Minister`s Blog Jan-April 2023

 "The Church of the Warm Heart and the Open Mind"


 

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Minister ~ Rev Alan Kennedy 07733153203 01612703296 alanrk1690@gmail.com

MINISTER`S BLOG JANUARY 2ND 


May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy and peaceful new Year.


The year that was 2022 has passed and with it, perhaps those whom we have loved.    In 2022 I shared in the burial rites and funeral services for both my father and one of my uncles.


For some people last year saw the loss of a job or the breakdown of a relationship.

For others it was a disturbing diagnosis or period of prolonged illness.

For a whole host of reasons, many of us are glad to see the back of 2022.


But the change of year, a new calendar or diary, is not somehow going to guarantee any of us better “luck,” health or happiness in 2023. If only life were that simple.

 

For those of us who call ourselves Christians, we face the new year not with wishful thinking, optimism or luck, for none of these have any power to fully sustain us as we journey into the unknown.                                                The Christian Faith after all is not about rules and rituals, no matter how worthy or meaningful those may be, but about a relationship.

We step out into the unknow future not relying on our own strength but trusting in one who said, “ I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 

On December 25th 1939, King George VI spoke via radio to the Nation and Empire and included in his speech a poem given to him by his 13-year-old daughter Princess Elizabeth.


“I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’”


He finished by saying,


“May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.”


Amen and amen!



MINISTER`S BLOG JANUARY 9TH


The gospel passage for this coming Sunday

is John 1vs.29-42.

It tells how John the Baptist and the first disciples see and acknowledge Jesus as the Lamb of God.


John who has the experience of baptizing Jesus, who has seen the Spirit descending upon him in the form of a dove, is able to confidently point to Jesus as the Lamb of God. That was John’s experience and insight.


Two disciples of John then decide to follow Jesus, meet him and enquire about where he lives.

Having had the benefit of John’s theological identification of Jesus as the “Lamb of God”, I just love the way Jesus doesn’t respond, “Don’t you know who I am?”, or “What have you heard?”

Jesus’ response is a simple invitation to “Come and see.”


This response is so beautiful because it is open ended and does not require any prior pre-judged concepts of Jesus.


Isn’t that the miracle of the Jesus journey? 

Despite the countless layers of encrusted doctrine, dogma and determined identities that the Church has put onto Jesus as well as the requirements so many communities put on prospective followers before they even begin,

Jesus does not.


His invitation is simply to experience. 

“Come and see.”


It is an invitation to unprejudiced, undetermined, encounter. It is an adventure where the disciple and the teacher are in relationship and not merely formulaic ritual.

It is the path to life.


In this New Year, may one of our resolutions as a church    be to encourage others to “Come and See”!



MINISTER`S BLOG JANUARY 16TH


The Gospel passage for this Sunday, the Third after Epiphany, is about the call of the first disciples.


I want to share a few thoughts on this from an article by David Lose. He reminds us that we should consider not just our call but instead the call, God`s call,  God’s call to each and every one of us.


A deep sense of calling permeates this passage but leads us in different directions.

The call to John the Baptist leads to imprisonment.

Jesus’ withdrawal, which in Matthew is not about retreating but rather an intentional time to listen and respond to God’s call.

Then Jesus’ own call to the crowds to perceive and become a part of God’s in-breaking kingdom, followed by his call to a few specific fishermen, those he has called as his disciples to catch up all kinds of people in the net of God’s grace.


There are different kinds of callings, yet each is from God and I think you need to hear that.   We need to consider the connection between what we do and what we believe.

Maybe calling is less about what we do than who we are.


Think about it for a moment: God’s call isn’t simply to do something, but rather to be something, a child of God. Maybe being comes before doing. Maybe being even makes doing possible.


Is that what made it possible for John to proclaim the coming Messiah even when it meant his imprisonment?     


Is that what summoned such an immediate response from Peter and Andrew, James and John, that they felt called to be more than they had imagined?

They probably have no idea what being “fishers of men” even means at this point in the story, but they do know that Jesus sees something in them,

something of value and worth.

They have no idea where they will go,

or what they will do,

but they do know that Jesus is calling them

to be his disciples,

and they trust that the rest will become clear in time.


I want to remind you that you are called to be children of God. Even if you don’t quite know what being a child of God exactly means, know that God values and honours and loves you.

And something else, too, if you are open to being God’s children, you will learn over time what it means and, indeed, find all kinds of things to do in response to God’s call.

Before God calls us to do anything God first calls us to be something: God’s own beloved children.

And knowing this, we can trust that the rest will follow.



