Thursday, 21 July 2016

Trinity 2016 Romans 5:1-5

Romans 5:1-5 TRINITY Past – Present - Future

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
On the threshold.... On the diving board..... Into the unknown.....
Baptism is a welcome – and a launch – don't be like Mr Bean! Start off full of enthusiasm and bravado and then, when you look into the depths – Aargh! This promise to follow Jesus as part of His Church is binding – and it is a blessing. But new experiences are challenging. You have to change – CHANGE!!!!

The Christian faith is about change. It is based on experience of historical events that changed hearts and minds. The Trinity is something discovered through experience, not taught by Law. Our future is something we have to discover and forge. It always involves change. Change can be challenging. And exciting. Change for Orla and her family – but also for us as a church in Allesley – and for me and my family.

Today I am announcing that, after 14 years as Rector – brilliant for me and (I hope) not to bad for you, I will be retiring at the end of September. It is a big change and I feel a bit like Mr Bean this morning! But I have peace about it. And that's not blind faith or wishful thinking or chirpy optimism – its based on experience; experience of God's love. We can look into an uncertain future from a firm foundation.

God of the Past: “we have been” v1 - something accomplished already. Justified. The Love of God who saved his people from slavery. Carried them in his arms. Protected, punished, restored, Fathered them. : “We have been” - e.g. Pilgrimage: The Hospitality, the Churches, The Footpaths, The signposts – all speak of those who prepared our way. Our Church – Margaret, Eddy, Dorothy, Renee, Ken, Mike.... they have made a pathway for us as they walked before us. The great cloud of witnesses. Signposts to the love of God. You will have your own fore-runners of faith, as do I. They speak of the Love of the Father for all his children. And that is the form foundation on which we stand. Our launching pad. God is not judgemental, he is not angry, he's not even “disappointed” - He is at peace with us. When he looks at you he says “Ahh!”

God of the Present: “we stand” v2 - this is where we are now. Firmly established. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those disciples saw the power in Jesus, the compassion, the victory over sin and death, the authority of wind and waves, the love for the poor and helpless, the sins forgiven, the eyes opened – and they recognized the presence of God: “My Lord and My God” said Thomas (in the end). Father and Son. Present: “we stand” - The company of pilgrims who you get to know, share thoughts and feelings with but also food, knowledge, clothing, equipment. We share our strengths and weaknesses. All Saints is a great place to learn to serve. We love to say “yes” to those who have an idea and some energy to try. I meet with so many vicars whose complaint is “no one will do anything – there are no leaders”. Here, we stand in Grace: God's Riches At Christ's Expense. We know that what we have comes from Jesus – and is given to us simply to serve others. We know we're not perfect. We know we don't deserve it. We know we might mess it up, but we'll give it a go. We are among friends, after all.

God of the Future: “we ...hope” v3 – where we are called to.. The fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The unfathomable promise of Jesus.”You will receive power”, “He is with you and shall be in you”. Then they experienced the gifts of the Spirit in power, sinners saved, eyes opened, compassion and unity and they knew “This is God's Spirit”. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One God. Three “persons”. And Father, Son and Holy Spirit sent them out. “Go!”
“the hope of the Glory of God” - this is what we are moving towards, what we will see either through death, or if the Lord comes first, and anyway in the new life that God will bring into being all around us. We're not the finished article “Be patient! God isn't finished with me yet.” Ru and I have really enjoyed living here, being part of this church, learning so much from you, growing together. We have so much hope for this Church. Not because you are all brilliant (which you pretty much are!) but because we know that God's love is being poured into your hearts through the Holy Spirit.
At the end of a pilgrimage you have to stop. The only question is “where to next?”. You never stop being a pilgrim. And that's where Ru and I are now. With children and grandchildren around the world we want to make sure we can travel to see them whilst we are still fit. We want to see All Saints with fresh and vibrant loving leadership. So it is with mixed emotions that I have decided to join Ru in retirement at the end of September. There will be lots of time to plan and to celebrate together. Lots of work to do before then.
Today we think about the Trinity of Love – past, present and future.
All that we have been, the place where we stand firm, and the hope to which He calls us all.

The Glory of God.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Summer 15 John 21:1-19 "Peter's Picnic"

 John 21:1-19 Peter's Picnic

What is the weirdest sandwich you have had?

Peter's sandwich was a roller coaster ride between two miraculous catches of fish, or two calls from Jesus.

Even Peter, the overweight Labrador of disciples, couldn't fail to spot the message here. "Boat - Stranger - Nets - Fish - Call" ring any bells?

