Minister ~ Rev Alan Kennedy 07733153203 01612703296 firstname.lastname@example.org
This is my first opportunity to wish you a Happy New Year. In doing so, I acknowledge that maybe many of us see little room even for guarded optimism, never mind happiness!
My own personal experience in recent days bears out that sense of gloom.My visit to Northern Ireland was cut short and I was unable to be with the family on Christmas Day, as I was self-isolating pending the results of a PCR test for Covid.
I returned to England 5 days earlier than planned only to test positive and go into an even longer period of self-isolation!
Thankfully, so far, the symptoms are much milder than those experienced when I had my first bout last year.
I know that many of you are now affected by this, both within your own family and the circle of your friends and neighbours. All of us are grateful for the vaccines and the booster jab.
We continue to be appreciative of the work of scientists and medical staff as they seek to mitigate the worst of the side effects of the virus.
Ultimately, we place ourselves in the hands of God and trust and pray that all may be delivered safely through this prolonged and pernicious pandemic.
I have found some poems and hymns for New Year, which I hope will strengthen your faith and help raise your spirits
at a time when it is difficult to be hopeful.
Please do read and reflect on them over this week.
As the old year passes
we look back, reflect:
times of joy and promise,
times we’d best forget.
God of the ages
help us walk your way.
Help us greet your future,
seize tomorrow’s day.
As the old year passes
sorrow wells within:
loved ones no more ’round us,
all that could have been.
God of compassion,
heal each ailing heart.
Guide us to your future
where new life may start.
As the old year passes
we cry for our struggling world.
fighting too often heard.
Jesus, you call us
to cherish all you give.
Call us to your future
where all in peace might live.
As the new year dawns now
we would give you praise.
Faithful God, come lead us
onward in new ways.
We’ll love and serve you
in the faith of Christ,
in your Spirit’s future:
people of new life.
God of our life, through all the circling years,
We trust in thee;
In all the past, through all our hopes and fears,
thy hand we see.
With each new day, when morning lifts the veil,
we own thy mercies, Lord, which never fail.
God of the past, our times are in thy hand;
with us abide.
Lead us by faith to hope’s true promised land;
be thou our Guide.
With thee to bless, the darkness shines as light,
and faith’s fair vision changes into sight.
God of the coming years, through paths unknown
we follow thee;
when we are strong, Lord, leave us not alone;
our Refuge be.
Be thou for us in life our daily Bread,
our heart’s true Home when all our years have sped.
Hugh Thomson Kerr (1872-1950)
MINISTER`S BLOG JANUARY 6TH 2022
As I write this, I am feeling very relieved that after 10 days of self-isolation following a positive Covid test, I have tested negative and will be able to be “released into the wild” so to speak!
Even after the period of self-isolation the official advice is to consider limiting your contacts with vulnerable groups and so I have withdrawn from leading worship at two churches on Sunday January 9th.
However, I will be back in business the following week and hope to be at both the Deacons meeting on the 12th and part of the Coffee Morning on the 14th (Practice Nurse appointment permitting).
Sunday January 16th will be my first service of 2022 and so I have moved our monthly celebration of Communion to that date. Our service will reflect the theme of a New Year as well as the Gospel passage for that Sunday which is very appropriate.
I hope that we can make January 16th a celebration not just of Communion, or of New Year but of our joint commitment to face the future in faith and in fellowship.
What we have learnt, or what I hope that we have learnt through this pandemic, is that to get through it as best we can, we need each other, and we need our faith.
Self-reliance is a much-vaunted quality in many quarters and there is a lot to be said for standing on your own two feet but there are times when human strength alone will not suffice.
It is then that we realise that there is no shame in asking others for help. It is not a sign of weakness to reach out to God in a time of need.
So, as we venture forth on our journey into a new year lets remind ourselves that we do not travel alone. I leave you with one of my favourite quotes for this time of year.
“Many things about tomorrow, I don`t seem to understand. But I know who holds tomorrow
and I know who holds my hand.”
MINISTER`S BLOG JANUARY 18TH
As I write this, my father is very ill in the Mater Hospital Belfast. As a family, we do not know what each new day may bring but all that we can do is to entrust both him and us to the hands of God, who knows what is best.
I recently came across this prayer by the late Dr Billy Graham, whose ministry my father supported for many years. I hope it speaks to all of us in this first month of a new year, with all its challenges as well as its opportunities.
“Our Father and our God, as we stand at the beginning of this new year, we confess our need of Your presence and Your guidance as we face the future.
We each have our hopes and expectations for the year that is ahead of us—but You alone know what it holds for us, and only You can give us the strength and the wisdom we will need to meet its challenges. So help us to humbly put our hands into Your hand, and to trust You and to seek Your will for our lives during this coming year.
In the midst of life’s uncertainties in the days ahead, assure us of the certainty of Your unchanging love.
In the midst of life’s inevitable disappointments and heartaches, help us to turn to You for the stability and comfort we will need.
In the midst of life’s temptations and the pull of our stubborn self-will, help us not to lose our way but to have the courage to do what is right in Your sight, regardless of the cost.
And in the midst of our daily preoccupations and pursuits, open our eyes to the sorrows and injustices of our hurting world, and help us to respond with compassion and sacrifice to those who are friendless and in need.
May our constant prayer be that of the ancient Psalmist: “Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end” (Psalm 119:33).
We pray for our nation and its leaders during these difficult times, and for all those who are seeking to bring peace and justice to our dangerous and troubled world.
We pray especially for Your protection on all those who serve in our armed forces, and we thank You for their commitment to defend our freedoms, even at the cost of their own lives. Be with their families also and assure them of Your love and concern for them.
Bring our divided nation together and give us a greater vision of what You would have us to be. Your Word reminds us that “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).
As we look back over this past year we thank You for Your goodness to us—far beyond what we have deserved. May we never presume on Your past goodness or forget all Your mercies to us, but may they instead lead us to repentance, and to a new commitment to make You the foundation and center of our lives this year.
And so, our Father, we thank You for the promise and hope of this new year, and we look forward to it with expectancy and faith.
This I ask in the name of our Lord and Saviour,
who by His death and resurrection
has given us hope both for this world and the world to come.
As I quoted at the close of my previous letter,
“Many things about tomorrow, I don`t seem to understand, but I know who holds tomorrow
and I know He holds my hand”
MINISTER`S BLOG FEBRUARY 1ST
There is a phrase, often quoted at funerals, “In the midst of life, we are in death”.
That has never been more appropriate in my life than in the last week or so.
As you know, I travelled home recently to see my father, who was very ill in hospital. He died a couple of days later and two days after that I shared in conducting his funeral.
When I returned to England, I conducted the funeral of a friend who had died on Christmas Eve and then I heard of the death of one of our oldest church members.
At times like this it is all too easy to sink below the waves of sorrow or stress and so we need to be reminded of the boundless grace of God.
Our gospel reading for this coming Sunday is from Luke 5 vs 1-11. The story used to be referred to as “The miraculous draught of fishes”.
It is a reminder that when we feel we are at the very end of our tether and that we cannot go any further, God is there.
Some years ago, when visiting a Mormon Church, I heard one of the elders speak on the concept in aviation of “the point of no return”, when the plane doesn’t have enough fuel to return to the airport in the event of an emergency.
The young missionary shared how that by the grace of God, when we feel that we have reached the point of no return and can`t see anyway back or forward, God himself is at the point of no return to carry us onward.
