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13th September 2015

What say you?

John 8:2-11
At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered round him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’

‘No one, sir,’ she said.

‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’


The Ash Wednesday reading for this year is from John 8:7… What is interesting about this passage is that it didn’t actually make it into the Bible until the 3rd century. It is unlike the usual way that the rest of this gospel is written – ignoring the pro and epilogues, we will cover those another time, but if you get the chance do have a look at the ending of John’s Gospel…all three of them! It is thought that the copyist who inserted it here was possibly trying to illustrate Jesus saying that he will pass judgement on no-one later in the chapter, in verse 15.

Anyway, Jesus had returned from the Mount of Olives, and is being harassed yet again by the Pharisees. They have bought a woman to him who they claimed had been caught committing adultery (nothing is ever said about the man with whom the alleged crime took place you’ll notice!) This married woman knows there is very high chance of being killed by the then common practice of stoning under the guise of the Law of Moses, as written in Deuteronomy 22. The Pharisees tell Jesus this has to be the outcome, and are trying to test him, again. They want him to either go against the word of Moses, and as a teacher of the Jewish faith of course he could not, or they want him to go against the authority of Rome, as Roman law had deprived the Jews of their rights to stone people to death – they thought they had him!

The gospel says, When they persisted in questioning him, he straightened up and told them, "Let the person among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." In the same situation now, knowing what we do, as the woman, you would be petrified! It is a wonderful thing to say, and it should be said more nowadays if you ask me – ok then, the one of you who is without sin and has NEVER done anything wrong can judge… that would make people stop and think before acting in certain ways! Of course, there WAS someone there who was without sin – Jesus – and he and only he had every right to cast that first stone…and we can only imagine the carnage that would have occurred after that.

What would have happened if one of the Pharisees had cottoned on to this, picked up a stone, handed it to Jesus and said ,’here you go then…’ But they didn’t. Thankfully. Because they understood not a jot of whose company there were truly in. There is a wonderful part when Jesus seems to simply ignore them, and starts to write on the ground with his finger. We’re not told what or really why., and there are many, many schools of thought about this, but in Jeremiah 17:13 in some translations it is written, ‘Those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth for they have forsaken the Lord’ …but in the Pharisees’ trying to get Jesus on the back foot and make a mistake, his calm demeanour must have had them all hopping from foot to foot in madness – how funny! So, Christ neither found fault with the law, nor excused the woman's guilt; nor did he tolerate the pretended zeal of the Pharisees.

People are actually self-condemned who judge others, and yet do the same thing. All who are any way called to blame the faults of others, are especially concerned to look to themselves, and keep themselves and their lives in order. In this situation, Jesus did precisely what he came into the world to do, and that was, to bring sinners to repentance; not to destroy, but to save. He aimed to bring, not only the accused to repentance, by showing her his mercy, but the prosecutors also, by showing them their sins; they thought to ensnare him, he sought to convince and convert them. Check mate to Jesus! AND he declined to meddle with the magistrate's office. Many crimes merit far more severe punishment than they meet with; but that isn’t for us to concern ourselves with. When Christ sent the woman away, it was with this caution, Go, and sin no more. If you help to save the life of a criminal, you must also help to save their soul with the same care. They are truly happy, whom Christ does not condemn.

And as we moan that our lives could be so much better, they could, remember, be so much worse. When I think about when Jesus was writing in the dust the following Lenten poem by George Herbert springs to mind…

Lord, who hast form’d me out of mud,
And hast redeem’d me through thy blood,
And sanctifi’d me to do good;
Purge all my sins done heretofore:
For I confess my heavy score,
And I will strive to sin no more.
Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,
With faith, with hope, with charity;
That I may run, rise, rest with thee.
May God bless and keep us all safe,
healthy and though able to cast a stone
be always unwilling to do so.
Christ's favour to us
in the forgiveness of past sins
should prevail with us,
So, Go then,
and sin no more. Amen



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6th September 2015

Coincidence or God-incidence

I believe there is no such thing as a coincidence. I fervently try to believe, as I wade through yet another stack of forms to fill in to take me onto the next tentative step along the process of discernment towards potential ordination, that God has had a plan for me since before I was born. If that plan doesn’t include ordination I shall be looking for a job where I can complete forms as I am getting rather good at it! This is called Predestination.

Paul tells us that we were chosen "before the foundation of the world”. Our predestination does not mean that we cannot make free will choices. God predestines in and through our choices because God is all knowing and all powerful. He knows what we will do because he knows all things. He cannot not know all things. So, whatever you choose to do out of your own free volition is known. But his knowing doesn't mean you don't freely choose. For example, I could offer my children ice cream or cheese for dessert. I absolutely know what they will choose... K will take the ice cream, C the cheese. I know the outcome, but they still have the free will to make the decision. God knows what we will choose, but He still let’s us do the deciding. I think, and this is just my view, that the destination is chosen by God, but free will enables us to learn as we make choices - mistakes. Sometimes we have to learn by making a mistake before we can grown and move on..hopefully not making the same mistake again!

In the same way, I believe that God doesn’t send anyone to Hell, they do that all by themselves. Much like the 120 years of warning before God had had quite enough and sent the floods! So, where was I...oh yes...when something happens, like having to go back into the house for a forgotten item, which means you get to take that call which is full of such wonderful news; or not retrieving the item, therefore missing a call which is full of sadness, and would have ruined the reason you were heading out in the first place. You may have made the decision to go back/not go back, but God knew already what you were going to do.

A God-incidence, for me, is having my ears open to God well enough to be able to allow Him to sometimes subconsciously even, speak to me and make things happen. When people say ‘try and really listen to God’ I’m sure they don’t mean for you to sit down, screw up your face with your eyes closed tightly and actually hear something (although I have heard God speaking to me, directly on more than one occasion). What they mean is to open yourself up to really hearing Him. Be aware of His voice, don’t be too busy that you block out everything apart from the panic you’re feeling, which in turn leads to further panic, frustration and panic.