MINISTER`S BLOG JANUARY 23RD


The Gospel for this week, (according the online Lectionary that I use,) the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, is Matthew 5:1-12.


It is a passage normally referred to as The Beatitudes.

The Rev Dr Janet Hunt, whose online reflections I find very interesting, describes the beatitudes as “ a roadmap for the reign of God”.


She says this about this Sunday`s gospel;


“It is but a few short verses before this in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus encapsulates his message in one urgent phrase:

 

“Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near!” (Matthew 4:17)                                                             


Indeed, with that as a backdrop, I find myself wondering if the start of his sermon here is actually a road map laden with signs so that we will recognize the reign of God when we encounter it.

I wondered what it would look like if I carried these words with me through a day or two or more and consciously looked for signs of the nearness of God’s reign through the lens of these familiar words.                                       Might I see those who are, in fact, ‘poor in spirit,’ or those who mourn or the meek or those hungering and thirsting for righteousness?                                                            Might I be able to bear witness to acts of mercy,

purity of heart,

and those doing all they can to actually make peace?                                                                                          Indeed, might I catch a glimpse of what it is to be persecuted for the sake of Jesus?”

 

She goes on to give a few examples, just a couple of which I cite here;


"And so, with Jesus’ teaching as a guide, I decided to venture out with fresh eyes. This is what I encountered:

I listened to a woman whose voice broke as she prayed for a friend who was suffering far from home…


“Blessed are those who mourn…”


I heard another speak of patience needed in waiting for seeds of mission to take root and grow in a congregation which is relatively new to her…


“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”


Having experienced example sf all of the beatitudes, in action, she concluded,


“And so I wonder now…

What do you think? Can the beatitudes serve as a road map for recognizing the nearness of the Reign of God?

If so, where have you seen similar signs of the nearness of God’s Reign in these last days?

If you but hone your eyes and ears and heart to recognize it, where might you encounter God’s reign in the days to come?

Of course just recognizing it doesn’t answer the question of how these unlikely experiences actually are blessings, but it is a start.

At the very least, it seems to me, as we begin by encountering them, perhaps our understanding of the truth of their parodoxes will deepen in us as well.

What do you think?”

 

As you and I go about our lives this coming week, may we not only look for examples of the reign of God in our midst but seek to be living signs of the Kingdom ourselves.



MINISTER`S BLOG JANUARY 30TH


Inspired  by a member our church at Affetside, I have decided this Sunday to mark the Feast of Candlemas.

I had heard of Candlemas but must admit that I didn`t know that much about it. And so a period of online research ensued!


Lets begin with a dictionary definition;


Candlemas - A Christian festival held on 2 February to commemorate the purification of the Virgin Mary (after childbirth, according to Jewish law) and the presentation of Christ in the Temple.

Candles were traditionally blessed at this festival.


Wikipedia tell us;


It falls on 2 February, which is traditionally the 40th day (postpartum period) of and the conclusion of the ChristmasEpiphany season.

While it is customary for Christians in some countries to remove their Christmas decorations on Twelfth Night (Epiphany Eve), those in other Christian countries historically remove them after Candlemas.                     


On Candlemas, many Christians (especially Eastern OrthodoxLutherans,  Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Methodists) also bring their candles to their local church, where they are blessed and then used for the rest of the year;  for Christians, these blessed candles serve as a symbol of Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the World.


I`m not sure that many Methodists or for that matter, Anglicans that I know, would go along with Wikipedia on this one!

However, based on all the above, I won`t be commemorating the Purification of the Virgin Mary but I thought that we could usefully reflect on the story of Christ`s presentation in the temple.


The key verse from today`s Gospel for me, is Luke 2:30-32,


For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,                            a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel.” NRSV                                                                                                                                     I`m sorry but I don`t think that you can better the majesty of the King James Version when it comes to these verses,                                                                                                                                                                  “A light to lighten the gentiles”. KJV


Jesus is the Light of the World and has called you and I to be lights, not because we have any innate brightness of our own, in any sense of that word (even if we believe ourselves to be enlightened) but because we reflect His light and have been bathed in and transformed by it.


Let your little light shine this week!



MINISTER`S BLOG FEBRUARY 6TH


This week the lectionary readings continue                        with the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-37)       

and some very hard-hitting teaching by Jesus on topics, like anger, adultery, divorce and swearing oaths;

not the kind of sermon series most ministers would be eager to embark on!                                                                                                                                              But Jesus, as ever, has his own unique approach.

The Jewish Law, which was both incredibly detailed and demanding, had little room for nuance.

Things were black and white.