Our sandwiches. Jesus called us. "You did not choose me..." . Remember when he called you? At church? At home? Youth group? Holiday? Ironing? Work? To PETER he'd said, "I have a job for you... Not fishermen but Fishers of men. Did he say something like that to us? What happened to us?

His' call is permanent. However PETER's sandwich had a rather patchy filling. He had messed up in the meantime, You know the ham that has lots of gristle, the chicken bone. The black banana. The unexplained long black hair? Jesus re-calls him. Ever happen to you? We give up on ourselves, we assume he gives up on us. But his love and patience far outstrip ours.

And something wakes up in Peter. That impulsive love that blurted out " you are the Christ. The son of the living God" at Caesarea Philippi, that wanted to build the stupid shelters on the mount of transfiguration, that propelled him to walk to Jesus on the water, that cut off the high priest's servants ear, that wept bitter tears of shame at the trial courtyard; woke again. This is what he wanted. This is who he wanted. He leapt at the chance. The fish. The boat. The friends. This time he takes his coat with him. All forgotten for Jesus. 

But this time it has to be different. This time it matters. It's not just about how well Peter will do. Not about his good reputation. Not about his competition with John. The sandwich had cooperation rather that competition too you see. The three questions "Do You Love Me?" are not about reminding Peter of his triple failure. Not about cleansing 3 sins with 3 challenges. They are about stressing the "sheep". Its they who are the threefold focus. They are " my" lambs, says Jesus. They are your work.
Are they ours?

Jesus call is personal.
Jesus call is permanent.
Jesus call is persistent.
Jesus call is purposeful.

Our call.
My call.
Young, old, in work or out, well or sick, flying or sinking... He who called you is faithful.

Summer 15 "Stone in my Shoe" Matthew 26:69-75 Denial?

This week we are thinking about Matthew 26:69-75 Peter's denial.

I had a stone in my shoe. 

 We all face challenges. What do you do when you have a stone in your shoe? Most of us wriggle it around, shake it all about, hobble along for a bit can get by. There are things that we find awkward, like Peter, things that stop us living fully Christian lives. 

Peter loved the picture of being the hero leader, dauntless, pioneering, loyal – you see it in the garden with the sword. But his “stone in my shoe” was that he wanted to fit in, to be accepted. Here at the fire. And he wanted to keep out of trouble! What are your “stone in my shoe” things? Do you just put up with them?

Stone in my Shoe! Jesus knows we will fail. Peter surprised himself – when that cock crowed he was devastated. He realised what he'd been doing. But it was no surprise to Jesus. He'd seen it coming. He knew Peter. Do you know - it is no surprise to Jesus when we mess up. He knows us too! We are often devastated – but its just our pride that's hurt. Like Peter, we thought we'd be able to do it.  Jesus always knew that we, like Peter, couldn't. But I think He loved him for trying.

Stone in my shoe! Jesus still trust us. The surprise is not that we have a stone in our shoe, not that we we fail, not even that He forgives us and still loves us. But that  he still trusts us with his love. We need to stop, sit down, take off our protective footwear and get that thing out! Then..... well that's another story. That brings us to next week!

Summer 15 "Mother's Headache" Matthew 8:14-27

Matthew 8:14-27 . Healing Peter's Mother-in-Law

What Are We Putting Up With?
Some people go to the beach with a tiny rolled up towel, sunglasses, suncream, a bottle of water. They are called “French”. Others go with the kitchen sink: - sandwiches, flasks, picnic baskets, chairs, towels, sunshades, windbreak, football, cricket, badminton, surfboards, nets, buckets, spades, blow up dinghy (no pump!), camera, phone, charger, anorak.... and they go to the furthest part of the beach. That's us! What are we carrying? What are we putting up with?
How are you? “Not too bad, considering”. “Can't complain”. “Mustn't grumble”. “Plenty worse off”. “Fair to middling”. What did you expect? 
What do you expect?

God Comes Close.
Did you ever play: “Mother's Headache”? Its is a game where everyone has to change their behaviour to accommodate Mum's malady. Creep up on tip toe so as not to arouse Mother, who is afflicted by a rage inducing malady. Don't make a noise or she'll turn round and catch you moving. Then its back to the start for you! Ever done that in real life? Sometimes it is unavoidable. Sympathy and self preservation.
Sometimes we live our lives as if God was “mother” - with a headache: Judgemental, fractious, suffering through our disobedience, angry and meting out justice. We tiptoe around righteously and try not to incur his wrath. We try to remain unnoticed. God is not like that.
Peter discovered that this Rabbi – who defied convention by not only using humble fishermen, but called them to become that most respected of the learned: disciples, reached out to the poor and lowly, healed them and forgave them. He discovered that Jesus was the Son of God. God come close. 
Have we?

