each daughter including my mother inherited a ring from my grandmother. Each ring was gold and in the shape of a wishbone. They were very distinctive and each sister wore their ring continuously. Well you can probably imagine the anguish and heartache when my Mother came to visit Kath and myself and then found as we emerged from seeing a play at the local theatre that she had lost her wishbone ring. We couldn’t of course leave it like this and we all split up and retraced our steps; it was like a quest to find the ring! Eventually Kath came back triumphantly with the ring in her hand having rescued it from behind the cushion of the settee in the waiting area of the restaurant we had eaten our pre-Theatre meal in. My Mother’s reaction was one of extreme joy and happiness at getting this ring back and Kath received lots of hugs, adoration and thanks. My Mother then proceeded to tell us of the other times she had lost the ring and then she told us the ‘lost ring’ stories from her sisters who had all incredibly found their ring again. These stories became something of a family drama that we all shared in.

Most of us, I suspect, will have experienced the loss of some article that is precious to us and remember how that feels; but most of us thankfully can only imagine how this sense of loss is magnified when it concerns a child who has disappeared and the sense of extreme joy and relief that would occur when that child is returned. Jesus talks about this loss and joy in the two parables we have heard from Luke’s gospel. He talks about the sadness of loss and the expression of joy when something is found, when something is redeemed, but he goes much farther as this joy is expressed in a welcome and a celebration.

These stories from Luke’s gospel come after the message of discipleship, the message about putting God through Christ as our priority, at the centre of our lives even over our family so that God can work through us to bring his kingdom crashing into this world. The stories in our passage are ones that Jesus tells to those who call themselves righteous and are rooted in a rural farming community where there is also poverty. Jesus is being accused by those righteous people of associating with those who are outside of the righteous circles, those people who are outside of the Synagogue or outside of the Church. These people who Jesus associates with are two groups; the tax collectors who at this time often defrauded people, which of course is not the case today, although if you have just received a letter from the Inland Revenue you might be thinking differently, but tax collectors are honest people today. The other group were classed as sinners, those people who were not part of the inner circle, and those people who didn’t religiously follow the Law of Moses, those people who didn’t know about God or ignored God or those people who behaved badly. Paul in his letter to Timothy (1Timothy 1:12-17) writes about his own experience, he consider himself a righteous man but carried out much persecution of those who followed Jesus Christ only to be confronted by Christ and brought lovingly back into the flock where he is redeemed and repents of his actions and is then commissioned to spread the good news of who Christ is.

We are of course all sinners looking to be better people.

The people who called themselves righteous wouldn’t associate with sinners, they were exclusive in their behaviour; whereas Jesus, God on earth, behaved inclusively and associated with everyone even to the extent that he describes his behaviour as one like a shepherd where everyone is part of the same flock, everyone belongs to God, but some have become lost, some have gone another way, some have become separated.

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I have no idea about farming or sheep or being a shepherd. But what I have seen in the farming communities where I was a Curate, is the care and the long hours that go into the sheep business. Modern Shepherds drive around their flock on one of these great quad bikes, they own sheep dogs of high quality and training, they will put great efforts into the selection of ewes for breeding, they will spend much time inoculating their sheep to prevent  illnesses, they will make sure they have high quality pastures to graze and high quality feed to be healthy, they will work many hours during lambing and care for those lambs whose Mum has more than one to feed, they will be vigilant to rescue lambs in difficulty and they will put great effort into bringing motherless lambs to mothers who have lost lambs. All of this illustrates the care for the whole flock, not just individuals and in the time of Jesus it was known that the flocks were much smaller and the shepherd would lead the sheep and know them by name. The loss of a lamb or sheep consequently hurt deeply.

Jesus uses this illustration to describe how God thinks about all of us. How God thinks about us as the whole flock and feels the loss when one is distant, or in pain, or travelling another path, or in difficulty or need, or doesn’t know who God is.

What I find revealing in this passage is that God does not take the stance of judging those who are separated from the flock, from the Church, from Christian circles; he does not take the stance of sitting back and bringing bad things onto those who oppose him and celebrate when they fall on bad times; God actively seeks those who are separated, he goes out to them, he looks for them and he is there to carry them and to hold them when they recognise his presence and his goodness and want to be part of it. Jesus by his behaviour illustrates God’s care for those in need by actively seeking those who have been separated whether it is through their own behaviour, or because they don’t feel part of the Church, or have never have been part of the Church. This of course can happen to any of us, we can feel lost, separated from God and his Church.

But God seeks us out, his Holy Spirit wants to work in our lives and bring us back to him. Jesus says that when this happens ‘there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God’ even if it is just one person who turns towards him. Can you imagine what that worship would sound like, how exquisite it is; can you imagine how powerful that love is, can you imagine how thankful and welcoming the whole of heaven is when only one person turns towards God? Can you imagine the rejoicing when you first turned towards God?