I trust that the God who meets us at our "point of no return"
may be a source of strength and grace in your life and mine
in the days of this coming week and for evermore.
MINISTERS BLOG FEBRUARY 14TH
As I prepare for next Sunday`s service, I am reminded that it is the Second Sunday before Lent. Before we know it, we will be in the Season of Lent and Easter. Tesco, as we know has been in the Season of Easter from shortly after Christmas!
I will not jump the gun by beginning to explore the themes for Lent ahead of time. Rather, I point you to the readings for next Sunday and especially the gospel, Luke chapter 6 verses 27 to 38.
Coming on the heels of the message which I shared with the fellowship at Greenacres Congregational Church Oldham last Sunday based on 1st Corinthians 13, this is an even more challenging passage. JJesus` call to love our enemies and not to judge others, is a difficult one to follow. The reading from Luke 6 contains some verses we`d probably prefer to gloss over, such as,
“Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.”
As I said at Greenacres, we cannot possibly achieve such depths of discipleship in our own strength. We cannot even begin to live up to such high ideals through our own willpower but when we place our wills at the disposal of God and when we allow ourselves more and more to be filled and guided by the Spirit of God, then we can make spiritual progress.
As we approach the season of Lent, I encourage all of us, myself included, to consider how we might be more Christlike in our dealings with others and more in-tune with the will of God.
A renewed commitment to daily prayer and bible reading could be a simple but effective start, so why not make that commitment today?
MINISTER`S BLOG FEBRUARY 28TH
This week has a number of significant dates;
St David`s Day and Shrove Tuesday on March 1st
and Ash Wednesday on the 2nd.
I am traveling to London on Ash Wednesday in advance of a reception at Lambeth Palace on Thursday hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury for the country`s National Ecumenical Officers and I will be representing the Congregational Federation.
If it is possible, it would be great to be able to attend a service at St Paul`s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey on Ash Wednesday. I shall have to check service times.
Lent is a time of preparation for Easter and although it has not been traditionally observed by the Nonconformist Churches, it is a useful period to reflect on our walk with God, both as individuals and as a church.
In our own case, the Church`s AGM takes place in Lent, which should encourage us to think seriously about our life together as fellow Christians.
It is a penitential season, hence the purple Communion Table runner and Lectern fall. I will be wearing a purple stole during Lent. All of these act as visual aids that we are in a special season of the church year and that we are called to reflection and repentance.
It is an opportunity for self-reflection, to consider our discipleship and the way ahead for our church`s work and witness.
To enable such reflection, I commend to those of you online, the daily reflections offered via the website of the Congregational Federation. There are also a vast variety of other resources online and in print.
Please do make some time this Lent to engage in prayer and reflection as together we journey with Christ on the road to the cross and the path to resurrection.
MINISTERS BLOG MARCH 6TH
Last week I mentioned that I was attending a reception at Lambeth Palace hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, for all those involved in representing their respective denominations in the field of ecumenism.
The event was very pleasant and was the opportunity to meet up again with fellow national Ecumenical Officers and to see some new faces from the Church of England and Roman Catholic Churches. The setting of Lambeth Palace was an experience with its history and architecture.
Another interesting experience was the Service of Imposition of Ashes and Choral Eucharist for Ash Wednesday at Westminster Abbey. A few hundred of us gathered in the area before the High Altar for an inspiring act of worship, enhanced by the sublime music of the organ and choir and sweet-smelling incense. Again, the setting of the Abbey with its soaring arches and long history was amazing.
But perhaps the most moving experience of my trip was my visit to the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, off Oxford Street. The building originally was the King`s Weigh House Congregational Church and I was interested to see the transformation. The building did not disappoint but it was the recording of Ukrainian chants playing quietly in the background that spoke to me most profoundly, even though I could only understand the word “Jesu”. A variety of people from young men to elderly ladies came in to kneel in prayer or light a candle. I did likewise and paused to pray for the people of Ukraine.
All of us feel terribly helpless when we watch the distressing scenes on the television news, but I would encourage all of you to remember Ukraine especially in your prayers at this time and to do what you can to support the various relief agencies who are seeking to help.
MINISTER`S BLOG MARCH 14TH
This week I am off on my ecumenical travels again. From Monday to Wednesday, I will be representing the Congregational Federation at the bi-annual Forum of Churches Together in England, held at The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire.
The theme of the gathering is “Reconciling Hope – A Broken Church for a Broken World”. Given current events in the world and the diversity of Christian denominations and groups attending Forum, I hope that our time together proves to be interesting, challenging and hopefully inspiring.
Lent, as a season in the Church Year, is also interesting and challenging. The Gospel reading for this coming Sunday is certainly both! It is far from the easiest of passages to understand but we have to grapple with it if we are to gain inspiration. I am still working on how to achieve that but in the meantime, I leave you with a reflection on the reading, (Luke 13 vs. 1-9), by Sister Kristine Anne Harpenau, a Benedictine nun.
"The first part of the Gospel reading for today is sobering. Luke writes about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of sacrifices. Jesus says: “Do you think that the Galileans who suffered were greater than other Galileans?” Jesus continues on in this vein. The point that Jesus is trying to make with the people is that if they do not repent, they will perish.
Jesus then tells them another parable. He says: “There once was a person who planted a fig tree in his garden. When the man came to pick the fruit, the tree had not born any fruit. The man immediately went to his gardener and told him: “For the past three years I have come to pick figs from these trees and for the past three years, the tree has not borne any fruit. I want you to cut the tree down now.” The gardener said: “Sir, I ask you to leave the tree one more year. I will fertilize it and cultivate the ground around it. And if it does not bear fruit this year, then you can cut it down.”
What a patient man this gardener is! The gardener wants to give this tree one more chance. He is unwilling to “cut it down.” It is seldom that anyone has a perfect garden. Gardeners learn to let nature take its course and yet to intervene when it is appropriate. This gardener was determined to try some other tactics before uprooting the plant.
This Gospel gives a wonderful image of God. God is the gardener – a hopeful and patient gardener. God will not toss us aside immediately if we are not bearing fruit. Our gardener, God, will fertilize us, nurture us, and pull the weeds that are growing within and around us. However, we have to allow God to be our gardener. The question for us is: will we bring our weeds to God and ask him to help us uproot the weeds from our hearts?
If we ask God to do so, God will gift and grace us as we work together with God to uproot the weeds from our lives. Hopefully, over time, the weeds will gradually disappear from our lives. We have to trust our Divine Gardener’s timing. We human beings typically want instant answers and instant solutions. However, our weeds may be deeply rooted and it may take time for them to be completely uprooted. Will we trust God, our gardener? Will we strive to be patient with the process?
Today I invite you to ask yourself: What is the weed I want uprooted from my heart and life? Take your desire to God and place it in God’s hands. God is trustworthy! God will not fail you! In the meantime, trust and be patient."
MINISTER`S BLOG MARCH 21ST
Last week`s conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire, organised by Churches Together in England, was a very tiring but worthwhile experience.
Beginning with Morning Prayer at 8am, (before breakfast) and ending with Night Prayer at 9pm, each day was filled with keynote addresses, worship, workshops and homegroups.
Speakers included the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and representatives of Tearfund, among others.