God Reaches Out To Touch
In Kibera, a major Nairobi slum I visited,  it was considered an honour to take the visiting pastor into your home. Even if you had nothing but a mattress and a curtain in it. Peter was taking the Rabbi home! It was a big deal. His position could be vindicated before the family perhaps? They would have been determined to put on a good show – especially with all the neighbours looking in. Mother in Law's illness was a real “Headache” for them. Shame. Disgrace. Rumour. Gossip. But Jesus comes, not as a judgemental dignitary for whom we have to put on our best show. He comes as one who reaches out to touch our needs. And he showed the possibility that people could be healed at His touch.
Did you know that it is true that He “took our illnesses. He carried all our diseases”. Isaiah 53:4 It was true for the extraordinary: demon possessed and those who were searching for healing. He took them to the cross. He carried them through death. He overcame them in resurrection. He still does this for you and me. It's true then. It's true now. 
Are you “putting up with” something that Jesus can heal?

God Restores Us To Real Living.
But it is also true for the world's “mothers headache”.
We sometimes have expectations that are too high – but more often our expectations are way too low. We put up with things, limitations, dis-eases that actually need challenging and changing. Not only illness, but injustice, bullying, inefficiency, prejudice, hopelessness, joylessness, sin. Not only because we're lazy (and we are!) but because we forget or don't believe that these things are ARLEADY dealt with. “He took up ALL our infirmities and carried all our diseases”.
When Jesus wanted tea. He didn't tiptoe around trying not to disturb his hostess (that would have shamed her). He touched her. Healed her, but also restored her to life. He enabled her to fulfil her calling as hostess. He took away her shame. He made her whole. She knew that she was valued and needed.
He drank her tea – and probably had cake too

When Jesus comes close to us, touches us, heals us – we are free to overcome the dis-ease of our world too.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

What Happened Next #10 Acts 9:1-19 Being Converted

Acts 9:1-19 What Happened Next? Being Converted 19/7/15 8/10 Allesley

1Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
 5"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. 6"Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

Being Converted: My Story “Out of the Blue”

Being Converted from Resistant to Responsive. Saul! On one hand we might be reassured that God does not need the Church to act to convert people. All we need is a series of blinding flashes! Why doesn’t that happen? Is it too expensive, too difficult, too straightforward for God? No. It’s not the best way! The church is God’s “best way” of proclaiming the gospel! Saul is only where he is on the road to Damascus because of the Church. He has been provoked by Christian people acting in the power of the Holy Spirit. Tongues, preaching the Word, healing, proclaiming Jesus is alive. Generosity. Self sacrifice of Stephen has provoked Saul beyond endurance. Do you think Saul would have been so angry “breathing out murderous threats” if they had kept their religious views to private Sunday morning meetings?
Saul has something to teach us today. Conversion! From being outside and resistant to the Good News of Jesus he becomes responsive to Jesus voice and to His church. He too is baptised into the Family.

Being converted from cool to hot – from interest to commitment.
For some people talking about Jesus, or any religion, just leaves them cold.
But many people are interested in spirituality/ religion. But who has an interest in religion (i.e. an investment)?
The old illustration of the Full English Breakfast: The chicken is cool, it has an interest in a fried breakfast – but the Pig is Hot, fully committed!
Saul is at least committed. He's putting his money where his mouth is. No hypocrisy here like those who join the stoning but then just go back to work. He is Hot on the trail. The believers who are not frightened off have a commitment they find it Hot – I wonder how many just decided play it cool, to keep it quiet after Stephen's stoning?
What about us? Cool or Hot? Baptism reminds us about commitment, not interest. Its Hot not Cool.

Being converted from Lifestyle Choice to Living Lord. Big to Small.
In the Bible, and in most anthropological studies, human beings are individuals who are members of a family, a tribe, a community. The “belonging” is very important in being fully human. In out days this is constantly being undermined. Margaret Thatcher famously said “There is no such thing as Society: there are only individuals”. She reflected a growing individualism and a disintegration of human society. People are more and more looking for “my way, my fulfilment, a personal journey at the expense of the corporate identity. This is not God's Way.
Saul pursued those who were in “the Way”. He was following in “the Way” as they fled away from Jerusalem.
But when he met Jesus, his true state was revealed. Not leader but a follower of God’s trail. Not a hunter but hunted by Jesus; Not clear sighted but blind. Not independent individual but one needing the Church he was trying to destroy to come and restore him. Saul, asks “Who are you – Lord”. He has stopped being a lord. He has become small. That's what Paul means. When we baptise someone we are not acknowledging a lifestyle choice, we proclaim that someone is part of the Body of Christ the living Lord. We celebrate the fact that we need Him and one another.