It was often about actions and their consequences and falling foul of the religious law

had profound repercussions.                                           


Jesus in this passage focuses not so much on the outward action but the inner motivation.

Jesus is interested in the heart.                                                                                     

I like this reflection on today`s theme which I found online.


“It is easy to go to church on Sunday

and sing hymns and pray prayers.

It is easy to not steal, not kill, not commit adultery.

But simply obeying these laws

does not bring life to us or to those around us.


It is when we allow God to capture our hearts

with the truth of the Gospel,

when we allow God to continually and disturbingly challenge and grow our hearts,

when we live from the inside out,

ensuring that our hearts are filled with Christ’s love

and are right with God and others,

and allow that to guide our speech and actions,

then we become those who make a healing,

restoring impact on the world around us,

and who both find, and bring to others, fullness of life.


This living from the heart takes far more work,

and far more awareness than legalism.

It requires us to allow God to constantly challenge

our attitudes and convictions,

to constantly transform our feelings and reactions

and to constantly call us to a higher standard.”


Growing up I remember a little chorus that went something like this,


“Into my heart, into my heart,

come into my heart Lord Jesus.                                        Come in today, come in to stay,

come into my heart Lord Jesus.”


May that be our prayer this week.



MINISTER`S BLOG FEBRUARY 13TH


This coming Sunday is the last Sunday before the Season of Lent and is also Transfiguration Sunday.                      For many churches who do not follow the Lectionary,          I wonder if their clergy ever actually choose to preach on The Transfiguration.                   

I doubt if it`s in any preacher`s top ten topics for a sermon.                                                         

This is why I am glad that at college, we were introduced to the Lectionary, as it is a great discipline for both ministers and congregations to guide them through the scriptures in an orderly fashion.


I have always liked Saint Paul`s call for things in the church to be done “decently and in order”!


So, having set myself up for a fall, what do I make of the biblical story of the transfiguration of Christ?


Those who take scripture literally will say that the story speaks for itself, namely, “And he was transfigured before them and his face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white."


Those who take a more nuanced view of scripture might say, using a phrase that is familiar, that the disciples began to see Jesus in a new light.

Perhaps that is what Matthew is trying to convey

through this highly symbolic language.                   

Not only is Jesus face and clothing transformed and dazzling, an indication of something otherworldly, even heavenly but he is joined by two highly important characters from what we call the Old Testament,

Moses and Elijah.                            

These are revered figures in Judaism and even the mere mention of them in the same breath as Jesus,

helps to confer a special significance on him,

an endorsement if you like,

in the same way that a politician of today would value the endorsement of revered figures from the party`s past.


Matthew combines these two supernatural aspects,

Jesus dazzling appearance and historical visitors,

to confirm that  Jesus is not only special in his own right but is part of the ongoing revelation of God

dating back to the beginning of salvation history.


Either way, scripture assures us that Jesus is  not to be ignored and that who he is and what he has to say,

is of immense significance for our lives and for the world.


It is my prayer as we stand on the threshold of Lent,

that we too might see Jesus afresh in a new way

and that having seen him in a new light,

will never be the same again,

for we too will have been transfigured and transformed.

 

 

GOD UNSHELTERED
Matthew 17: 1-9


The mind would build its shelters,
its walls, its solid boundaries,

its holding pens for those mysteries
that challenge the edges of thought;

would seek to grasp, to domesticate
the God beyond comprehension;

would seek with dogma’s fences
to keep wonder dulled and distant,

the heart thus safely protected
from the love that burns like fire.

See it consuming Moses on his mountain,
see it sweeping Elijah into heaven,

see it shining like the sun from Jesus’ face,
this love that moves God, unsheltered,

down the mountain, to the road to the cross.

Andrew King



MINISTER`S BLOG FEBRUARY 20TH 


We are now in the Season of Lent.

For many it is an opportunity to give something up,

like chocolate or sugar, alcohol or fatty food.

It is often suggested that a more positive approach during Lent might be to take something up,

rather than give something up.

Maybe take up exercise, like walking for example.              (Following my gallbladder operation on February 24th  the advice is not to take to one`s bed but to do gentle exercise. We shall see!)         

Maybe take up reading as a pastime.

During the pandemic I bought and read more books than ever but have unfortunately let things slide since.                                           

There are other things of a more spiritual nature that one could consider; more attention to Bible reading or prayer. Thanks to modern technology, our personal devotions no longer need to be book- based.

Why not explore the preaching and teaching of excellent Christian communicators online or discover some inspiring Christian music, whether it be the traditional sound of a massed choir or the more contemporary vibe of a band, group or solo artist.