 When you’re next late for something, think back. Did God whisper to you that morning to get out of bed right away, and did you ignore it, and are you now the time-you-lazed-around late? I used to ignore God all the time. I would wake up before the alarm, knowing how busy I was, waste about half an hour doing not much, and then spend the rest of the day playing catch up by about 30 minutes!

In the Old Testament there are a lot of references to when God actually spoke to people, and told them what to do and when to do it by, and how. But there is a big question that hangs over the Bible, and that is, ‘Isn’t the God of the Old Testament a God of hate while the God of the New Testament is one of love?’ Where can we find evidence of God’s love in the Old Testament?? As the Old Testament allegedly presents only a God of wrath, while the New Testament allegedly depicts only a God of love.

The Old Testament contains stories such as God’s commanding the destruction of Sodom, the annihilation of the Canaanites, and many other accounts of God’s judgment and wrath. The accusers claim this demonstrates a primitive, warlike deity in absolute contradistinction to the advanced teachings of Jesus to love one another and to turn the other cheek, as we know from the Sermon on the Mount. These ideas about God seem to be in direct conflict, but let’s have a look together…

Jesus Himself declared that the Old Testament may be summed up by the commandments to love God and love your neighbour (Matthew 22:37). He also observed that God in the Old Testament had continually desired love and mercy rather than sacrifice (Matthew 9:13; 12:7). This attitude can be seen with statements such as, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked… and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23, RSV). God would not have destroyed certain nations except that He is a God of justice and their evil could not go unchecked and condoned. He did intend and had a desire to punish them, but as a part of His plan, in consistency with His holy nature and jealousy for His wayfaring people.

What God desires in consistency with His pure character, He does in justice, in their case, and providing in the meantime they have not repented and come into harmony with His nature (Have a look at Jeremiah 18). In the case of the Amorites, God gave them hundreds of years to repent, yet they did not (Genesis 15:16). Noah preached for 120 years to his generation before the great flood (Genesis 6:3). The proper Old Testament picture is one of a very patient God who gives these people untold opportunities to repent and come into harmony with Him, and only when they continually refuse does He judge and punish them for their evil deeds.

Contrary to some popular belief, the strongest statements of judgment and wrath in the Bible were made by the Lord Jesus Himself. In Matthew 23, for example, He lashed out at the religious leaders of His day, calling them hypocrites and false leaders, and informing them that their destiny was eternal banishment from God’s presence. In Matthew 10:34 (KJV), Jesus says that the purpose of His mission is not to unite but to divide. “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” He goes on to say that His word will cause a father to be against his son, a mother against her daughter, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law (Matthew 10:35). We find judgment as well as love scattered very pervasively throughout the New Testament, and love and mercy as well as judgment throughout the Old Testament.

God is consistent and unchanging, but different situations call for different emphases. Therefore, when the two testaments are read the way they were intended, they reveal the same holy God who is rich in mercy, but who will not let sin go unpunished. If there is any sin which is causing you to be at a distance from your Father, repent. Ask for God’s forgiveness and it will surely be given to you. Knock, and He really will open that door to a life more wonderful than any of us can image. A life of love - from God…the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen


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Sunday with Sammy

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30th August 2015

Jesus Overcomes Temptation & satan


During his earthly ministry Jesus encounters a whole tranch of different people from all walks of life, both sexes and of all ages. They were all important experiences to him and for them, but one, perhaps, whose encounter was the longest, and outcome was the greatest, was when Jesus was confronted by the devil himself in the wilderness.

The temptation of Christ is detailed in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. According to these texts, after being baptized, Jesus fasted for forty days and nights in the Judaean Desert. During this time, Satan, old hairy legs himself, appeared to Jesus and tempted him. Jesus having refused each temptation, Satan departed and angels came and brought nourishment to Jesus

Satan full well knew who Jesus was! There couldn't have been any doubt in Satan's mind as to Jesus' identity, as opposed to the Pharisees and Sadducees, who simply refused to believe. No, Satan isn't really asking Jesus to prove Himself. Rather, he has some other motive...

The recorded three temptations of Christ mirror the steps Satan used to bring sin into the world in the first place:

Lets compare Matthews gospel with Genesis for a moment.

Matthew 4:3 "If you are the Son of God..." the devil says vs Genesis 3 "Did God actually say you were not..." Which is what the serpent said to Eve... Also, like with the first sin, it is related to food.

Second:

“If you are the Son of God, jump off ...'throw yourself down'” Matthew 4:6 vs Genesis 3:5 “No! You will not die. God knows that the day you eat it you too will be like gods.

And lastly:

"If you fall at my feet and do me homage", Matthew 4:10 vs Genesis 3:5 “you will be like God” Satan is again questioning God's authority. Oh how dare he!

Satan is questioning whether Jesus was who He said He was (and whom His Father had just attested to at the baptism) - He was trying to get Jesus to fail in His earthly life so He couldn't be our perfect sacrificial substitute

As the writer of the letter of Hebrews says: “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

Satan absolutely did know who Jesus was, and why he was there. And he also knew that Jesus had free will and the ability to make his own choices - just the same as you or I. (In fact, we have one recorded instance where Jesus directly stated that his will was in opposition to the will of the Father, in the Garden of Gethsemane, (Matthew 26:38-44,) but he still chose, knowing what was to come, to do his Father's will and not his own.) And the devil knew that Jesus needed to be perfect to complete the work that he had come to accomplish.

So if he could find any way of tempting Jesus to step off the path, even once, it would have destroyed God's plan, which is exactly what Satan wanted. So Satan tempted him, trying to get him to use his power for physical desires, for fame, and for wealth and earthly power

One of Satan's biggest tricks is to try and confuse you about who you are, and whose you are.

Satan will wait until you are at your weakest point in life and then come to you with questions about your life... your calling... and your ability to do for God the Father.

You must know that you have been given the power to become a son or daughter of God... Just as Jesus was his son in whom God was WELL PLEASED

Go this day with the love of Christ in your hearts... Amen.


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Sunday with Sammy

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23rd August 2015


Hillsong Kids have a great song, they have many and they’re all very catchy! One in particular tells us…
The greatest treasure,
The word God's people wrote,
It's in the bible,
Where Noah built a boat.
And it rained and rained!
Chorus: The rainbows in the sky,
To show God's promises are true,
The rainbows in the sky to show the world,
He's the only way,
For your everyday.