The theme “Reconciling Hope – A Broken Church for a Broken World” was an apt topic for the season of Lent and all of us were encouraged to consider how we as churches and individuals could be agents of reconciling hope in our own situations.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday is from Luke 15 and recounts the well-known story of the Prodigal Son, or as someone has said more accurately, the story of the Forgiving Father.
It is also Mothering Sunday, which reminds us of another aspect of parental care and compassion.
God, who is portrayed in scripture as both father and mother, is a God of reconciling love. He is our forgiving father and nurturing mother and if we are children of such a parent, then those family traits should be evident in our own lives.
I pray that they may be.
Please read Andrew King`s reflection on today`s Gospel.
RETURN Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32
The shadow of a cloud moves over the road,
over the fields,
passes the distant house.
You shade your eyes from uncovered sun,
your brown hand holding dirt under brittle nails.
There in the fields your father’s workers are bending.
Your empty stomach moans.
You’ve rehearsed your speech.
Shuffled the words in your mouth like dusty pebbles,
the taste of shame, bitter, sharp as stone.
How frail those words seem now as you pause on your oh-so-weary feet, the smell of the sows still on your clothes,
stuck like the memory of other words:
the ones you used that day you demanded your inheritance,
as if your father, to you, were already dead.
Now you wonder what there will be in those eyes,
what words will come from his mouth.
Your brother you know: strict, unbending, rigid as the tools that work the crops; his words will be iron blades.
And you feel you deserve nothing else from the ones you insulted and deserted.
But your hunger today overpowers your fear,
and you start your feet on the long dirt lane
that leads to the house of your father.
There is a stir in the field.
A figure shouts, a man is running toward you.
And suddenly time seems to speed all motion as the earth tilts down toward that figure, the familiar face, the arms so strong, the arms that now reach to enfold you;
and the voice you’d forgotten calls for a robe and a ring and a feast prepared;
and the world itself is blurring,
it’s blazing, as light through your tears begins dancing;
and there is your brother, last to come in, and rather reluctantly smiling; but the music plays,
and you think what you hear is all heaven
and your father singing,
and the words to the song are all the same word,
for it’s love that you need:
love that you left,
love you have found in returning.
MINISTER`S BLOG MARCH 28TH
Lent is marching on and before we know it, it will be Palm Sunday and then Easter Day.
But we must resist the temptation, as many Christians do, to fast forward “to the good bits” and leave out the difficult and challenging bits.
Lent has much to teach us, and the lectionary passages are worth reflecting on in this season of the Church Year.
This Sunday`s gospel from John 12 if often referred to as “The anointing at Bethany”. It is not that easy for us as 21st century Westerners to relate to culturally. None of us are in the habit or anointing other people and we do not share the rituals of some other World Faiths surrounding the care of a deceased loved one, where the body is ceremonially washed and prepared for burial.
It is important that we read the story with these traditions and practices in mind, other wise it will make little sense.
What Mary is doing is prophetic and deeply personal as well. She is not merely following custom but is anticipating Jesus` death and is also demonstrating her deep love and devotion. We often hear people say around the time of a funeral, he or she wasn’t to be seen while so and so was alive but they`ve come out of the woodwork now!
Perhaps one simple lesson we can take from this week`s gospel (not intended by the author I am sure) is that it is important to show our love and respect and indeed devotion to others while they are still alive and not save our money for an extravagant bouquet when they are dead.
Consider your attitude and actions towards others, especially those whom you regard as “loved ones” and don`t leave it until it is too late to not only tell them but show them that you love them.
MINISTER`S BLOG APRIL 4TH
This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday when the Church remembers Jesus` triumphal entry into Jerusalem in the week leading up to his trial and crucifixion. As is our custom, palm crosses will be distributed during the service and we encourage people to display these in you window at home or in your car window, as a silent witness to the events of Holy Week.
Palms can be traced back to Jewish tradition and Christian history. Palms are mentioned several times in the Bible and pertain to significant historical moments. For example, the earliest mention of palms is found in Judges 4:5, “She would sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go to her for judgment.”
Other references of palms come in Psalm 92:12 when it is written the godly become referenced to the beauty of a palm tree. “But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.”
The background of the palm trees ties the Old Testament and the New Testament together because people had already begun to associate palms with victory. Not only did God’s people use them during their festivals, but they had also begun to associate the palms as tokens of joy, triumph, goodness, victory, and steadfastness. So, it was no surprise that when they learned their King of kings was entering town, the people wanted to honour Him.
Thousands of years later, palms are handed out at church services to remind us of Jesus’ procession to His death that He willingly suffered for us. May it be a simple but meaningful reminder you can keep throughout the year of how much Christ loves you.
Now comes the giver of peace to the troubled,
now comes the bringer of hope to the weak;
now comes the healer with strength for the hurting;
rides on a donkey the king that we seek.
Now comes the hen to the den of the foxes,
now come the gentle wings open and wide
to comfort the fearful, gather the lost ones;
wings pierced with nails, a wound in the side.
Now comes the Word who is good news among us,
now comes the Shepherd who lays down his life;
behold him, the Lamb of God’s saving mercy;
the Light against whom the darkness will rise.
Blesséd the One who brings God’s love and justice;
blesséd the One who calls us to the same;
blesséd the One who can break death’s dominion;
blesséd the One who has come in God’s name.
Lift high the branches, the palm leaves of praising;
cover with garments of praise the hard ground;
soon comes betrayal, too soon the injustice;
too soon the grief and forgotten the song.
Cry “blesséd!” the One who goes through the trial,
cry “blesséd!” the One who suffers the pain;
cry “blesséd!” the One who bleeds God’s forgiveness.
Cry “blesséd!” the One who’s with us in God’s name.
MINISTER`S BLOG APRIL 11TH
We have just had our Palm Sunday worship and Holy Week has begun. We will be holding our usual Short Service of Reflection on Good Friday at 10am and then joining fellow Christians from other local churches for an Open-Air Service at Little Hulton Neighbourhood Centre at 11.30am. On Easter Sunday morning at 5.45am there will be a Churches Together Dawn Service in Blackleach Country Park led by Rev David Cooper. We will be celebrating Communion in our own church at 11am.
Easter Day will not only be the climax of our Lent and Easter services, but it is also I suggest, the climax of the Church Year and the very foundation of our faith. St Paul was very clear on the matter; “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact, Christ has been raised form the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died.”1st Corinthians 15 vs. 16-20.
If I didn`t believe that, I could not conduct a funeral service, for I would have no message of hope or comfort to proclaim. If I didn`t believe that I could not have taken part in my own father`s burial.
St Paul continues;
“For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
Paul ends this section of his letter with these words, which I commend to you this Easter,
“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory though our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour is not in vain.”
1st Corinthians 15 vs. 55-58.
In the words of an ancient Christian liturgy, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
ODES FOR EASTER PEOPLE
John 20: 1-18
~ 1 ~
From what I’ve known of emptiness
it’s usually an empty place,
but the empty tomb of Jesus
holds the world of time and space.
From what I’ve known of losses
there’s often nothing left to be heard,
but death could not hold Jesus
and does not have the final word.
From what I’ve known of tombstones
their stillness is statement and claim,
but the stone rolled back for Jesus,
and all our destiny is changed . . .
~ 2 ~
We spin our tombs out of toughened threads
of rage, grief, bitterness, regret,
sealed inside with our guilt, our dreads
where no light of good can come. And yet we are not abandoned,
and there in the hard cocoon, if we let it,
we may begin to change.