Or why not combine the spiritual with the practical and ask your shut-in neighbour if you can do some shopping for them, or pick up their prescription from the chemist.


Whatever you decide to do different, 

do less of, or more of this Lenten Season,

may it be not merely for your own benefit

but for the good of others and the greater glory of God!



A Lectionary poem for the First Sunday of Lent


WILDERNESS by Andrew King based on Matthew 4: 1-11

 

How few of us know wilderness,
here in these towns, sprawling cities,
the grey of their streets,
green shrunk down to
dots of lawn, patches of park,
the remnant trees silent
in their memories of an earth
mourning its lost forests
as Rachel would mourn for her children.


Perhaps this is wilderness: this loss
of wild nature, its replacement by
concrete and asphalt and steel,
its thinning rivers,                                                  its sickened oceans,
its creatures dwindling like the leaves
of a disease-stricken tree.


Perhaps this wilderness is where
the Christ must come today:
into this new human solitude,
this place slowly being emptied
of all life not our own,
this place where even God
becomes harder to find,
our relationship to the divine
put under hard pressure,
our temptation to be ourselves
the only god we will serve,
tempted to pretend we are invulnerable.

 

O Holy One, come into this,
our self-made wilderness.


Come be with us in the loneliness of
our smart phones and computers,
come be with us in our hunger
for the meaning of our life,
come into the wasteland we
are making of the earth,
this kingdom of our arrogance where
we so often forget the life-giving love of God.


O Holy One, help us here,
before this wilderness becomes
one we do not
know how to leave.



MINISTER`S BLOG FEBRUARY 27TH


This Sunday`s Gospel (John 3:1-17) includes that well known verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)


It has been described by many as “the gospel in a nutshell” and indeed it is encapsulates the will and purpose of God in salvation.

It is a verse I was very familiar with in church and Sunday School growing up in Northern Ireland.


Another verse, even more familiar in some circles is John 3:7 “….Ye must be born again.”

This is a text that is displayed in Northern Ireland not just on church notice boards but on lamp posts in urban areas and even on telegraph posts in the middle of the countryside.

It encapsulates another view of salvation and is often shorthand for a set of beliefs and attitudes which many Christians find narrow and exclusive, if not excluding.

It was many years before I discovered that John 3 vs 7 is more correctly translated as “You must be born from above” (New Revised Standard Version).


There are a number of things to note about this translation.


The Greek word for you in this verse is plural. This is a reminder that salvation is not merely an individual matter but one that encompasses entire communities and even the world.

It`s not all about me.

I cringe when I recall a chorus from my childhood which contained the line, “One door and only one and yet the sides are two. I`m on the inside. Which side are you?”


“Born from above” is a reminder that this is not about natural birth, as we know it.

It is not about entry into a narrow and confining space

but rather the opposite.

Spiritual birth is about entering into a wide and vast experience of the love and grace of God, a love without limits.

When we are “born from above” we begin to see the world as God sees it, through his eyes of compassion and mercy.


Oh that all of us could be truly “born from above”!



A Lectionary Poem for the Second Sunday of Lent


Heart Becoming Morning by Andrew King

based on John 3:1-17


You are returning from
seeing the rabbi
from Nazareth,
making your way past
doorways of shadows,
past the street corners’
intersecting griefs,
past the windows
where ghosts lean out
to question the sky lit by
the same stars that held
promise for Abraham
so long ago.


Long ago you stopped
asking the stars for clarity.
Long ago your heart
became evening,
grey and empty
as old promises
of a new kingdom
of God.


Long years you’ve seen
the same twilight
in faces at the temple.
When, and how – you hear
saddened eyes asking –
will our dying hopes
be lifted?
When, O Lord, will
we see new life?


You have asked
those questions,
searched parchment
for answers.


But tonight you walked
these streets to meet
this new rabbi,
this one who breaks patterns,
this challenger of authority,
this maker of wine
from simple water,

to hear words like
a light flickering
at the edges
of sight,
a lamp kindled inside
a side room:



MINISTER`S BLOG MARCH 6TH


This Sunday`s Gospel is from John 4:5-42. It is a long reading but the story is normally referred to with the short title “The woman at the well”.


I`d like to share with you some thoughts from the United Reformed Church`s online resource “Worship Notes”. 

It points up the contrast between the Samaritan woman and Nicodemus as well as the woman and the disciples.