It’s a simple ditty, and if you search for Hillsong Kids and The Rainbow song you’ll hear what I mean. Well is certainly has been raining. A lot. Even the most hardened European cannot help but to comment on it – the Europeans think it is a very strange British trait to always be discussing the weather! The rainbow IS in the sky to show God’s promises are true. For some I know this is small comfort when all they can see for miles is water.

Way back in Genesis 9:11 God says “I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And in verse 13 He continues, “I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.” His bow, the rainbow.

There is a lot of anger of the recent flooding, understandably from people affected; but also from people who are fairly unaffected by rising water levels and waves breaking over sea defences. There is blame being bandied about. Who could be to blame? The Government for not doing more to strengthen the sea defences? How about the local authorities for allowing houses and dwellings to be built and sited on at risk areas… I’m sure they are called flood plains for a reason! How about the building companies, or the solicitor’s and estate agents, or the people themselves for buying properties in such areas??? And, of course, God is being blamed. I have heard that He is punishing Britain for allowing same sex marriages to take place.

So, what do we do now?? Pick one, appoint the blame where we feel it is most prevalent and then just get on with our own lives? Sell everything we have to financially support people who are in dire straits? Neither of those are very sensible or Christian. Yes, we are to give our talents to God, but we still need to pay our own bills! Talents. Our gifts. Physical and tangible. These people don’t need sympathy they need empathy, and they need your prayers. Of course if you’re in a position to help financially and that’s what you wish to do then don’t let me stop you.

But first, ask God what it is HE wants you to do. Just throwing money at a situation and then burying your head in the sand can sometimes be worse than accepting there is nothing you can do and just praying God sends the right people to what is needed. Prayer won’t stop the rain, or the floods just as it won’t stop the sun rising or Earth turning. But prayer is such a wonderfully powerful tool that we all possess. No one thinks they pray well. No one ever says, oh yes I’m brilliant at prayer, it just rolls off my tongue and I have the right words for any situation at hand. Never! But God does hear you when you speak to Him. Sometimes a prayer is answered straight away with a resounding yes, sometimes it’s a straight no, and sometimes it’s a ‘maybe’. These are the hardest to hear and these are the times when you have to put your trust in God more.

I pray that when water levels start to subside, and people can return to their homes, that they can still rely on others to lend a hand, and hug, or a give a loaf of bread, and that the community spirit that we seem so easily to lose sight of when the media tell us it’s ok to, will still warm their hearts, and those from whom they are receiving their gifts, and that they and we ALL may continue to love our neighbour as Jesus asks us to.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, send comfort to those who are sad and lonely this day. To those who feel there is no end to the misery they are encountering. Send your holy angels to dwell with them, to drive away all negative thoughts that the enemy fills their heads and hearts with. Send people to them who can really make a difference and help them in the ways they need. Protect them and bless them and all those who care for them. In Jesus’ name we ask this.
Amen.


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Sunday with Sammy

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16th August 2015


Love. It has so many connotations, implications, associations and meanings. From, ‘..and the greatest commandment is this that you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…’ to ‘Oh yes please I’d love a coffee!’. There is the love one feels for a sibling, for one’s spouse, for a special friend and then there is the love for a child. There are at least 50 different bible verses that talk about love in various ways. To love your God, your neighbour and even your enemy. And, most importantly we are told that God loves us.

Not only are there dozen of bible verses to back this up, there are even more quotes from people highlighting and underlining this fact. Yes, fact. It is a fact that God loves us, but it is hard to comprehend, accept and acknowledge at times. God is love, He didn’t need us, but he wanted us and he made us, and whatever we do, he will always love us because he is love. WOW this is SO powerful. Almost too powerful. We are to believe that God made us and He will love us, no-matter what we do? And to prove it He sent Jesus to take away all our sins and to suffer, be humiliated and die for US?! All we have to do is love him in return? There must be a catch! There’s always a catch…isn’t there?

I have twin boys. One is away during the week at boarding school, the other is autistic and attends a local special needs school as a day boy. I love them. I love them so much. It is out of love that my elder twin attends boarding school because that is what is best for him. Do I enjoy him being away? NO! But he ‘loves’ it. My younger twin struggles with life and communication and social graces that the rest of us take for granted. But I love him. I love him so much it hurts and I cry some days. When he struggles and can’t get the words out and all he can do is say ‘go away I want you to leave’ or ‘that’s it, I don’t love you, cry!’ I do cry. But once he calms himself, and gathers the right words, he will apologise and come and find me and ask for a hug. Then I love him even more for his struggles, and my need to protect him means I would give my life to know he will be safe for the rest of his life. I’m sure many parents will understand this and empathise.

My boy at boarding school is turning into a teenager, the ‘strops’ are just starting to emerge. At the moment we find them amusing, I don’t know how much longer for though! But still, after a day of sniping comments from him, he only has to say, ‘I love you Mama’ and it all melts away.

This is how God feels towards us. We all snipe, we all shout, we turn against him, either willingly or without realising it, but he still loves us. Loves us so much that he was willing to send the most precious thing he could to save us. To give us a new start. To prove how much he loves us! How often have I thought ‘How can I show God how much I do love Him?’ I just need to tell him. To thank Him for the day, it might not have been the best, but He was there, waiting for you to ask for the hug after the shouting. He is always with us, talk to Him.

One person I read about used to make God a cup of coffee at the same time every day when she had hers and she would talk to Him as if He were there. She said it was the best therapy ever! Next time you get that feeling of love so deep and strong that you might burst, remember that is how God feels about you. He is there, go and find Him, ask Him, thank Him and love him because He loves you more than you will ever know. Our doubts cannot destroy that nor our faith create it, it is there, it always has been and always will be. Just as the love for your children will never cease.

Romans 5:8 - but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
1 John 4:7-8 - Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.


