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“It’s the thought that counts”
I’m relieved it’s no longer April. The month of April seems to be the month for birthdays. Everyone we know - children, family, friends - seems to have a birthday in April. How are you at choosing gifts? As everyone gets older, it’s really hard to know what to get for anyone. Especially when they say “Oh I don’t really need anything”. Are you someone who loves to shop and spend a long time thoughtfully seeking out just the right thing for a loved one? Do you always seem to know just what people need? Or are you a last minute online shopper, checking out someone else’s browsing history or wish list for ideas and relying on next day delivery?
In today’s gospel reading from John 14:23-29 we hear about a very special gift. Jesus knows that he will not be with the disciples for much longer, and tells them “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Or, as the New Living Translation more helpfully puts it: “I am leaving you with a gift — peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”
Jesus is trying to prepare the disciples for the time when he will not be around, and to give them reassurance that everything will be OK.
The peace that Jesus offers is not external, worldly peace – the lack of hostilities, suffering or strife. This peace won’t eliminate conflict or trouble, moments of anxiety, worry, nervousness or fear but gives an inner confidence to endure in the face of turmoil knowing that God will come through in any situation.
The path to us receiving this peace however comes from giving every situation to God in prayer and learning to trust that He will carry us through any situation that life has to offer no matter how difficult.
This is surely something that should feature high on everyone’s wish list.
Debbie Page – Informal Worship Team
Get Small & Tell The Truth
"Wise is the man who learns to dumb it down" (Curtis Tyrone Jones). When I was a young child, a relative once tried explaining the complexities of how to knit; I was more interested in what they were making.
In the reading from Acts this weekend, Peter has just returned to Jerusalem with the report of the first Gentile converts and of his dramatic vision from God. (Acts 11.1-18). He is explaining his experience in the presence of a group who wanted to keep Christainity to themselves, just to the Jews, a bit like a church version of the Brexit party.
It would have been easy for Peter to have spoken about how special he was to have been chosen to see such a vision. How great his preaching must have been to have had such an impact (after all, one of his previous sermons led to 3000 converts). But Peter gets small and tells the truth.
He realised that faith in Christ and the gift of his Spirit were available for all peoples, that his part in the process was secondary, and that the regulations others were trying to enforce were not what God was about. These were new christians who had heard the amazing story of the gospel. Rules, regulations and the process were not the point.
So in our faith journey and our day to day living where do we need to get small & tell the truth of the gospel? "The most complicated skill is to be simple" (Dejan Stojanovic).
Unconventional or what?
We are slaves to convention and precedent. How often have we been told “we don’t do it that way here”? It is true in all areas of life, but perhaps especially in matters of religion. Sadly, we often just don’t realize that we are blindly following convention for no good reason.
In today’s passage from the book of the Acts of the Apostles there are two ancient conventions which are overturned, one fairly obvious and the other perhaps not. The first concerns Dorcas, or Tabitha, who was obviously a very worthy woman. After she had died the widows, the poor women, showed off the clothes she had made for them (at one time, events where women got together to make clothes were called “Dorcas parties”). St Luke calls her a disciple and St Peter, not an obvious enthusiast for women’s ministry, is persuaded to raise her from death. This is the first convention overturned; a woman treated as a disciple and resurrected not just to serve men but for her good works in the community.
The second more obscure convention is just in the final sentence of this chapter of Acts: And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner. Tanning was un unclean occupation and that was probably why this Simon lived on the coast, on the edge of polite society. For Peter, a good Jew, to stay in the house of a tanner was really quite shocking, and no doubt intended to demonstrate just how far the followers of Christ had moved on from the Jewish purity laws. It showed that all people were worthy of acceptance.
These examples invite us to question how far we may be blindly following meaningless or outdated conventions in our religious life, particularly those that might exclude people who are different from us. It may mean abandoning some of our beloved traditions and, as a traditionalist by nature, I find this as difficult as anyone!