Care breaks in, God’s loving breath, warm;
slowly the old life, stripped bare, begins to break apart, transform, emerge as something different, new –
the old hurts and wounds,
the torn places, the scarred parts too starting to heal; our being beginning to change.
In time we can choose to leave our cocoon,
and with trust, it splits open.
And with strange bright wings unfolding to the fragrant air
we surface – by death and resurrection rearranged.
~ 3 ~
I know you’re there, my Easter flower,
hidden for a while in earth’s deep darkness,
soon to break forth like song out of silence,
soon to show again your resurrection power,
rising up where no plant should be growing, out of rough dirt, smooth lawn, cracks between stones, rising again from being cut, pulled up, mowed down,
supposedly dead. I know the scented white shout
of the trumpets of lilies is the common choice in sanctuaries showing Easter joy and glory,
but for me it is your undefeatable story,
the stubborn ruggedness of your sunlit voice,
that best symbolizes the resilience of faith
and the undying steadfastness of God’s love.
Try as the world might to root out and shove you back to the dark, your bright yellow face still blooms where it will.
may your ever-renewing blossoms become
a sign of the kingdom of which every one
of us can be joyous, undefeated, irrepressible seed.
MINISTER`S BLOG APRIL 25TH
Last Sunday was Low Sunday, the Sunday following Easter Day.
According to the Oxford Reference online dictionary, “The first Sunday after Easter, is probably so called in contrast to the ‘high’ feast of Easter Sunday itself.” Some websites helpfully point out that Low Sunday has nothing to do with low church attendances after Easter but actually that is maybe not too far off the mark!
Easter, as a “high feast day” might have passed for another year but we are still in the liturgical season of Easter, which lasts until Pentecost, which this year will be celebrated on June 5th.
As Christians, spiritually we are always in the Season of Easter. Many years ago, I heard of a Methodist Conference with the title “Easter People” and in a very real sense, Easter People is a very good name for Christians. We live our lives in the light of Easter and the message that it proclaims of the victory of life over death, faith over doubt and love over hate.
Animal welfare groups used to remind us that “ A pet is for life, not just for Christmas” and churches were quick to adopt and adapt the phrase, coming up with, “Christ is for life not just for Christmas”.
I would like to suggest that Easter is not just a one-off event, like Christmas, with its association with time off-work, school holidays and chocolate!
Easter contains and proclaims a truth, which, if we will let it, informs every aspect of our lives and give us hope, not just for now, but for eternity.
May we live and act and love as Easter People, for whom the risen Christ is a living reality!
"I believe that when I pass through the doorway of death
To stand before you in the throne room of your mercy,
You will ask of me only what you have asked of Peter.
But the question now will bear my name:
Do you love me, my beloved?
The deeds of my life will speak on my behalf.
They will whisper in disgrace
Or shout truth to the heavens
In a language that cannot lie.
I will crouch cowering alone in my selfishness
Or stand straightened, bravened by your sheep,
Lambs I have learned to feed and tend in love.
God Who Is Love, teach me to love,
Not a here-today, gone-tomorrow love,
But a love that will last the distance.
Not a gooey, sentimental, wear-it-on-your-heart-sleeve love,
But a love that will lead me to my cross and allow me
To stretch out my arms and there be stripped naked yet unafraid."
"Lord, help me to be willing to be led
to where I do not want to go,
For unless I follow you
I can never truly be your discipled-friend.
Teach me, Jesus, to love – as you love me."
Fr J. Michael Sparough, SJ
MINISTER`S BLOG MAY 2ND
Personally speaking, or maybe more accurately, professionally speaking, the month of May is going to be a particularly busy one, as far as events, meetings and conferences is concerned.
On May 6th I will be attending a meeting of the governors of Northern College (United Reformed & Congregational) On May 8th, Nathan and I have been invited to Greenacres Congregational Church Oldham for their 350th Anniversary Lunch. From May12th to 15th I will be in Birmingham for the annual Assembly of the Congregational Federation. From May 19th – 20th I will be attending the Enabling Group of Churches Together in England at High Leigh Conference Centre in Hertfordshire.
On May 23rd I will be attending a meeting of National Ecumenical Officers at the Salvation Army HQ in London. And last, but by no means least, on May 28th, I will be chairing the May Assembly of the North West Area at Eccles Congregational Church. Also in May I will be conducting worship in another Congregational Church as well as a United Reformed Church and a joint Methodist and United Reformed Church.
In sharing this information, hopefully it may remind us that there is more to Church than the local church.
We are a part of our local Churches Together in Walkden & District.
We are a part of the NW Area of the CF. WE are a part of the wider Congregational family in the Congregational Federation in England, Scotland and Wales.
We are a part of Churches Together in England.
There can be a danger in local churches of all denominations but particularly in Congregationalism, that we tend not to look beyond our own four walls.
We often fail to recognise and make the most of the links, the family ties we have not only with fellow Congregationalists but fellow Christians of all traditions.
I am fortunate through my ecumenical involvement on both the local and national level, that I am reminded regularly of such links and ties and that it is not a matter, as the old Sunday School hymn used to say, of “You in your small corner and me in mine.”
When I was training for the Ministry at Luther King House Manchester, I discovered a hymn which became a firm favourite of mine and I have often used it at ecumenical services. I leave it with you for reflection.
What shall our greeting be:
Sign of our unity?
Jesus is Lord!
May we no more defend
Barriers he died to end:
Give me your hand, my friend:
One Church, One Lord!
What is our mission here?
He makes his purpose clear:
One world, one Lord!
Spirit of truth descend,
All our confusions end:
Give me your hand, my friend:
Jesus is Lord!
He comes to save us now:
To serve him is to know
Life's true reward.
May he our lives amend,
All our betrayals end:
Give me your hand, my friend:
Jesus is Lord!
F. Pratt Green
MINISTER`S BLOG MAY 9TH
Next Sunday I will be in Birmingham for the Congregational Federation Annual Assembly. There are two CF churches in the city but I may be tempted to attend Choral Eucharist at Birmingham Cathedral on the Sunday, as I know I will be guaranteed excellent music and dignified worship.
I like to make the most of any opportunity to worship elsewhere when I am not preaching, so I am looking forward to the experience.
As a committed ecumenist, I am happy to worship in churches and chapels of all denominations and can feel at home in most places of worship which claim to be Christian.
The readings for this coming Sunday, on one level, are about togetherness and the gospel passage is about mutual love between followers of Jesus.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13 vs. 35-35
I find it striking that these are Jesus`parting words to his disciples. He could have said, “Go out and die with me.”
Or “keep the faith.” Or “when I am gone go out and teach and preach to all the world.” Or any number of things.
But instead he offered this simple and challenging word, “love another.” This kind of love is the hallmark not just of God and Jesus but also of the Christian church.
Many years ago, when I was involved in the Charismatic Renewal movement, we used to sing the hymn “We are one in the Spirit” which is based on this passage.
In effect, Jesus is saying that the whole world will know we are Christians not by our sermons or our sacraments or our festivals or our buildings or our crucifixes or our family values … but by our love.
It really is that important.
MINISTER`S BLOG MAY 16TH
It was good last weekend to join with others from across the UK at the 50th Anniversary Assembly of the Congregational Federation, held at Carrs Lane Church and Conference Centre, Birmingham.
As Chairman of the InterChurch Board it was my privilege to welcome the ecumenical guests, including a former colleague from the Nonsubscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland,
a denomination under whose auspices
I trained for the Christian Ministry.