And as I close, the words from the hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter” resonate through me…
’if I were a rich man I would play my part,
but what can I give?
I give my heart’


Prayer


Lord, I thank for creating me and making me your child. Guide me in your ways, and teach me each day how to be a better person for you. Give me strength to deal with life’s woes and remind me that my strength is in you alone. Bless everyone who reads and hears these words and may they bring them another step closer to you and your Kingdom… Amen.


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8th June 2014

Pentecost – Acts 2

Today we are celebrating Pentecost, which is also known as the Feast of Weeks. The Bible records Pentecost in Acts 2:1-13. It marks the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, and they were accused of being drunk as they all started to speak in different languages. It comes 10 days after the Ascension of Christ and is also known as the birthday of the Church. It fulfils Jesus’ promise to send the ‘counsellor’ and ‘spirit of truth’ that we hear in John 16:5 & 15. It launches the large scale spreading of the Gospel after His ascension.

 

Jews also celebrate Pentecost, but for them, it is to observe God giving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai 50 days after the Exodus. SO the Jewish Pentecost (which in Greek means simply the fiftieth day) takes place 50 days after Passover. The Pentecostal movement derives its name from the New Testament event in Acts 2.

 

In England the day is also known as Whitsun, derived from White Sunday and the following day used to be a bank holiday, Whit Monday and remained a holiday in the UK until 1971 when the movable holiday was replaced with the fixed Spring Bank Holiday in late May.

 

According to one interpretation, the name derives from the white garments worn by those receiving instruction in relation to the Christian traditions and expecting to be baptised on that Sunday. Now we have baptisms all through the year. Moreover, in England white vestments, rather than the more usual red, were traditional for the day.

 

But Ok, enough of the history lesson. How is Pentecost relevant to us, today?

 

It is said that when Peter addressed the crowd, this was the first ‘sermon’ from the new Church. Now, I don’t think necessarily that the apostles had any idea that they were starting a new church, they were desperate to do as Jesus had done, and to teach what he had taught them! They thought they were being mega Jewish!

 

But let’s hear from Acts 2 and what happened next…

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 " 'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' 22 "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him: " 'I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, 27 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.' 29 "Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, " 'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand 35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." ' 36 "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." 37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call." 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41 Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

 

How’s that for a nice, concise sermon? This is what is happening, this is why, this is what you do now. He wasn’t leaving anything to chance.

 

There are many, parallels in that reading to other parts of the Bible, but we would be here all day so perhaps we could go over those another time, and if you would like to, just let me know.

 

It is also a birthday month in this house. Our twins are 12 in ‘fourteen days’ as I was reminded this morning…as if I could forget! They have been writing and re-writing their birthday lists for a few weeks now, which have been interrupted by cries of, ‘hey that’s not fair, you’ve 2 more than me now!’, which is followed by frantic thumbing of the Argos catalogue!

 

I don’t remember ever writing a birthday list, but I wonder what Jesus would have on his birthday list for the Church? He wouldn’t need to worry about the catering…’water? Check’, ‘loaves? Check’, ‘Fishes? Check!’  I’m sure He wouldn’t ask for anything for himself, he would ask that we, love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength; and then that we love our neighbour as our self. Simple requests really, so why don’t we, as a special gift from our hearts, to God, and the Church, do just that?

 

For he really is a jolly good fellow, and so say all of us. Have a wonderfully blessed and peaceful week everyone.  And remember PRAYER, CARE and SHARE. God loves you!

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1st June 2014

Mary's Visit to Elizabeth – Luke 1:39-56

Today we celebrate the visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth. In typical Anglican lectionary style, this feast can be observed on July 2nd which this year is a Wednesday, so perhaps they thought it better to make it a Sunday celebration.

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There is a lot happening in the church at the moment. Saint’s Days are upon us daily, and I think in May there are only 9 days where we are not remembering or celebrating the life of someone who, loosely, had nothing, overcame obstacles and adversary, preached and taught with huge fortitude, became loved by all (we’ll come to various hermits at another time!)…and then they seem to die a horrible, sometimes very early, death…for their devotion to God.

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One person who was, by her very action, possibly the most dedicated woman we know. That is Mary, the mother of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. I have recently written a presentation about Mary, her visit from the Angel Gabriel, and what would have happened if Mary had said ‘no’ to him?? But you can hear that closer to the time we celebrate that glorious day!

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But Mary did say yes, and she, as prophesised by Isaiah in 4:7 does conceive a son by the Holy Spirit. Then, she goes to see her cousin, who according to St. Luke, was a cousin of Elizabeth, wife of the priest Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah, who was herself part of the lineage of Aaron and so of the tribe of Levi….brother to Joseph, he of the multi-coloured coat fame from Genesis 39! Lineage and genealogy in the Bible will certainly keep you on your toes, you just wait until we’re going through it during Advent – it is really fascinating, and puts much of God’s work and how he calls people, and who he calls into a fantastic perspective. I promise you will feel much better about yourself after that! But now back to Mary and Elizabeth.

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Much like the Annunciation, we only read about the Visitation in Luke’s Gospel; and rather frustratingly, the whole New Testament tells little of Mary's early history. Phyllis G. Jestice in Holy people of the world: a cross-cultural encyclopedia, Volume 3. Published in 2004 tells us The 2nd century Gospel of James is the first source to name her parents as Joachim and Anne, there is also talk of a sister named Mary, but she is more likely to be her sister-in-law, the wife of Joseph's brother, Cleophas.

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As names are so important in the Bible, so let us have a quick look at a few we’re talking about here. Elizabeth may mean ‘God’s promise’, or ‘my God is generous’. 

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Mary means ‘wise woman’ or ‘lady’. It is a Greek form of the Hebrew Miriam, and was the most popular woman's name at the time.  Hence confusion between Mary Magdalen, and other Mary’s throughout the New Testament!

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John means ‘God has been gracious’.

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Zechariah means 'God has remembered'. 