Firstly,

“Nicodemus is part of the religious in-group,                       the woman is a Samaritan;

 Nicodemus comes at night,   

 the woman comes to Jesus in the middle of the day;   Nicodemus does not understand who Jesus is,             

 the woman recognises him as the Messiah.”


Secondly,

“The disciples are scandalised when they see Jesus talking to the woman, but are unable to challenge him. Interestingly, they have a conversation with Jesus about food and completely fail to see that he is not actually talking about physical food, whilst Jesus and the woman spoke about water and she understands he is not talking about actual water!”


It is interesting that the Samaritan woman, the outsider, the one regarded as unworthy and inferior is the one whose mind and heart are open to Christ and as a result her friends and neighbours are introduced to the Good News.      

This is a parable for Christians, as sadly, the Church, including the denomination in which I was Baptised and Admitted to the Lord`s Table, is too often engaged in erecting barriers and excluding those it deems unworthy because of their sex or sexuality.

The living water that Jesus gives is for all and cannot be dammed up is some reservoir of respectability or (self)righteousness.


Many years ago I remember singing this chorus,


“Peace is flowing like a river,                                              flowing out through you and me.                                      Flowing out into the desert,                                              setting all the captives free.”


May the refrain be our prayer,


“Let it flow through you let it flow through me.                   Let the mighty peace of God flow out through me.”



A Lectionary Poem for the Third Sunday of Lent


Waiting at The Well by Andrew King                          based on John 4:5-42


How often have I come here,
Jesus, to this place of
old faith and fresh neediness,
bent down with the burden
of my failures, stumbling
in my thirsting for hopefulness,
the cracked vessel of my heart
leaking grief. . .


how often have I come here
not expecting you in the heat
of my pressures,
not expecting you in the stress
of my confusion,
yet meeting you
who offers water to the helpless,
who quenches the raw thirst
for acceptance,
who gives the deep sustenance
of kindness without payment,
the nourishment of love without limit. . .


how often have you met me,
refilling my heart, leaving me
astonished again in the depths of my being
that you waited here
for me, even me?



MINISTER`S BLOG MARCH 13TH


This coming Sunday is Mothering Sunday and lest there be any confusion, it is not Mother`s Day!                          Mother`s Day originated in the United States, where it is observed on the second Sunday in May. 


In this country Mothering Sunday is observed on the Fourth Sunday of Lent. In the 16th century, Mothering Sunday was less about mothers and more about church. Back then, people would make a journey to their ‘mother’ church once a year.                                                    This might have been their home church, their nearest cathedral or a major parish church in a bigger town.          The service which took place at the ‘mother church` symbolised the coming together of families.                  This would have represented a significant journey for many.                                                                           


Another tradition was to allow those working in the fields on wealthy farms and estates in England to have the day off on the fourth Sunday of Lent to visit their mothers and possibly go to church too. This was a variation on the theme of visiting the 'mother' church and was a move towards a more family focussed occasion.


Saint Paul, writing to his young assistant, Timothy, said    “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.”


Our late treasurer Bernard Pennington used to become very emotional when he recalled his mother singing him to sleep with the words of the hymn “Jesus tender shepherd hear me, bless thy little lamb tonight.”                              But when he teared up, he set me off as I had the same childhood memory myself.                                               


How much we owe  to faithful Christian mothers who nurtured us in the Faith from our earliest days.


Let us celebrate that faithfulness and may we ever seek to emulate it!


MINISTER`S BLOG MARCH 20TH


This week`s Gospel comes from John 11 vs.1-45 and is commonly known as the Story of the Raising of Lazarus. 


I came across this short meditation on the passage by a Benedictine Nun, Sr Kym Harris on the website Pray as You Can, and offer it to you for your own reflections:


“When Martha and Mary sent news to Jesus of Lazarus’ illness, they implicitly wanted Jesus to do a miracle. When he failed to arrive and Lazarus had been dead for three days, Martha’s belief in Jesus as ‘the Resurrection’ focussed on the Last Day when all would rise.                   


In other words, her faith was one that looked for miracles in this life and saw the glory of God being revealed in the next life.                                                                       It was a form of religion that saw God separate from human life, as one who erupted in extraordinary events and rewarded people after death.


The faith that the Gospel of John presents is quite different. It understands ‘miracles’ as signs of the glory of God already present in human life and sees resurrection occurring here in this world when people have faith in Jesus.                                                                            God is not separate from human existence but very much involved in its drama. This is why Jesus states that his glory is revealed when he is lifted up, that is when he is being crucified.


In the very disgrace of crucifixion God’s glory is revealed because Jesus has remained faithful in love. This is called the ‘realized eschatology’ of John.