As I said in my previous letter, I intended to go to Birmingham Cathedral on the Sunday morning to enjoy the organ and choir and I was not disappointed.
The building itself was beautiful,
as were the amazing Burne-Jones stained glass windows. I received a warm welcome from the clergy
and in particular the Rev Elaine King, Associate Priest,
who was that day`s preacher.
Basing her sermon on the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Acts 11:1-18 , Revelation 21:1-6 and John 13:31-35, Elaine encouraged us to think about life in a fresh way and challenged us to live a life of love.
I was particularly interested in a quotation she used which she attributed to a Puritan source .Thinking of the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the church as His flock, the quotation was as follows,
“For wolves to worry lambs is no wonder
but for lambs to worry one another,
that is unnatural and monstrous.”
Of course we think of the term “worry” to mean `give cause for concern` or `create anxiety` but in farming circles it is much more serious.
Sheep worrying occurs when a dog is either chasing or worrying a sheep to the point where it is reasonably expected that the sheep will endure suffering or injury.
Sheep worrying can cause ewes to miscarry and lambs to be separated from their mothers.
When we apply this to the flock of Christ`s Church,
it is very serious indeed.
I can feel a sermon coming on
and one of these days you may have the chance to hear it!
MINISTER`S BLOG MAY 23RD
My travels continued last week with my attendance at the Enabling Group of Churches Together in England in the beautiful setting of High Leigh Conference Centre, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire.
We made the most of the glorious weather by spending our tea and coffee breaks in the impressive grounds.
There was serious business to transact, such as the Treasurer and General Secretary`s report and challenging situations to discuss and pray about, such as the invasion of Ukraine
but the fellowship that we enjoyed
over meals or drinks was important too.
It is often in these more informal settings that true ecumenical dialogue takes place and we learn more about each other`s traditions and what it is that motivates our life and ministries.
Yes, we were aware of the many differences that we have over doctrine practice and social issues but we celebrated the oneness that we have in Christ.
I am very grateful to be a part of this group and for the friendships I have been able to form over recent years with colleagues from Pentecostal, Roman Catholic and Quaker traditions to name but a few.
I value the opportunity to be part of a group which not only helps frame the direction of CTE but makes time for reflection, fellowship and worship. I hope that I may be able to continue to represent the Congregational Federation in this way for many years to come.
I pray that we as a church may value our ecumenical ties through Churches Together in Walkden & District and support this local expression of Christian unity.
MINISTER`S BLOG MAY 30TH
The Royal Platinum Jubilee weekend is nearly upon us. I`m afraid that with all my commitments this month, the Jubilee has somewhat sneaked up on me. Our Community Coffee Morning on June 3rd will have a Royal theme and the service next Sunday will seek to encompass a number of themes and activities.
First and foremost, it is Pentecost Sunday, when the Christian Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the first disciples and the beginnings of organized Christianity.
Secondly, we will be celebrating the Sacrament of the Lord`s Supper, which conveniently falls on this Sunday.
Thirdly, we will be receiving new members into our fellowship. This is a source of great encouragement to us as a church.
And last but not least, we will be giving thanks for the long reign of Queen Elizabeth.
My challenge in a service with so many elements is to find a focus. That focus, I believe, is service.
The Spirit is given, not for our personal pleasure but to equip us for service.
Church membership is not a passive thing, like a badge of honour. It is a role of service.
The Platinum Jubilee is about the long years of service given faithfully by our Queen, in fulfilment of that famous promise which she made in a radio broadcast all those years ago.
So, I hope that on Sunday, all of us will be inspired and encouraged to be of service to God and to one another.
MINISTER`S BLOG JUNE 6TH
It is good to know that this month I will not be traveling to different parts of the county nearly every week.
Until my trip home in July, you have me all to yourselves!
This coming Sunday I am not preaching at Walkden but taking a Boys Brigade Parade Service at Eccles. As of this moment I am not sure what theme I will take for that act of worship.
June 12th, the first Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday.
I think it is difficult enough trying to explore that topic with adults. I`m not sure how helpful it would be to base a Family Service on it.
You may wonder why the prayers accompanying this letter do not refer to Trinity Sunday. That is because the Church of Scotland Weekly Prayers for June 12th have taken a different path.
Apparently June 12th is also the start of Society, Religion and Technology Week and Dr Murdo Macdonald, Society, Religion and Technology Policy Officer for the Church of Scotland has composed these prayers with that in mind.
The SRT group of which he is a part says this about the theme;
"To most of us, science isn't something that we spend a lot of time thinking about. Yet, whether or not we are aware of it, technological innovations often play an important role in our lives – the ways in which we communicate, for example. While technology bring us many benefits, we are very conscious of the need for prayer in discerning the right way to respond to the often challenging issues that scientific breakthroughs sometimes present us with.
This year the SRT week of prayer falls on the first week after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday – a reminder that, whatever our role and in whatever field we are engaged, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is important in all aspects of the work and life of the Church."
Maybe this week we can give thanks to God for all the benefits that technology brings us and for the ability God grants to those who innovate and discover.
MINISTER`S BLOG JUNE 14TH
As I type this, I am adjusting to surgery for a cataract on my right eye. I have begun administering antibiotic drops and already the grittiness and watering seems to be in retreat.
I have resisted the temptation to quote from John Newton`s hymn “I once was blind but now I see”!
This Sunday`s readings are not about blindness but have something to say about fear. And don`t we talk about “blind fear”? According to Collins` Dictionary “blind” fear is less about being unable to see but more about being unwilling to understand or discern.
In 1st Kings 19:1-15, Elijah is on the run, in fear of Jezebel and in fear of his life. But God meets with Elijah at Mount Horeb and after some possibly frightening demonstrations of His power through fire and earthquake, is known to Elijah in the calm reassurance of the “still, small voice.”
In Psalm 42, God is acknowledged as the one who can deliver from distress.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my help and my God.”
In Galatians 3:23-29 we are reminded that despite the divisions of the world, we are one in Christ and heirs of the promises of God.
Last but not least, in Luke 8:26-39, we read the story of a naked man, so distracted by fear that he was thought of as being possessed and yet after his encounter with Jesus, he is described as being “clothed and in his right mind.”
I am not party to all of your worries and fears, nor you mine. All of us, to varying degrees, fear fo the future.
But despite the fires of overheated emotions, the earthquake of illness or bereavement, or the sheer panic that leaves you feeling naked and directionless, God comes to us with His still, small voice and in the words of Jesus himself assures us,
“I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
MINISTER`S BLOG JUNE 20TH
This week`s Gospel passage contains some of the most challenging of Jesus` teaching, inlcuding the phrase, "Let the dead bury their dead". It`s a difficult passage to get our heads around but I hope that this refelction by Michael Rogness may be of help. He writes;
" Does Jesus make a noticeable difference in our lives? Does the grace, mercy and love of God made incarnate in Jesus, trump our plans and shape our lives, or do we shape our faith to fit the lives we`ve already planned? If we`re honest, I think thta many of us will identify with the latter option because we recognize that we harbour a deep-seated desire to be in control, to maintain some semblance of order in a rather chaotic and confusing world.
Yet Jesus in this passage is clealy not willing to concede: he demands that his mission comes before all of our plans, even those that seem most reasonable. Why? Because he knows that we really aren`t in control, that it`s an illusion and that a rainstorm, or tornado, or illness, or loss or tragedy, or any one of a hundred other things, may dash our hopes as well as our plans and bring us to ruin.