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Elizabeth, who was previously thought to be barren, is miraculously pregnant with John the Baptist. We are told that Mary left Nazareth immediately after the Annunciation (when the angel tells her that she is about to do probably the most important job in the history of creation to that point) and went "into the hill country...into a city of Judah" (Luke 1:39) to attend her cousin Elizabeth. There are several possibilities as to exactly which city this was, including Hebron, south of Jerusalem, and Ein Karem. The journey was about 100 miles and would have taken around four days to do. Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy before Mary turned up and she stayed for about three months. Most scholars hold she stayed for the birth of John, which makes sense when you add 6 and 3 but there are no details about the birth of John. Some believe that the purpose of this visit was to bring divine grace to both Elizabeth and her unborn child. Even though he was still in his mother's womb, John became aware of the presence of his Divine Saviour; he leapt for joy (as indeed Esau and Jacob did in Rebekha’s womb in Genesis 25) as he was cleansed from original sin and filled with divine grace. Elizabeth also responded and recognised the presence of Jesus. So Mary, now for the first time, is able to exercise her function as physical intercessor between God and man. "And she [Elizabeth] spoke out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed [art] thou among women, and blessed [is] the fruit of thy womb. And whence [is] this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed [is] she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord (Luke 1:42–45)." It is also at this point, in response to Elizabeth's remark, that Mary proclaims the Magnificat.  Let’s hear it in full…

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46 And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me-- holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers." 56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

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Is this the first recorded baby shower?

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So, Gabriel had just left her, and the first thing she does is prepare to leave and visit Elizabeth, her cousin. Gabriel had told her Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy, a testament to the power of God.

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To our modern way of thinking, Mary surely deserved to stay home to rest and take care of herself, now that she herself was expecting. And after all, the angel had said this child would be the holy Son of God!  That certainly deserves some pampering and special treatment!

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But I suspect Mary was overjoyed at the news of Elizabeth's pregnancy, and couldn't wait to get there and share the wonder of it all with her. Now the two of them could delight in each other's miracles and bask in the glory of God and all He had done by His power alone. I can easily imagine them hugging and laughing and fussing over each other.

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It's really a simple lesson this mystery teaches - take care of each other. Even when you have good reason for worrying only about yourself, try to find a way to care for someone else also. I'm your neighbour and you're mine. There will be plenty of opportunities for us to care for each other and meet the other's needs. But will we?

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And what about the neighbour we don't particularly like, or the neighbour we just can't stand? There's where it gets sticky! Even then, we are asked to find ways to show love. Love that is hard to give, love that requires a real sacrifice, love that is on-purpose-even-though-I-really-don't-want-to is the truest of all.

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A good place to start is our own families. Love-on-purpose that family member you don't like being around. Love-on-purpose the one who irritates you to no end. Love-on-purpose the relative you have nothing in common with. Love the one who just plain drives you crazy. Do it as unto Jesus, and watch how your heart changes.

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Be happy for the blessings in your family member's lives and celebrate with them. Rejoice in their good fortune without envy, and bear their sorrow with them whenever you can. Pray for them. Bring Christ to your family, as Mary literally brought Christ to Elizabeth's.

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Heavenly father, wondrous SAVIOUR, help me to be generous with my time and talents, and to reach out to my neighbours with the love of Jesus.

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Next week it’s Pentecost. Wear something red, have the bunting at the ready; that is a birthday party you won’t want to miss!

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11th May 2014

To walk in the light – 1 John 1:5-7

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7

 

We continue our look at St John’s letters to the churches that he started in order to eradicate the false teachings that had begun in his absence.

 

Last time we heard that:

  • John wrote this letter about Jesus, who is the Word of life
  • Jesus came from God to show us real life
  • When we believe God’s message, we join God’s family

 

The command to walk in the light seems on the surface more an act of sensibility than anything theological or biblical. Why would anyone WANT to walk around in darkness? Anywhere? Inside you are very likely to end up with bruised shins, and outside (especially here where there are no streetlamps – as we have no pavements/sidewalks) well, there are ditches, trees and huge cows to walk into, and trust me, they don’t move when a daft human stumbles into them!

 

I finished the last session saying, ‘In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’ This is one of my favourite dismissals from the liturgy, and we hear it often, but firstly do we actually hear the words…by then most of us on a Sunday morning are already into ‘what shall I cook for lunch’ or ‘did I wash and dry the kids’ games kit or was that last week?’ mode. But even if we do manage to hang on to those last precious, uncomplicated moments in church before the chaos resumes, what do those words actually mean?? This time, John wants to explain that the light he talks of isn’t necessarily a physical light – although that is a characteristic of God – but the light that drives away fear; light that reveals truth, light that show us where to walk. Next time we will cover sin, but for now let us go back to John’s first letter.  He writes, ‘This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.’

 

1 John 1:5 - God is perfect and people who know God must not do evil deeds.


John did not invent the message. Remember that he says ‘we have seen’ more than once in his writings so what John writes, we can pretty much assume is as a witness and says that he received it from the Lord Jesus. Jesus, we know, taught those who were with him and He showed them how to know God. He then sent them to teach this to other people which is how the apostolic church was started, and in this way, everyone may know God as well. This is the message that John heard from the Lord and that God is light.

 

God is light by nature, as we learn from the creation story in Genesis.  God said ‘let there be light, and there was light, and God saw that the light was good and God divided the light from darkness’. As light shines, so God shows himself. All light comes from God as God created it. John uses the word light to mean all that is good, holy and right. This message shows something about God’s character. God is good. He is always right, and holy. God, who is light, sees all things. We can hide nothing from him. John uses the word darkness to mean evil acts, sin and error. There can be nothing bad in God. He is perfect and he can do nothing wrong.  The only Old Testament occurrence of this precise phrase is in Isaiah 2:5, ‘O house of Jacob, come and let us walk in the light of the Lord.’ The Psalms contain similar phrases (56:13; 89:15), as does Isaiah (9:2; 50:10-11; 59:9).

 

Some people may turn from the light. They love darkness more than the light. This is because their actions are evil (this refers to the gospel of John 3:19-21). There can be no darkness in God. Those people who do evil acts cannot share life with God. Those who believe God must live in the light.