When Jesus comes, he transforms the nature of religion. We are not called to be live good, moral lives so that God may reward us with miracles in this life and blessedness in the next. We are called to live and love like God so that people see the glory of God in this world.                          When we forgive freely, serve all lovingly, give without counting the cost, the glory of God is revealed in our lives. When we face the difficult, dark and even dead places of our lives with hope, we know that Christ is again rising in our world. This is our faith, this is the glory to which we are called.”


MINISTER`S BLOG MARCH 27TH


This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week.          It is normally a bright service with hymns, readings and prayers which celebrate what is referred to as Christ`s “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem.


We will join enthusiastically in the singing of the traditional “Ride on, ride on, in majesty” and the more contemporary “Make way, make way for Christ the king”.


We will gladly  distribute and receive palm crosses but therein comes the challenge, for the palm cross reminds us that many among the palm waving crowds who shouted `hosanna`, were the same people who a week later were shouting `crucify`.


If you have access to the internet, search on YouTube for “Nicolae Ceausescu – last speech”. It is a chilling reminder of how fickle a crowd`s allegiance can be and how fatal the consequences of their disloyalty.                                  The video shows the dictator addressing what he assumed was an entirely loyal mass demonstration on December 21st, 1989, in Bucharest.                                                  But the initial applause changes to shouts of disapproval and whistles. He calls on the crowd to calm down and sit down. He asks, “What`s wrong with you?”.                       


The spell had been broken. The tide had turned and within  48 hours the Ceausescus were trying to flee Romania. They were captured, tried and executed a few days later, as enemies of the new Romanian state.                                                                                                                Are we loyal followers of Jesus, or only when it suits us? Does what we say or do, give the game away?                After Jesus` arrest, Peter is in the courtyard of Caiaphas, the High Priest and someone in the crowd recognises him as a disciple of Jesus, saying, “This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth” Peter denies it but another bystander replies with the stinging judgement “Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee.”                      (From Matthew 26:69-73 KJV)                                       


As we embark on Holy Week, does what we say or do, testify to the One we claim to follow, or betray Him?



MINISTER`S BLOG APRIL 3RD


This Sunday is Easter Sunday, the pinnacle and climax of the Christian Year. At Easter we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, no matter how we chose to interpret the gospel account. For some it is an historical event and for others a profound spiritual metaphor.


But whether you are a biblical literalist or someone who interprets scripture somewhat differently, there is a truth that we all share, namely that this is a story of the ultimate triumph of good over evil.


That truth, represented in the story of Easter, is at the very heart of the Christian Faith. Saint Paul was quite clear - just read 1st Corinthians chapter fifteen!            


One of my favourite readings, which I often use at Easter, is from that chapter;


“..if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.                                                                                                            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.”         

1st Corinthians 15:14 &17.


It is the resurrection and all that it represents, which sets Christianity apart from other religious, philosophical or ethical systems.

Yes, there are profound insights in the teachings of Jesus that can be appreciated by people of all faiths and of none but it is this deep belief in the triumph of Christ and the ultimate victory over sin, disease and death, which has the power to transform lives, societies and even the world.


1st Corinthians 15 also contains these precious truths;


“For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy  to be destroyed is death.

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.”


Whatever challenges you are facing at this time,

whether they be physical, emotional, spiritual or financial, be assured by the truth of the Easter story,

that God is ultimately in control,

that his purposes are good

and that in Him, you can be secure.


Let me end by sharing one more gem from 1st Corinthians 15,


“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”


Amen and amen!


Have happy and blessed Easter.

 

 

Easter Day by Christina Rossetti


Words cannot utter
Christ His returning:
Mankind, keep jubilee,
Strip off your mourning,
Crown you with garlands,
Set your lamps burning.


Speech is left speechless;
Set you to singing,
Fling your hearts open wide.
Set your bells ringing:
Christ the Chief Reaper
Comes, His sheaf bringing.


Earth wakes her song-birds,
Puts on her flowers.
Leads out her lambkins.
Builds up her bowers:
This is man’s spousal day,
Christ’s day and ours.



MINISTER`S BLOG APRIL 10TH


This week`s Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter is from John 20 vs 19 to the end. It is the story of one who has become known as “doubting Thomas”.


I want to share with you part of a reflection I found online by David Roberts. May it be a blessing to you.


“Easter absorbs both joy and triumph as well as fear and disbelief and is irreducible to just one experience of it.

It would be easier if Easter were only the trumpet blasts and Alleluias.

Or, it might even be easier if Easter were only fear and disbelief. But Easter is all of this, it holds all of it, even the contradictory emotions, and makes them one.