This coming Sunday evening I will be sailing to Northern Ireland to spend a couple of weeks visiting family and friends. As usual, I will be packing many more clothes than I need and no doubt, returning with even more, as well as additional items such as a shipping order of Ulster breads from the local home bakery in Royal Hillsborough where my mother lives.
Why am I mentioning this, you might ask. Well, this Sunday`s Gospel from Luke 10 vs 1-11, 16-20 includes this instruction by Jesus; “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals….”
New Revised Standard Version.
In Eugene Peterson`s The Message paraphrase,
this is rendered as;
“Travel light. Comb and toothbrush and no extra luggage.”
So what`s my excuse?
Well I`m going on holiday, not a mission!
Jesus is actually saying something much more profound than just issuing baggage restrictions. It`s about an attitude to life and living. Too many of us carry excess baggage; painful memories which we cannot shake, grudges which are well past their sell by date, fears which cripple us and prevent us from moving forward.
I suspect that in life in general and in our spiritual lives in particular, we make things too complicated.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews exhorts us to “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely…” in order that we might run the race of faith.
Or as The Message has it,
“Strip down, start running and never quit.
No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins.”
In other words, let go of anything that would hold you back and rob you of your peace.
You may have to lay aside many earthly attachments and encumbrances but you will not be alone for Christ not only goes with us but before us.
So lose the excess baggage “and run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
Hebrews 12 vs 1-2a
MINISTER`S BLOG JULY 19TH
I trust and pray that you have all been keeping safe and cool in this very hot weather. I think that most of us could cope with the higher daytime temperatures if only the nights were cooler.
Maybe the extremely hot spell is over and we can return to more bearable summer weather.
This Sunday`s Gospel is from Luke 11 vs. 1-13. In our NRSV pew bibles, this passage has the sub-headings, The Lord`s Prayer and Perseverance in Prayer and in Sunday`s sermon I will be concentrating on the latter, Persevering in Prayer.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when the subject of prayer comes up, my mind turns to the hymn, with that recurring line “take it to the Lord in prayer”. For those of you who do not know the story of the hymn, let me share it with you.
Joseph Scriven and he was born near Banbridge, in the heart of the rolling hills of County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland.
After graduating from Trinity College Dublin he seemed set for a brilliant career and a happy life for he was also engaged to be married.
But then tragedy struck. His fiancée was accidentally drowned on the eve of their wedding and Joseph Scriven was plunged into his first great experience of sorrow. In the providence of God it was this tragedy which brought him to a personal faith in Jesus Christ.
In 1845 Scriven sailed for Canada to start life anew and, hopefully, to leave all his sorrows behind. But it was not to be, for ill-health dogged him and he was forced to return to Ireland after only two months.
Two years later he again set sail for Canada to take up a teaching post. In this he was successful and later graduated to the position of private tutor to the children of a military captain.
Life, at last, seemed worth living and prospects were continually improving!
Again he met and fell in love; this time with a charming young woman of twenty-three. Soon they were engaged to be married.
However, bitter disappointment was once more to be his unhappy lot, for this young lady was suddenly stricken with a serious illness and died before their marriage vows could be solemnised.
Cheated, for the second time, out of the prospects of a happy marriage by the cruel hand of death Scriven, quite naturally, became the victim of severe depression and declining health. But despite all this he never gave up his personal faith in the Saviour.
By this time he had settled in Port Hope, Ontario, and was manager of a small dairy there. He became known as the local Good Samaritan, helping the poor and under-privileged, sharing his food with the needy and often giving them clothing.
However, all these good deeds may well have been forgotten if Joseph Scriven had not written twenty-four lines of poetry to comfort his mother who was suffering from a serious illness.
Thus, from the heart he could write:
What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear,
What a privilege to carry,
Everything to God in prayer.
He had not seen her since he had said goodbye all those years before and wasn't able to make the long journey back home to be with her.
So he wrote What A Friend We Have In Jesus and sent it with the prayer that it would remind her of 'the never failing friend,' Jesus Christ.
Joseph Scriven never intended his poem to be published but a friend who visited him during his last illness discovered the lines and asked, 'Who wrote these beautiful words?' Scriven's modest reply was 'the Lord and I did it between us.'
Whatever weighs heavily on your heart or mind today, take it to the Lord in prayer.
MINISTER`S BLOG JULY 25TH
Last Sunday afternoon I conducted the annual Anniversary Service at Affetside Congregational Church. As part of the sermon, I quoted from the chapel`s history, as presented on the Affetside Village website. One interesting snippet which I used was a reference to a Sermons Sunday in 1929 when the offering amounted to £35. I was intrigued as to how much that would equate to in today`s money and found that the answer (according to one internet source) was £2,471!
I shared this with the congregation on Sunday and followed it up with the line, “So, with that in mind, I thank you in advance for today’s generous offering!”.
The good folk of 1929 clearly took their giving seriously and were happy to support the chapel in it`s work and witness, in ways which were sacrificial.
This week`s Gospel from Luke 12 vs. 13-21 may not be about church offerings but it is about priorities. It`s a passage which was often used by preachers at Harvest Services when I was growing up in Northern Ireland, with its powerful punchline,
“Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee, then whose shall these things be, which thou hast provided?”
Despite todays all pervasive celebrity culture, life is not actually about the accumulation of wealth. It is rather, as Luke tells us, about being “rich toward God”.
May these words of Frances Ridley Havergal be your prayer today -
“Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold; …… Take my love, My Lord; I pour at Thy feet its treasure store.
MINISTER`S BLOG AUGUST 1ST
This coming Sunday I am deviating from the set readings for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity and looking instead at the Gospel for the day before, known as The Transfiguration of our Lord. (Luke 9 vs. 28-36)
It`s maybe a brave choice for a preacher, as the set Gospel for the Sunday is in many ways less problematic.
So what is the story of what we call The Transfiguration all about? I can`t answer that question within the confines of a Minister`s Letter but let me make a few initial observations.
For those who read the story literally, it is probably quite straight forward; Jesus glows with an other worldly light and is visited by two patriarchs from Israel`s history – end of story. But for those who wish to look a bit deeper and who may want to read the story on a more spiritual level, what is the underlying meaning?
Whichever way you read it, there are two significant points;
The Transfiguration, whether we read it literally or not, testifies to the uniqueness of Jesus, not only as a spiritual descendent of the great prophets and leaders of God`s People but as someone who speaks in God`s name and we can only know God as he knows him, if we listen to him and follow his path. As the hymn says, “Shine, Jesus, shine!”
MINISTER`S BLOG AUGUST 8TH
Yet again, the Lectionary presents us with another example of what have been described as the “hard sayings“ of Jesus.
This week`s Gospel from Luke 12 vs. 49-56 includes these words;
“I came to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!……. Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”
Shocking sentiments, I assume, to the ears of English Christians but not so shocking for anyone from Northern Ireland.
I grew up with a version of the Faith that didn`t shy away from controversy and conflict. In fact there was often an implicit understanding that if your faith wasn`t in some way the source of controversy or conflict, then it was probably weak and ineffectual!
Fierce theological debate was the order of the day and churches and denominations vied to be the purest and most authentically biblical. The desire to be “right” or “righteous”, on reflection, seemed to be much more important than the call to be Christlike.