Being converted to a new relationship.
See how Jesus knows his name, calls him by name. Twice. He is known as an individual.
See how Saul’s first question is relational, based on finding out more about Jesus; “Who are you?”
Saul may have seen Jesus in the flesh – we don’t know. But now he begins a new relationship with him. Relationships are such a pain sometimes. Your lives are inextricably mixed. “Till death do us part”. That’s what the Church should have with Jesus. That’s what we should be doing – living in the everyday presence of the risen Jesus along with all our sisters and brothers. That's why Baptism is so important. I am not just an individual. I am more than that. I am part of the family of God and I need you, as you need me, to grow into the fullness of the likeness of Christ. The family likeness. No one can do this alone.

  • God can act in your life – and mine “out of the blue” - he's been at work all along. Not Resistant but Responsive.
  • Don't be Chicken – not just interested but committed to Jesus and His .He does not want you to be “cool” but “hot”
  • Be Small – depend on Him and on one another.
  • Listen – He is calling your name. Invest in this New Relationship.

What happened next?
People, families, communities, society were all affected – and continue to be affected by this irresistible force.

We call it “Love”

Thursday, 2 July 2015

What Happened Next #8 "Don't Solicit Celebrity" Acts 5:1-11

What Happened Next #8 “Don't Solicit Celebrity” Acts 5:1-11

Go walks alongside us
Ready to hear
Ready to speak
Ready to act
He sets us free
Use your freedom wisely.

Who are your Spiritual Heroes? Who have you seen live? Whose books do you read? Who do you search for online? Whose TV channel is on your favourites list. Who do you try to sit by in church?
Some of mine: John Wimber, David Watson, Rob Bell, Bill Vanstone, CS Lewis. And I'd like to add Jurgen Molttmann, Hans Kung, Kart Bart, because that will make me look less lightweight. Because, like it or not, we do care what we look like to others. It's good to be attractive.

Living in the power and presence of the Spirit is very attractive: that first Pentecost outpouring of people praising God in “my own language” attracted thousands to faith. These first miracles of the disciples and the extravagant generosity of the newborn church attracted many to be “added to their number”. Its great for evangelism, but is there a danger that we want to be "attractive" rather than obedient?

To be inspired by a good example – witnessing, praying, serving, healing, giving – is brilliant. We all have people whom we have tried to emulate. Above all we try to emulate Jesus: to “be Christ to others”. Its not hubris. It's a laudable if not completely achievable aim. But remember that Jesus is not a celebrity. His acts of service; His teachings; His miracles; His death and resurrection are not done to boost His popularity (which is the goal of celebrity, isn't it?). They are done to save, to heal, creation.

In the early church this danger of celebrity is opposed in a very dramatic fashion. This couple are attracted to the example of extravagant generosity that they see around them They see how God is praised, what goodwill is earned among the people, how those acts of generosity stand out – and they want that acclamation too. They too go and sell some valuable property. They too want to lay this at the apostles feet. So what's the problem?
Q's: How do we know that our urges are from the Holy Spirit?
Are our acts of service done for God or for our own sense of worth?
Do we really feel that God is walking alongside us all the time?
Will I die if I get it wrong?!!!

1. Will this action help in the establishment of God's rule? Is it like Jesus? LJPPKGFGS?
  1. Is this mostly for God or for my own reputation?
  2. Remembering that the Holy Spirit is right alongside me, am I still comfortable with it?
The problem with Ananias and Saphira is not what they decided to give. It was their land. When they sold it it was their money. They could give as much or a little as they wanted to. But it seems that they proclaimed themselves as more “extravagantly generous” than they were. They wanted the acclaim for themselves rather than for their Lord. Generosity makes you feel good about yourself, yes. Nothing wrong with that. But it can't be the reason. Have you ever been the recipient of a favour when the helper tells you in so much detail how costly and sacrificial they are being that in the end you'd rather they hadn't bothered. The “working my fingers to the bone” approach?

But much more importantly they were pretending. They were pretending to be “in the Spirit”. They didn't really think that God was walking alongside them, knowing the deepest longing of their hearts, wanting to bless them in every way, wanting to make them whole in his love. They thought that the Spirit realm was somehow distinct from the everyday. It is not. Incarnation means God as a human being. Immanuel means “God with us”. Pentecost means the Holy Spirit of God poured into our hearts here and now, here to stay. So remember;

Go walks alongside you
Ready to hear
Ready to speak
Ready to act
He sets you free

Use your freedom wisely.