1 John 1:6 - People who do evil things do not share God’s life

John now shows how this message should affect our lives. In the next five verses, there are three false things that some people say (verses 6, 8 and 10). After each of these false things, John shows us what the truth is (1:7, 9; 2:1). The effect of what they say is that sin does not affect them. So, it does not matter what we do. They say that they are united with God. But they continue to sin. The Lord Jesus gives a new life to those who believe. This life is from God and only God, through a living relationship with Jesus. This life is unity with God. But there can be no unity between light and darkness.

A person may say that they live with God. But if that person does evil acts, then their words are lies. Their actions are not right. Those actions are darkness not light. That person is like someone who walks in darkness. Darkness and light cannot be in unity. They do not share the life from God. The false teachers said that they walked in the light, but, what they did were works of darkness. They did not do what was right. They did not obey the truth. John believes that the test of truth is not just belief. Truth is not only in what we say. Our belief will affect what we do. We show our belief in God by good and right acts.

 

Verse 7: God has provided a remedy for our sins

There is a contrast here. The person who does the wrong thing lives in darkness, likewise the person who does the right things lives in light. This is how God wants us to live. He wants us to believe the gospel. And we should live to please him. God is holy. He always does what is right. God is in the light because he created the light and is the light. To live in the light is to be true to God. This is to live in the same manner as God lives.

 

Real Christians live in the light. They believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. They all share the same life. This unity among Christians shows that they belong to God, united with each other, brothers and sisters adopted by and united with God to be His children and live together. John desires that the readers will come into that same unity.

 

The word ‘blood’ here is referring to the death of Jesus. The Old Testament says that the life is in the blood. Jesus gave his life for us and by his death, Jesus has taken away our sins. He removes all sin from us. But we must believe in him. Remember that nobody can be perfect while here on earth, but we must all try and do what God asks us to do, and when we do stray or make mistakes, God forgives those who believe, and with Jesus we can get back on the right path. Through the forgiveness that we ask for, Jesus makes sinners clean again. Whenever we say the Lord’s Prayer we are asking for forgiveness for the things we have done wrong. Jesus forgives us NOT so we can go and do the same thing again, but to show us how we can move on without guilt and become closer to God.

 

God has made the remedy for our sin. By this, he can make us clean from all sins. So, we can keep our unity with him. This remedy is the blood of his Son Jesus Christ.

 

Some people taught that the human Jesus was not the Son of God. They taught that the human Jesus died. However, they said that God the Son did not die. John makes it plain that Jesus as God the Son did die for our sins.

 

To ‘walk’ is, in short, to live one’s life. One’s lifestyle or way of life can be considered a ‘walk.’ The word also indicates progress. Walking is related to growth; it is taking steps toward maturity. ‘Light’ in the Bible can be a metaphor for life, happiness, righteousness, or understanding. The Bible is clear that light comes from the Lord God, the ‘Father of the heavenly lights’ (James’ letter in 1:17 tells us this also). God is the opposite of evil. The darkness is the Devil, snuffing out your light and happiness and love – do not let him in…call upon God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit to fill you with light, whenever you feel the darkness creeping in.

 

So, putting it all together, ‘walking in the light’ means ‘growing in holiness and maturing in the faith as we follow Jesus.’ I leave you this week with my version of a hymn written first in 1558, which is also a wonderful prayer to start the day, or a journey, or even a task with.


God be in this day and in its responsibilities;

God be in my head, and in my understanding;

God be in my eyes, and in my looking;

God be in my ears, and in my listening;

God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;

God be in my heart, and in my loving;

God be in my mind, and in my thinking;

God be in my hands, and in my doing;

God be at mine end, and at my departing. Amen

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6th April 2014

Questions... Questions...

Questions, questions… Life is full of them. The Bible is full of them. We, ourselves, are full of them, and children, well…anyone who’s ever had a four year old will marvel at just how many they can come up with! But with every question there is a real thirst to know more. Of course, not all questioners are seeking the truth, some are just plain nosey; while others skirt around the edge’s causing confusion and difficulty rather than coming straight to the point. Nod if you can think of someone like that! And Wise King Solomon had more than his share of awkward questions.

One person who always set out to alleviate awkwardness and be uncomplicated, and generally managed it was Saint John, and for the next few weeks we will look in more depth about what we know about him, his writings, and learn more about the Jesus he knew as he saw him. There is a wonderful saying that ‘John is like a magic pool in which an infant can paddle and an elephant can swim’. His language is generally uncomplicated, and the syntax and vocabulary he used are simple but oh so powerful.

His Gospel, the fourth, fell out of favour in the 19th century, as the search for the ‘real Jesus’ continued, and people favoured Mark’s writings, being more historical. Thankfully, contemporary interest in the early church has restored him and his works. John is credited with not only that 4th gospel, but also a series of epistles which were placed almost at the end of the Bible. You might hear someone reading in church say, ‘herein endeth the epistle’. An epistle is simply a writing directed or sent to a person or group of people, usually in the form of an elegant and formal letter with emphasis on instruction and information.

Even though at the time of writing, John was between 50 and 60 years of age, he would have been one of the youngest followers at the time Jesus was alive on earth. So, having written a fairly comprehensive gospel, why would John have felt the need to write these letters to people?

Well, it was written to counter docetism, which is the posh name for a heresy declaring that Jesus did not come "in the flesh", but only as a spirit. The letter also outlined how Christians are to discern true teachers: by their ethics, their proclamation of Jesus in the flesh, and by their love. We can assume that John was living in Ephesus at the time of the writings, as that was where he died around the year 100AD and much like St Paul, John wrote his letters to encourage Christians. He wanted them to know the truth. Then they would, hopefully, recognise false ideals, subsequently then knowing how to turn back to Christ. Some people in these churches believed wrong things. The people who had taught them these wrong things had been members of the church. However, they had moved away from the faith and they had left the church (1 John 2:19). So John intended to correct these wrong ideas in his letter.

One wrong idea was that Christ was not really a man, back to docetism. It was thought that He seemed to be a man but was not a real man. John taught quite clearly that the Son of God came as a real man. He lived his life here on earth as a man. The Christ actually died as a man. The man, Christ Jesus, rose again from the dead.