That is what makes Thomas’ response to news of the resurrection so authentic and so holy

in this week’s gospel text.                                                          

After the resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples, all except one. When he finally does resurface and his fellow disciples share the good news that they have seen their resurrected Lord, Thomas has some pretty strong reservations.

It takes Jesus a full week to reappear to the disciples.

And this time Thomas is with them.

He is waiting.


What, I wonder, made him stay, after such an adamant refusal to believe his friends’ reports?                              Perhaps he wanted to see if Jesus was true to his word, that he would, as he had once promised, go at all costs in search of the one lost sheep.

Maybe he had faith in his Lord.

So he waited in the darkness of his own unbelief for the ghost of God to reappear and breath on him, too.

This, to me, is more difficult and more courageous than the simple act of believing.


That Thomas waits, while disbelieving, is the very definition of faithfulness, if not faith itself.                         


Sure, Thomas rather petulantly refuses to believe his friends, but he demonstrates faith that can move mountains, or at the least, pin one’s doubts to a room to wait on the return of a long-dead Lord.

And in my experience, the latter is the more frustrating, miraculous even, work of faith.                                        To have the courage to wait. 


And yet we know him as Thomas the Doubter.                  But in truth, he is Thomas the Brave.

And it is time to reclaim him."


Lectionary Poem for Sunday April 16th 


WHAT THOMAS WANTS
(John 20: 19-31)


Thomas knows all about crucifixion.
Knows the nails driven into the victim
really tear the flesh, damage the bones.                            And he knows that this is a crucifying world,
with all its violence, greed and oppression

still hammering nails into the hands of justice,
still thrusting spears through the ribs of love,
still hanging mercy and kindness to die
and sealing up the tomb.


Thomas knows all about it.
So he knows that any real resurrection

will have to come out of ruin,
will have to come out of suffering,

will have to come out still bearing the scars

inflicted by the unjust world.


Ask him not if he believes in a God
merely greater than suffering or death;

any God worth the title would surely prove immortal,
who may be able to pretend our pain
but could never share it in truth.


No, what Thomas wants to see
is the Lord who rises from
death by crucifixion,

who rises from the worst that our world can do:
who rises from hells of corruption and cruelty,
who rises from violence and terror and hate,
who rises from rape and torture and war,
who rises from hunger and disease and squalor,
who rises torn and terribly scarred
yet walking among us still,

who will touch us
in our woundedness,
who will hold us
in our brokenness,
who sees in us
the prints left by the nails,

who puts his own hurt hand upon
our heartache, fear and despair
and breathe his healing peace
into our souls.


This is who Thomas wants to see – the only
Lord he wants to believe in.

Thomas just wants
to see
Jesus.



MINISTER`S BLOG APRIL 17TH


Easter Sunday may have been and gone, but this is still the Season of Easter and this Sunday is the Third Sunday of Easter.


Indeed as someone once remarked, as Christians, we are Easter People, for our lives are lived in the light and the grace of the Easter story.


This week I found a meditation on Sunday`s gospel (Luke 24:13-35) by Bruce Epperly and wanted to share it with

you.


“Easter is about embodied movement. Resurrection moved the cells as well as the soul of Jesus, and the cells and souls of his followers. Resurrection still gets us out of our comfort zones and calls us to the open road, spiritually, ethically, and sometimes physically.


A walk and a meal can transform your life, and that’s what happened in the encounter of Jesus with two of his earliest followers. Trudging down the road, two utterly confused followers are joined by a third man. Their world has been turned upside down by the events of the past week: celebration, conflict, violence, and death, and now the possibility that their martyred spiritual leader has come back to life.


Resurrection is just as unsettling as crucifixion.  It doesn’t fit into any rational world view, including the theology of resurrection of the first century Jewish people. They could imagine a resurrection of all humanity at the end of history, but not the resurrection of  a solitary individual.


But they walk the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, first sharing their common grief, and then entering into a strange conversation with their unexpected companion, who unfolds the story of salvation through resurrection to them.

Somehow, they cannot recognize their companion as the teacher and healer Jesus.

Perhaps, it is a bit of divine magic allowing them to gently adapt to a new way of seeing; perhaps, it is the highly energetic body of their companion that both reveals and conceals Jesus’ identity.


Confused and grief stricken, the two men nevertheless reach out to the stranger. They invite him to supper and come to know his identity as the Risen Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

Their hospitality leads to a theophany, an encounter with the Risen Jesus, who is known in the simple Eucharistic acts of praying and eating.