What Happens Next #7 "Practice Extravagant Generosity" Acts 4:32-37

What Happened Next #7 - Practice Extravagant Generosity Acts 4:32-37

Q. How do I let the holy Spirit into my wallet or purse.
A. Open your wallet and repeat after me “Help Yourself” (Spike Milligan). “All things come from you and of your own do we give you” (C of E Communion Service).

Pass around a £20 note. See if gets back to the front! Why would it? “It doesn't belong to me.”

What happens when HS comes? We respond. Personal & Social Restoration. Talk about Jesus. Bold action in the face of opposition. Get together to pray then - Extravagant generosity.

Extravagant Generosity is a Kingdom Issue.
This weeks Alpha Course reminded me of the priority of Jesus teaching on The Kingdom. His message, now entrusted to the disciples was, “The Kingdom of God is near” and Kingdom here means, not some geographical or political area but where ever God has His way, where His rule is established. Salvation, Justice, Peace, Reconciliation, Forgiveness, Healing, And in Jesus teaching this is both “now” and “not yet”.

OT view: We live in the evil Present age. THEN The New Age begins when the messiah comes then everything is made perfect.

Jesus view: We live in the evil Present Age. Jesus comes. The New Age is inaugurated. There is a transition period as the Kingdom invades and overcomes. Jesus returns and the New Age is complete.
This is called "inaugurated eschatology".

This transition might be a straight line graph as everything steadily becomes more holy.
It might start very quickly and slowly taper off until perfection is reached.
It might start slowly but then grow exponentially.
It might be a combination of progress speeds.
It might even go up and down perhaps? We don't know. But we have to live in it, And we are here to work for, to pray for, the coming of the Kingdom.

Our expectations of God, our experience of God, our obedience to God , our relationship with God,
Our witness, our prayer life all need to come more and more into God's rule, God's kingdom as individuals, church and society. GOD RULES OK.
Sometimes the last thing to come under God's authority is our finances. – we need to practice extravagant generosity. From £Mine to £Yours

Extravagant Generosity is a Freedom Issue
It may be that this “now and not yet” takes off really well for your worshipping, for your Bible study, for your praying, for your fellowship together. But sometimes our giving gets trapped by our worldly values, it lags behind. Our voices say that “all I need is you” or “you are my everything” or “All I am I give to you”. Our prayers acknowledge that we depend on God for our well being, our health, our direction in life. Our study gives us greater store of conviction about the truth of God's love for us shown in all the He has given for us in Jesus.
Then we come to church and put £10 or £5 or sometimes something that goes “clink” in the offering. Well what does extravagant giving look like? Is is extravagant to spend £100 on a meal for two at a Restaurant? Is it extravagant to spend £100 on a pair of jeans? Is it extravagant to spend £100 on a makeover? So, if you take home £1000 a monthly tithe is £100, 2000 - £200 and pro-rata. and anything above this might be considered extravagant. Only the first disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit didn't do that. That's what the Pharisee and Sadducee did. Those who rejected Jesus. Those who didn't have the Spirit. The others, our forebears in faith, did things a bit differently. They gave. No limit. To those in need. Acts 4:34-5 “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money, and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone as they had need”. They were free. As Jesus taught “Freely you have received. Freely give.” If you don't know that you have been given then it is hard to give.

Extravagant Generosity is a Blessing Issue.
Jesus spoke about this in Luke 21:4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’ This woman who put in her last 5p was considered more generous that the wealthy who gave fortunes in a public manner because she gave extravagantly “all she had to live on”. Its not the amount – its the attitude. Its not how much – its how generous. Its not about getting it right to earn more brownie points – its about making sure that you are living in the freedom of God's Kingdom where He will provide. So we make a mistake when we talk about 10% or 5% and when we excuse those living on pensions or benefits as if they are excluded from extravagant generosity. Its not an obligation. Its a blessing and a joy that sets you free.

Extravagant Generosity is a Holy Spirit Issue.
We are not saying “Do more of this to get more HS power” - that's a common mistake in the church. We just need to know that in the Kingdom “all things come from you and of your own do we give you”
We just need to know that so we have freedom to respond so that no one is in need.
We just need to know that in Jesus God will also give us every blessing. Rom 8:32 “He who did not spare his only Son but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things.”
This is the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
So when God says “Open your wallet and repeat after me” We can joyfully respond 'Help Yourself!'”