The reaction of my mother on the return of her ring or the reaction of a parent on the recovery of a lost child is tiny compared to the worship in heaven when someone wants to know God through Christ. The whole of heaven celebrates and we are called to celebrate with them and to also exhibit the same attitude and behaviour.

Jesus illustrates how valuable we are to God through the story of the woman who lost a valuable coin and searched her unlit house for it until it was found.  When you first came into Church you were each invited to take a coin from a group of coins. We are not paying you to come to Church by the way. This coin is from me to illustrate how unique and valuable you are in God’s eyes, it is something to hold onto to remind you of how much God loves you and welcomes you into his family.

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But Jesus is also illustrating in these stories how we. who are part of the Church should behave. He is bringing us the challenge of thinking about how outward looking we are, of how welcoming we are to those who are unfamiliar to us and turn to the Church and turn to Christ or want to come back. What do you think when someone unfamiliar walks into Church, is it the Clergy’s job to talk to them or do we make the effort to welcome people and to introduce them to our friends, do we show them how valuable they are?

As you hold your coin remember how valuable you are to God, but also remember that he is asking you to show others how valuable they are to God and to rejoice with the Angels in heaven when they turn to him. Invite people to Back to Church Sunday next week or make an effort to welcome those you have not seen in a while or those you don’t know and above all let’s celebrate together this wonderful love.

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Are we encumbered?

Who do you love the most (Luke 14:25-33)? Can we become Jesus disciples?

I remember lying in bed on a Sunday morning after a hard week’s work when Kath and I were early Christians and saying to Kath, let’s not go to Church today, I am too tired. Alright she said let’s have a lazy morning. Then in come our 2 young girls aged around 5 and 8 bounding into our bedroom shouting to both of us ‘Come on it’s time to go to Church!’sleep

Church is the place where we meet with God and each other, where we know his presence with us and, no matter how bad the vicar is, Christ will come and put our lives into perspective and we grow in his love and in his likeness. We leave Church with a different view on our life to the one we came in with and sometimes we need encouragement, especially if we haven’t been in Church for a while.wp04d9fd52_05_06

Our Church is made up of many people who have been invited to come by their friends and I wonder who it was that encouraged you to first come to Church or once you had arrived at Church, encouraged you to come again?

I remember our 2 girls encouraging their friends to come along to Church and soon their friends encouraged their parents to come along. I remember one couple who came saying they would come occasionally for their children and within a year they were confirmed and 5 years later he was Church Warden.

Sometimes it’s really good to share with our friends and our family the beauty of Church and the welcome we know and the place where we meet with God. It’s good to invite those people that we love and respect to share with us something we love and enjoy and that gives us a different perspective on life with those simple words “Would you like to come to Church with me?”

September 18th is Back to Church Sunday where we are encouraged to invite one person someone we love and respect to come with us to Church or to our Harvest Festival on 2nd October and we have some invitations available at the end of this service that split in two, one for an invitation to handout and one for prayer.

Life for many people can so often become encumbered with many different things that the intention to come to Church gets lost, life is full and hectic and even Sundays are taken up with many things.bagage

I often think it’s like picking my two daughters up when they finished University. They wanted to come home, unfortunately they had acquired far too many possessions and we couldn’t get them in the car, never mind our home. They had become encumbered and it had stopped them doing something they wanted to do; come home.

This is the message that is coming from Jesus to the huge crowd that is following him. He talks to them about what is stopping them becoming his disciples. The crowd saw him as a Teacher of God’s kingdom, they saw him as a healer, they saw him as a comforter, they saw him as the son of God and they saw him as their Saviour, God’s promised one. He was going to bring them home.

But Jesus was walking towards Jerusalem, he was walking towards his death, his load was heavy because he would take the sin of the whole world onto his shoulders so that they and we don’t have to and he turned to the crowd and saw those who came to watch and those who came to listen but not to follow. He saw them with all their baggage and things that encumbered them that stopped them following and being his disciples and he warns them that they will need to get their priorities in order. They will need to know a greater love for him than they have for their family, a greater love for him than their possessions, than their own life even – can they follow him on the journey he is going on? Jesus even puts it in terms of “hate” to exaggerate his meaning that they need to disentangle themselves from worldly ties to follow him. Do they have that love for Jesus Christ, God’s son? Could they even carry their own cross to suffering, humiliation and execution in order to follow him? Is their love that great? Is our love that great? Have they considered the cost, have we considered the cost?

It’s a really hard passage I think, but it helps us think about what our priorities are and what we are encumbered with that stops us following Christ and knowing his love and power in our lives? Knowing his grace in our lives? Knowing his encouragement and love through his Church?

Tom Wright, one of our popular biblical scholars who used to be Bishop of Durham, puts it very well I think, when he says that if a politician spoke Jesus words, no-one would follow at all, but if it was a friend showing the way to a new life then many would follow.  Like my daughters who wanted to come home, but to do so they needed to be encouraged to disencumber themselves of some possessions.