Some people taught that Jesus was merely a man. They taught that he was not really God. They did not believe that God could die. They said that the Christ came upon Jesus. Then the Christ left him again before he died. John answered this. He showed that Jesus is one with God. He is the Christ, who gave his life for us. No mere man could take away our sins as the Lord Jesus Christ has done.

As I said, John wrote this letter to encourage the Christians. He wanted them to know the truth. Then they would recognise false ideas. The letter shows that Christians are children of God. They know God as Father. If God is their Father, then they are all brothers and sisters. John shows them the kind of life that the children of God should live. They all share the life that the Lord Jesus gives to them. This is eternal life, which has no end. John wants all Christians to know that they have this life. He wants them to be sure about this.

John wrote about the truth. This is how we know the truth. We know it because we have met Jesus. We know Jesus, so we know the truth.

This is what the letter says to the Christians.

  • They can be sure about Christ (1 John 5:20).
  • They know what is true about God and Christ. 1 John 2:21; 5:7, 16, 20
  • They know that the Son (Jesus Christ) has come. 1 John 5:20
  • They know that Jesus came to take away their sin. 1 John 3:16

Let’s look at the letter in more detail, this week we will start with the 1st verse through to verse 4. It reads…

1 John 1:1-4  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

Verse 1 - John wrote this letter about Jesus, who is the Word of life! We use words to communicate with people. Jesus is God’s way of communicating with us. Therefore, the ‘Word of life’ is the Lord Jesus. And the ‘Word of life’ also means the message of the gospel. John wrote about the Lord Jesus. And he wrote about the life that Jesus gives. This life is for those who believe. The Word produces life. This is about the good news of Jesus Christ who is the life. The Word, that is the Lord Jesus, always existed. He was alive before time and the world began. Christ and the message of life came from God. This was God’s purpose from before creation. The Lord Jesus came into the world to achieve this purpose.

John and those who were with him knew the Lord Jesus. They had heard what he said. They had listened to what he taught. They were with him. They actually saw him. They watched him. They saw all that he did. They lived with him for 3 years. They knew that Jesus was a real human person. Some people denied that God really came as a human person. But he did come. He is Jesus Christ. John says that they have had a real experience of him. Jesus Christ was God with them here on earth.

Verse 2 - Jesus came from God to show us real life. The Lord Jesus came from God. He became a real man. He showed us what real life is. Real life is life in the spirit. He has that life and he came to give it to us. This is eternal life. God gives it to those who believe in his Son. John was a witness to this life. The life was with the Father. Jesus showed that life to us. John and those who believed in the Lord Jesus saw this real life. They had received it. They proved that the message is true.

What they saw was eternal life. God gives this life. John knew that he had this life now. And this life will never end. John wants to share this life with the readers of his letter. This life is in the Lord Jesus. Those who know Jesus have this life. The Lord Jesus, who is life, was with God the Father. But he came to us and he showed us this life. These witnesses have received this life from God. Eternal life comes from God the Father.

Verse 3 - When we believe God’s message, we join God’s family. Those who first believed spoke and they described what they had seen. They repeated what they had heard. The Word of life (that is, Jesus) appeared to them. And we need to believe in him. They heard what he said. We too need to hear what he says. And we need to believe it. The message of life in the Lord Jesus was not only for them. John declares it to those who read his letter. All people can now see and hear God’s truth in Jesus. To know Jesus is to receive the life that God gives by him.

The message of the gospel is that people may believe in Jesus. Those who believe will receive eternal life. That life comes from God. They will share the same life that John and his friends had. They will know that they have a new life with God. They also can become good friends by having the same life. They will join with John and his friends in the family of God. This life unites Christians with God who is the Father. It unites them with Jesus the Son of the Father. Jesus is one with the Father. Therefore, he also is God as the Father is God. There is one God but three persons. The third person is the Spirit of God.

Verse 4 - John wrote this letter as if he were an agent for all those other witnesses. ‘These things’ are all that is in the letter. He writes so that both he and the readers may have much joy. It would give them all much joy if they believed the message of the gospel. The purpose of the letter is that the readers would share the same life as John and his friends. God gives this eternal life to those who believe in his Son. The people living in the time that John was writing his letters could not go and find the man Jesus, he wasn’t there, they were living in another time – much like we are now – in another stage of the Kingdom, that of the Holy Spirit. John desperately wanted the people that he had come to know and love, his brothers and sisters in Christ not to forget their teachings, and that even though he was no longer living on earth with them, he was very much alive, in the Spirit, and alive in those who truly believed.

I leave you with, of course, a question. If a light bulb when switched off is still there and very much a part of the lamp, why therefore is Jesus Christ not very much a part of us, even though with him it is the Spirit (light) that remains and the shell which is gone to the Father? The answer of course, is He is!  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Amen.

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Sunday with Sammy

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16th March 2014

Paul and Potholes

They say that when something is going on in your life then you see it EVERYWHERE. The car you bought because you had rarely seen one in that colour is suddenly parked everywhere you go. Everyone else is having a baby it would seem to the couple struggling to conceive. You hear nothing but the bright future of the school you have just decided to take your child from early as you thought there was a better chance for them elsewhere! The list is pretty endless.

Personally for me, it’s a word or phrase at the moment and that is…calling. During Intercessional Prayers on Sunday the person was asking for prayers of those exploring vocation to the priesthood – ‘woah that’s me!’ I thought.

In a home group yesterday, Brian Wilson from HIllsong said, ‘You must walk worthy of the calling for what YOU are called.’ Again, I wondered if he was talking directly to me. Of course he wasn’t, but my mind is tuned to that word and turn of phrase at the moment due to my circumstances.

Now, something that effects every single one of us at the moment is potholes! Whether you drive and need to avoid them, or you don’t and walk around praying that the cars avoid the ones still filled with water.

I have to admit, and this won’t be the last time you hear this from me, but I have an immense respect for St Paul. Not only because of the way he continuously admitted what he had done wrong – not to get forgiveness after forgiveness, because I hope you know that when you ask God with all sincerity for His forgiveness and Grace you get it, and you don’t then need to feel any guilt about what you have been forgiven for. You must not, however, go and do it again. As I wrote last week when Jesus dismissed the adulterous woman he said, ‘Go, and sin no more’.