Jesus` words reflect his deep sense of frustration with the world as it was and his burning desire to see a world transformed by nothing less than a spiritual revolution.
If we are his disciples, then we to are called to grasp that vison and have such fire in our bellies that we will not rest until we see the Kingdom of God established.
MINISTER`S BLOG AUGUST 15TH
I`m not sure if you’ve ever seen one, but there are road signs warning motorists of elderly pedestrians using an image of a man and woman, the man using a walking stick and both of them stooped over. It`s not the most flattering depiction of the elderly but I suppose it conveys the message it was designed to deliver. It does however feed into the narrative that elderly people are necessarily frail and vulnerable,which isn`t always true.
Curvature of the spine can affect people of all ages and some of you may have seen videos online of patients with severe curvature who have had their lives transformed by surgery. This Sunday`s Gospel from Luke 13 vs 10-17 is an encounter between Jesus and a woman who was bent over and unable to stand up straight.
In such extreme cases, the person affected has a very limited range of vision. She could no longer easily look people in the eye. Her awareness of the world around her was severely restricted.
Not many of us are physically afflicted in the same way but there can be things that weigh us down and when they do,
one physical sign can be our slumped shoulders; our physical appearance can be a sign of how we are feeling emotionally.
I don`t know what is weighing you down today.
It may indeed be a physical problem but it may be a worry or anxiety, a secret, personal shame,
a habit, an addiction or an attitude.
But be assured of this, God doesn`t want us to be weighed down; he wants us to stand up straight, to be able to look other people in the eye and to see the beauty and wonder of the world that he created.
May you hear Jesus say to you today
“You are set free from your infirmity!”
MINISTER`S BLOG AUGUST 22ND
I type this, having just returned from conducting a wedding at church, only the second wedding that I have conducted at our own church since being appointed.
It was a lovely and heartfelt occasion and maybe all the more so because weddings are not as frequent as they have been in previous pastorates.
This Sunday`s Gospel is about a wedding, or at least the setting is a wedding. The reading is actually about humility and hospitality, according to the subheading in the New Revised Standard Version.
I don`t know about you but when I eat out I`m more interested in having a seat with a good view of the rest of the room. I don`t like having my back to a crowded space.
But Jesus is talking about a slightly different social setting, where there are many guests and their table placement signifies their status in the family or the community.
As a minister, I could make the somewhat mischievous observation that in Northern Ireland, the officiating clergyman at a wedding is usually placed on top table, from where he says Grace before the meal and introduces the speeches.
On the mainland the minister is lucky to be invited to the reception!
On the subject of humility, Jesus seems to be encouraging us to think in a completely different way to the rest of society. We are not to covet a place at the top table but to be content with the lowliest place instead.
He also has something to say about hospitality, which again is counterintuitive in today`s culture. When you throw a dinner party, he says, do not invite your friends, relatives or rich neighbours, safe in the knowledge that you will receive a return invitation and that with any luck, they will seek to outdo you in the cost and class of cuisine. ( A bit like “Come Dine With Me!) Unlike the TV programme, it is not, says Jesus, a competition. Don`t give to receive but rather offer hospitality to those who have no way of being able to reciprocate.
Now that is challenging teaching.
I wonder how our Christmas Day table might look
if we put that into practice!
MINISTER`S BLOG AUGUST 29TH
I hope, (God willing and EasyJet permitting) to be in Jersey from September 1st, returning on the Tuesday evening, the 6th. As I normally post out Letters & Prayers on a Monday, I am including two week’s worth this time.
My next two Sundays will be spent in very different ways. On September 4th I will be returning to my Presbyterian roots by attending worship at St Columba`s Church of Scotland in St Helier. Sitting “in the pew” will be a novel but welcome experience! And on September 11th I will be conducting worship and preaching at Wharton and Cleggs Lane Church (United Reformed & Methodist). I am looking forward to both services in different but positive ways. I hope that your worship over the next two weeks will be meaningful too.
I want to share with you, two short reflections on the Gospel passages for each of the next two Sundays. The first, on Luke 14 vs. 25-33 is by David Ewart.
The second, on Luke 15 vs. 1-10 is by Janet Hunt
I offer them both for your prayerful consideration.
Reflection for September 4th
This text begins and ends with an "all or nothing" injunction about following Jesus, with two practical illustrations in between. Given that at this point in his ministry, Jesus is beginning to sense the "all" that lies ahead for him personally (betrayal and denial by his closest companions, followed by false arrest, torture, and brutal execution), perhaps it is no wonder that his response to the large crowds is to challenge any hopes they may have for an easy entry to the messianic age. The way ahead will be hard, not magical. The word "hate" (as used in the NRSV) is clearly being used in an exaggerated sense and not literally. The Good News Bible's "love me more" is better but doesn't capture the sense of total commitment that the underlying Greek is saying.
These are hard sayings for us who are also trying to honour commitments we have also made to spouses, children, parents and bankers. We are in no position to literally follow the itinerant Jesus, who, as far as we know, had no property of his own, no home, no wife, no children, no job. This saying is also hard because we live in a culture and climate where we are bombarded with goods and promises for wonderful benefits with no mention of - much less any expectation of - paying a cost for them. We are spending and living as though there is no cost, no downside, no long-term consequences. So at a minimum these sayings of Jesus ought to draw us up short, cause us to reflect how much the choices we have already made are costing us - and our planet and to consider whether the costs of following Jesus might be a better investment. Indeed, the examples Jesus gives seem to invite this sort of sober, practical assessment.
Am I really willing to re-assess and change my commitments and priorities so that my commitment to following the way of Jesus is actually reflected in my marriage, parenting, working, spending, socializing? That's a big question. For most of those who were with Jesus that day the answer was, "No." I wonder what our churches would be like if everyone sat down and made a sober re-assessment of what it takes - and what they are willing to give - in order to follow the way of Jesus?
Reflection for September 11th
I was eight years old and in the third grade. We were outside for afternoon recess. I was away from my classmates and I did not see my teacher standing at her designated spot on the playground with one hand raised to signal it was time to go back inside. I did not see the other eight-year old's form a single file line and follow her up the fire escape stairs and back inside. I looked up from our play and scanned the children remaining on the playground and realized my class was gone. I scampered to the stairs and ran up them as quickly as I could and I found myself peering through the window of the fire door that locks when you go out and which will not open without a key and I saw my classmates taking off their jackets and hanging them on their designated hooks. My teacher saw me. And she told the other children not to let me in.
And so I sat at the top of those stairs and considered my options. I could walk around to the front of the building and make may way inside the other way. I could certainly walk on home, but then I would have to explain to my mother how I had managed to get locked out. I knew it was my 'fault.' I felt foolish and ashamed. And I did not want her to know.
Or I could just sit and wait. And so I did. Just sit and wait. For a good long hour I sat and waited until the school day was done and finally the door was opened to me so that I could come back in where I was kept after school to complete the lesson I had missed.
It was a profoundly shaming experience for me. I learned my lesson. I was never late again. Now through it all, I knew exactly where I was. I was perched at the top of the fire escape outside the third-grade classroom at Lincoln School on South Main Street in Rochelle. Even so, I was "lost." I was away from where I belonged.
My getting lost started with my getting separated from the flock, from my fellow third graders. My attention got distracted a little bit at a time and pretty soon there was no getting back to where I belonged on my own. The only way I could get back to where I belonged was if someone else opened the door.