Jesus isn’t really saying to us, hate our family, sell our land and possessions and give up our life to follow him, but he is asking us what is our priority in life – the love of God or the love of other things. Can we trust God to look after those gifts he has given us in our life that he knows we need, so that we are free to follow Jesus Christ and be his disciple or are they encumbering us in our Christian journey?

Sometimes then we need encouragement from our friends to come and be part of Church with us so that they we are able to rediscover the priorities of life and discover Christ in our lives.

When I read these words of Jesus I also think of some of his other words.

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“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.  Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?  Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?  If you then, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! “ Our Father knows what we need and they are his gifts to us.

Jesus tells us, get our priorities right, live our life for him and then receive with gratitude his blessings.

In our passage from Deuteronomy (30:15-20) we hear Moses last speech to the people of Israel as they move into the Promised Land. He puts it quite starkly. Follow God and his commandments and you will know life and prosperity, turn away from him and you will know death and adversity. They were asked to think about their priorities and choices very carefully.

Following Christ and being able to disencumber our lives brings us God’s purposes and priorities and moulds us more to be like Christ and sometimes we need that encouragement to come and join with others in Church with that personal invitation  “Would you like to come to Church with me?” So I pray that there may be someone you love and respect, someone that God puts in front of your path who you can invite to Church for Harvest Festival or Back to Church Sunday and together we can discover God’s priorities in our lives.

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A smile moment in the ordinary and the celebration

Water into Wine (John 2:1-11). What does Jesus 1st Miracle say to you?

Celebrations in our life are important; they put a smile on our face and joy in our hearts. Today is a celebration for Isaac and his family and friends as he is baptised and we give thanks for the gift of his life. We celebrate, birthdays, weddings and anniversaries in our lives. Celebrations are important because they enable us to give thanks for a special moment in ordinary lives. They put joy in our hearts and a smile on our face.

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Lives, of course aren’t always a celebration, there is the ordinary life to be led, for some this can be a struggle or seem to be superficial, for some there is the busyness of work and looking after children, for some there is illness and old age to cope with, for some there is grief, for some there is simply not enough time to fit everything in, for some there is the question about the purpose and hope in life. There are probably far more struggles than celebrations at times.

Where is the richness of life, where is its purpose and hope? Have you ever wondered where God is in the celebrations and the ordinary and the struggles, does God really want to know us and make a difference in our lives?

Yet here in John’s gospel we read about heaven breaking into earth, God making himself known in a man who is divine, God’s son Jesus Christ. At this celebration the smiles disappear quickly and in the stress and the busyness, the shame and embarrassment starts to rise. The groom is responsible for the catering, the whole village is invited, it lasts a week and the wine runs out leaving only water which is usually used to clean and purify the body before eating. Mary, Jesus mother, asks him to put a smile back on their face. Jesus turns the cleansing water for purification into the best wine. He declares who he is, God’s son, he only brings the best and he brings it in abundance and he declares that he is the one who will cleanse and purify those who follow him.

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He puts a smile on the face of his mother and of the master of ceremonies and of his disciples and of the groom and of the guests. He makes them happy.

This is the first of the signs of Jesus divinity that John shows us in his Gospel, the first of the smile moments. There are many that John doesn’t tell us about but he concentrates on Jesus turning water into wine, healing a nobleman’s son, healing a lame man, feeding over 5000 people, walking on water to challenge us to trust him, healing a blind man, raising his friend from the dead and finally his own resurrection after his crucifixion. These are moments when heaven comes crashing into earth in amongst the ordinary and the struggles and they happen through Jesus Christ, they are smile moments, moments of joy and of hope.

smilesWe have a celebration here today, it’s a smile moment, and in baptism Jesus calls us to be his own, to believe in him and to know him in prayer. As Isaac grows up we pray that he will honour the promises made for him today and seek to make that commitment himself to belong to Christ. At that point the smile moment at celebrations becomes a smile moment in the ordinary and in the struggle, because Christ comes to live in us and us in him. God sees us through his son Jesus Christ and heaven comes to be with us and give us smile moments in the ordinary and the struggle as well as the celebration. It is through belief in Christ that we come to know the personal reality of God’s love and God’s love transforms our lives, God’s love changes situations, God’s loves removes shame, God’s love heals, God’s love reconciles and God’s love answers prayer, God’s love through his son Jesus Christ brings smile moments in the ordinary and the struggle as heaven breaks into your life and your life is transformed.

Perhaps you are here today to share in the celebrations, perhaps you are here because you are on Church duty, perhaps you are here to gives thanks and to praise God, perhaps you are here because you are struggling. No matter the reason, God wants to meet with you and show you his love, he wants to transform your life for the better, he wants to give you a smile moment. Perhaps today is the day we renew our trust in God because his son Jesus Christ wants to remind us that we can belong to him and he will come and live within us through his Spirit if we have faith and trust.

It’s this smile moment, a gift from God, that isn’t fleeting, but stays with us and can be always renewed so that we can know God’s presence with us on this day and throughout our week. Try asking God to give you a smile moment in your day and in your week.

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