Movement and meal lead to revelation, and then Jesus is gone, vanishing from their sight, but leaving them with warmed hearts, lively spirits, and energetic bodies.

They are so energized that they walk seven miles back to Jerusalem to share their good news that Jesus is risen and on the road.


After breaking the bread, Jesus vanished from their sight. He may have needed to be on the move as well.

God is not static, imprisoned by yesterday’s revelations and the church’s creeds and scriptures.

God is alive and on the move, doing new things and sharing new insights with other pilgrims on the journey.


We really don’t know where Emmaus is located. Several possibilities have been surfaced, but perhaps vagueness is a virtue.

In not localizing Emmaus, we can open to the possibility that Emmaus is everywhere.

Wherever we are on the road and at every mealtime,

Jesus comes to us, filled with energy and possibility, and the joy of resurrection.

We can have new life, and we can be born again,

right now at any venue.


Let’s keep moving, and chart new adventures, because Jesus walks beside us on the road.”


 

A Sonnet for Easter by Malcolm Guite 

 

We thought that everything was lost and gone,

Disaster on disaster overtook us

The night we left our Jesus all alone

And we were scattered,                                                    and our faith forsook us.

But oh that foul Friday proved far worse,

For we had hoped that he had been the one,

Till crucifixion proved he was a curse,      

And on the cross                                                              our hopes were all undone.


Oh foolish foolish heart why do you grieve?

Here is good news and comfort to your soul:

Open your mind to scripture and believe

He bore the curse for you to make you whole

The living God was numbered with the dead

That He might bring you Life in broken bread.




MINISTER`S BLOG APRIL 24TH


This Sunday`s Gospel is John 10 vs 1-10.

I am always curious to see what headings different translations and paraphrases of scripture choose to give to the same passage.


It is "Jesus, the Good Shepherd" in the NRSV,

"The Shepherd and His Flock" in the NIV

and “He calls His sheep by name” in The Message.                       

But I want to focus on the last verse of our gospel reading, the punch line, if you like for a moment.                                                                                              "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full." NIV                                                

“... that they may have life and have it abundantly" NRSV                                                                

But I don`t think you can beat the Authorised Version on this one,                                                  

"that they may have life and have it more abundantly"!   


Jesus the Good Shepherd has come to give us life and life more abundantly.                                                    This abundant life is not the result of self-help,

self -realization, or self-discovery.

It is not about "finding yourself". It`s about being found by God, for only in him do we find meaning and wholeness - salvation.

And it is not a solitary experience. Yes, it is individual and unique and personal. Every person`s encounter with God and road to faith is their encounter and their road but it leads us into relationship not only with God but with our brothers and sisters in Christ.


Is not the story of the Church, the story of men and women who are living life and life to the full, life more abundantly? 

And what happens when the church lives that kind of life? I`ll tell you -

"the Lord added to their number daily, those who were being saved."                                                                When we as the church live out the abundant life that the Good Shepherd has won for us, it will have consequences. It will have an effect. Others will want to find and experience that abundant life for themselves and when they do, I pray that this  minister and this church will be here, ready and willing and energised by the Spirit to welcome them with open arms into the kingdom of Christ`s abundant life.








 

 

 



This coming Thursday is Ascension Day.

Unlike our friends in the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, as Nonconformists, we tend not to celebrate Feast Days.

Particularly among the early Congregationalists, there was an almost extreme reaction against anything that  smelt of the Established Church.

Thankfully, in these more open and ecumenical times, we have learned to appreciate each other`s traditions and to see these as gifts to the wider Body of Christ, rather than practices to be shunned. 

One such gift is Ascension day.                       

I`m not going to attempt to explain the Ascension in a matter of a few sentences but what I would ask us to do is to consider one aspect of the doctrine. To put it very simply, the physical Christ is no longer with us but we, as his disciples, are the Body of Christ on earth today. That is both an awe inspiring thought and a daunting one at the same time. We are called to be Jesus to the world today and particularly in our own community. We are his ambassadors, his representatives. How well have you represented Jesus in this past week?

Have people seen and recognised Christ in your actions and attitudes, your words and deeds?

The task is, as I say , both awe inspiring and daunting but Jesus didn`t leave us to do this all on our own. He promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God would be given to all those who seek for it, so that we could know and experience Jesus working through us.

That`s what the following Sunday, Pentecost, is all about. But let's not get  ahead of ourselves.                                           

Let the Feast of the Ascension this week challenge us all to consider how we are being Christ`s Body on earth today. The poem "He has no hands but our hands" is printed overleaf. Please read it prayerfully.