Here is what I love about the stories before us now: They speak the certain truth that it is God's action that saves us and not our own. Like the lost sheep and the lost coin you and I simply cannot 'get found' all on our own. We cannot open the door ourselves. They speak vividly to God's intent always to rescue the lost.
All of us have been lost from time to time. By God's grace and gift we are found over and over again. Can you recall being lost in such a way that the only way you could 'get found' was by someone else's action? How does your experience compare to the shepherd with the lost sheep and the woman with the lost coin?
Janet H. Hunt
MINISTER`S BLOG SEPTEMBER 12TH
This morning I tested positive with Covid for the third time! So far, I have only been experiencing mild symptoms, and for that I am grateful. The main downside is of course the frustration of not being able to do all the usual things; shopping, meeting friends for a cuppa, pastoral visiting etc. The official advice is to self- isolate for at least 5 days and even then, only to go out if you have not got an abnormal temperature or continuing symptoms. However, if you are likely to be in contact with vulnerable people ( the elderly and those with underlying health conditions) then the advice is to self-isolate for longer.
In the light of such advice, it is highly unlikely that I will be conducting worship next Sunday. In preparation for such an eventuality I have compiled worship material based on the Gospel reading for that day and am grateful to Christine and Lynn who will be leading the service in my absence.
The gospel passage this week contains one of the most difficult and perplexing of Jesus` parables and I wasn`t looking forward to preaching on it. (But the Covid test was genuine!) I hope that what I have prepared makes at least some sense and that you may gain even a slight insight into Jesus` thinking.
The punchline, such as there is one, would appear to be that if the dishonest manager in the story was commended for his resourcefulness and creativity, then how much more should the children of light be single minded and imaginative in their pursuit of the Kingdom of God and its just principles.
I leave you with a reflection from a Roman Catholic publication, The Sacred Heart Messenger, for your prayerful consideration.
Hope to see you all, in person, before very long.
A REFLECTION ON LUKE 16 VS.1-13
“The gospel is the story of a man looking after himself and his family when he was losing a job. He let some debtors off the interest on a bill owed to his master so that they would look after him later.
Jesus doesn’t recommend dishonesty but recommends that we be as concerned for goodness as he was for dishonesty. The children of the world are clever – could we be as enthusiastic?
The parable is Jesus’ gentle humorous way of saying that we have to deal with life as it is, and it would be great if we would be as passionate in the cause of good as your man was in looking after himself! Jesus used this situation to teach us a lesson about money and God; he uses many situations to widen our view of God who is total love, total mercy, and total forgiveness. Let’s leave judgment to him
and widen the compassion of our hearts.
The parable makes us think that we get into messy situations, and this man was trying to do his best.
Probably letting the debtors off the huge interest and on what was owed, and which had been got in corrupt dealings!
God is bigger than any of our small laws and rituals.
The message as well is to use money in the service of God, ‘tainted though it is’.
We know how our wealth and prosperity can lead to greed or corruption, or to improving the lives of others. As with all we have,
all is gift and to be used for the common good.”
Donal Neary SJ
Editor of the Sacred Heart Messenger
MINISTER`S BLOG SEPTEMBER 19TH
Today produced a second consecutive negative Lateral Flow Test result and so I am able at last to safely go out.
It has come not a day too soon, as I have a busy few weeks coming up and really need to be fit and well.
This week I have a meeting with Rev Kathleen Loughlin, a fellow participant in the regular Outreach and Engagement meetings. Kathleen is a Mental health Chaplain in our area.
On Wednesday the Third Wednesday Club re-opens. opens. At the weekend I am attending a meeting of the Church Support Committee at CF offices in Nottingham, as the NW Area rep and Chairman of the Inter Church Board.
And on the Sunday I am conducting Harvest Worship at Greenacres Congregational Church in Oldham.
The Gospel for this coming Sunday, September 25th is Luke 16 vs. 19 to the end of the chapter. It is the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus, a familiar narrative that many of us remember from Sunday School but another one of Jesus` more challenging teachings.
To put it at its simplest, the story is a condemnation of indifference. The rich man was not necessarily cruel but he was apparently indifferent to the plight of the man at his gates.
Kitty Genovese was a young woman who was murdered in a New York residential district while at least 38 neighbours watched from their windows. During the course of the 30-minute assault, no one even telephoned the police. Studies have uncovered some surprising facts about these people. Interviews revealed that they were not totally indifferent as many had suspected. The main reason nobody did anything was that each person thought someone else would take the initiative to get help.
May God help us to see what we don`t want to see and to take action where ever need arises.
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
MINISTER`S BLOG SEPTEMBER 26TH
It has been great to be out and about again, not just locally but to be able to travel to Nottingham, a city I have really grown to love through my visits to the Congregational Federation offices there.
I attend regular meetings there of the Church Support Committee, a body which has representatives from all the nations and Areas of the CF in Great Britain.
It is a privilege to serve on this committee as it seeks to be informed of the joys and concerns of all our churches and to find ways of giving support and assistance. I usually bring a short pastoral report from the NW Area.
My other role at Church Support Committee is to report on the work of the Inter Church Board, of which I am chairman.
It is a joy to be able to represent the CF on various bodies and at different events.
It is good to be reminded that Church is wider than my own congregation or even denomination. We have much to learn from other Christians, as they, hopefully have much to learn from us.
I am looking forward to attending the Enabling Group of Churches Together in England at the Hayes Conference Centre in Derbyshire from October 6th to 7th.
I have come to know many members of this group quite well over recent years and enjoy sharing with them in seeking to support and guide the work of Churches together in England.
Remember, next time you are at church, that the Christian Church is bigger than just us and don`t forget that when you are praying at home, you are not on your own either, for we are all part of the family of God not only on earth but in heaven.
The fellowship of the Church spans time and eternity,
oceans and borders
and you and I are privileged to be a small part of it.
MINISTER`S BLOG OCTOBER 3RD
The date at the top of the Minister`s Letter this week says October 3rd but it has been written almost a week in advance. This is because I am away from Friday September 30th to Friday October 7th, with a quick overnight stay back home on October 5th.
Given the already unreliable nature of the train service, coupled with the pending national rail strikes, my plans to travel to London, Birmingham and back to Walkden again in that period, are at best, provisional. I`m trying not to even think about it at the minute. I will tell you how I fared in my next letter!
This Sunday`s Gospel for October 9th, is from Luke 17 vs. 11-19. I used this passage in the Harvest Thanksgiving Service I conducted at Greenacres Oldham on September 25th as it has something important to say about thankfulness.
It is a story which is a parable for our times. In a nation, where despite all the negative soundings in the media, we are comparatively well off, blessed with the benefits of a National Health Service, universal free education, a Welfare system, freedom of the press, law and order, impartial justice and the freedom to believe and practice our faith, what percentage of the population return to give thanks to God for such blessings?
All of us have much to thank God for but where is everyone on a Sunday morning?
It feels often that we are the one leper who returned to give thanks while God asks “But where are the other nine?
It is a sad indictment of today`s society that there is not that widespread sense of gratitude and desire to express it in public worship which once characterised us as a nation not too many decades ago.
I don`t want us to feel smug, having been identified as the thankful minority. Rather I hope that we will be inspired to encourage our fellow citizens to rediscover their lost sense of thankfulness and to find a welcome at our church to express their gratitude with us.