Paul’s main writings in the Bible are his letters to various Churches in Christendom. Paul set up the church of Ephesus as described in Acts 19 and its urgency in his detailed explanations of that congregation’s relationship with Jesus Christ could be due to it having been written not long before his death around AD62. Let’s have a look.

Paul writes in Ephesus 4 ‘In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

So in his typical style he starts with a firm instruction. Get going you lot! Stop messing around, you know what to do, what are you waiting for? If I get out of here, I’m going to come over there and give you a good shake!! But I can’t so you’ll have to read my words and do as you’re told – through me – by Christ Jesus. Paul never took any credit for his work, he always said it was the work of our saviour Jesus he did. Paul also talked in verse 3 about being quick to mend fences. This is hugely important, and as Christians we must take the initiative. I speak from very recent experience when I say you WILL be nervous, you will want to back out, and yes, you may have the door slammed in your face, you might even be verbally abused, but God knows you did it for the right reasons and He loves you all the more for it. Also, as was in my case this week, you might not get the door slammed in your face, in which case you have a win-win scenario.

Paul continues with ‘You were all called’ oh here we go again ‘to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.’ ‘But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift.

But what, you are thinking, does this have to do with potholes??

Well. Not much to be honest, but we do have them in common and probably will do for a while yet!

However, everything, as we’ve discussed previously happens for a reason, and when I stopped the car earlier today to avoid a rather large pothole I looked to my right and saw a minutes old new born lamb taking its first tentative, wobbly steps. Had I been driving I would have missed that sight. That wonderful sign that Spring is on her way, that through all the trials and tribulations, rain and darkness, there is new life springing forward, new hope is on the horizon…and together, in oneness, with our heads held high (being careful if we’re running of course) we can all reach the goal that Paul talks of, through commitment to God and in loving one another. The road is the same, the potholes may make us stumble, but by wearing the whole armour of God we may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil!

Prayer

Thank you Father for new life shown to us in your wonderful creation. For the buds on the trees, the daffodils and crocus’ for the lambs and piglets and for each one of us, born because of you and saved because of the birth of your precious son. As we continue to draw closer to you this Lent, remind us quite how wonderful your world can be, and bless each one of us every day. Amen

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9th March 2014

What say you?

John 8:2-11
At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered round him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’

‘No one, sir,’ she said.

‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’

The Ash Wednesday reading for this year is from John 8:7… What is interesting about this passage is that it didn’t actually make it into the Bible until the 3rd century. It is unlike the usual way that the rest of this gospel is written – ignoring the pro and epilogues, we will cover those another time, but if you get the chance do have a look at the ending of John’s Gospel…all three of them! It is thought that the copyist who inserted it here was possibly trying to illustrate Jesus saying that he will pass judgement on no-one later in the chapter, in verse 15.

Anyway, Jesus had returned from the Mount of Olives, and is being harassed yet again by the Pharisees. They have bought a woman to him who they claimed had been caught committing adultery (nothing is ever said about the man with whom the alleged crime took place you’ll notice!) This married woman knows there is very high chance of being killed by the then common practice of stoning under the guise of the Law of Moses, as written in Deuteronomy 22. The Pharisees tell Jesus this has to be the outcome, and are trying to test him, again. They want him to either go against the word of Moses, and as a teacher of the Jewish faith of course he could not, or they want him to go against the authority of Rome, as Roman law had deprived the Jews of their rights to stone people to death – they thought they had him!

The gospel says, When they persisted in questioning him, he straightened up and told them, "Let the person among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." In the same situation now, knowing what we do, as the woman, you would be petrified! It is a wonderful thing to say, and it should be said more nowadays if you ask me – ok then, the one of you who is without sin and has NEVER done anything wrong can judge… that would make people stop and think before acting in certain ways! Of course, there WAS someone there who was without sin – Jesus – and he and only he had every right to cast that first stone…and we can only imagine the carnage that would have occurred after that.

What would have happened if one of the Pharisees had cottoned on to this, picked up a stone, handed it to Jesus and said ,’here you go then…’ But they didn’t. Thankfully. Because they understood not a jot of whose company there were truly in. There is a wonderful part when Jesus seems to simply ignore them, and starts to write on the ground with his finger. We’re not told what or really why., and there are many, many schools of thought about this, but in Jeremiah 17:13 in some translations it is written, ‘Those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth for they have forsaken the Lord’ …but in the Pharisees’ trying to get Jesus on the back foot and make a mistake, his calm demeanour must have had them all hopping from foot to foot in madness – how funny! So, Christ neither found fault with the law, nor excused the woman's guilt; nor did he tolerate the pretended zeal of the Pharisees.

People are actually self-condemned who judge others, and yet do the same thing. All who are any way called to blame the faults of others, are especially concerned to look to themselves, and keep themselves and their lives in order. In this situation, Jesus did precisely what he came into the world to do, and that was, to bring sinners to repentance; not to destroy, but to save. He aimed to bring, not only the accused to repentance, by showing her his mercy, but the prosecutors also, by showing them their sins; they thought to ensnare him, he sought to convince and convert them. Check mate to Jesus! AND he declined to meddle with the magistrate's office. Many crimes merit far more severe punishment than they meet with; but that isn’t for us to concern ourselves with. When Christ sent the woman away, it was with this caution, Go, and sin no more. If you help to save the life of a criminal, you must also help to save their soul with the same care. They are truly happy, whom Christ does not condemn.

And as we moan that our lives could be so much better, they could, remember, be so much worse. When I think about when Jesus was writing in the dust the following Lenten poem by George Herbert springs to mind…

Lord, who hast form’d me out of mud,
And hast redeem’d me through thy blood,
And sanctifi’d me to do good;
Purge all my sins done heretofore:
For I confess my heavy score,
And I will strive to sin no more.
Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,
With faith, with hope, with charity;
That I may run, rise, rest with thee.
May God bless and keep us all safe,
healthy and though able to cast a stone
be always unwilling to do so.
Christ's favour to us
in the forgiveness of past sins
should prevail with us,
So, Go then,
and sin no more. Amen

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