Steve Chandler - Reader
Clarity of vision- Revelation 5:11-14
The book of Revelation is a bit like the ‘written’ equivalent to one of those tricky paintings you see on ‘antique valuing’ T.V. programmes, where there is symbolism and layers of meaning. So I am going to focus in on just verse 13 in our reading for this week; ‘Blessing and honour and glory, and power, for ever and ever.’ By now I hope you are thinking to yourself “why is that phrase familiar...where have I heard it before?” Well, it is a phrase we regularly use in our Communion services and is sometimes sung by the choir. So lets ask some questions then.
1/ Who is the blessing, honour, glory and power for?
Well the other part of the verse clearly tells us that it is for ‘him who sits on the throne’ (which is God the Father) ‘and to the Lamb’ (which is Jesus).
2/ Who is speaking and saying these things?
The passage says the words are being said or sung by many angels and other heavenly beings through a vision.
The visions in the book of Revelation are traditionally recorded as being seen or heard by John the disciple, writing in his old age, from the island of Patmos, where he was exiled by the Roman emperor for his part in giving testimony about Jesus.
The angels also talk of ‘The Lamb’ (remember that is Jesus) as being worthy to receive ‘power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing’. When ‘blessing’ is directed towards God it means ‘Praise’ and some versions of the Bible use the word ‘Praise’ instead of ‘Blessing’.
It seems quite clear then that if Jesus is worthy of the multitude of ‘angelic’ voices praising him in the heavenly realms then he is certainly worthy of our ‘not so angelic and ordinary earthly’ voices praising him. Perhaps next time you attend a Communion service you can look out for those words and say or sing (depending on the service) the words a bit louder with real conviction, because Jesus is worthy. He is worthy on a Monday, on a Tuesday, on a Wednesday, on a Thursday, on a Friday, on a Saturday...and yes, on a Sunday during a Communion service.
Sherri – Reader.
Seeing is believing?
Easter: what a wonderful time of year! Improving weather, lambs gambolling in the fields, eggs as symbols of new life, and flowers and blossom everywhere. Hope, happiness and good feelings abound. So not unnaturally, when thinking thus, we feel offended and become defensive when forced to confront realities we’d rather downplay or edit away in what can tend to be an essentially escapist rosy world view: the flowers and blossoms will end up on the compost heap and the eggs and lambs in Tesco’s. Faced with such frequent jarring elements in our own lives and experience, it is easy to adopt a jaded and cynical view as a sort of protection from the dreadful hurt and pain of life’s failings and disappointments.
This Sunday is the one where we encounter Thomas in one of the most important of all Scripture passages. “Doubting Thomas” we call him, but he is the prototype and archetype for each of us as we struggle with faith in the face of life’s terrible cruelties and disillusionment. The excitement and positivity of his fellow disciples who tell him “we have seen the Lord” is not catching, it only serves to deepen his gloom and isolation. “Unless I see the nail marks, I will not believe it.”
“Seeing is believing,” we likewise say when faced with statements or situations that seem barely credible without compelling evidence. Thomas knows the mighty Roman Empire is brutally efficient at public execution, and the one he has followed and loved is definitely and horribly dead. And yet...in the doubt there is a spark of hope. Thomas doesn’t simply give up and walk away (“well, it was good while it lasted”), but is there when Jesus appears the next time. And Jesus is there specifically for him. That little glimmer of hope bursts in an instant into a resurrection, a sort of re-birth for him, as by the kindness and graciousness of God he encounters the life, the power and love of the crucified God for himself. May we too seek and know that transformation as we touch and see the wounds of God and the wounds of our world.
David Frith, Reader
It is finished!
We all get a sense of achievement, and maybe relief once we have finished a task. I can remember the sheer joy of pressing the upload button when I submitted a college assignment. There are some tasks which we live with, wrestle with, and almost breathe until that day of completion.
This week I was struck by those words which Jesus cried out from the cross as he died; “It is finished”. We can think of this as the end of his ministry, or the end of his mission. Some may say that it was to signify his conquering of death and the consequences of human disobedience. But there are hits of something even deeper.
God had promised to bless the whole of humanity through the descendants of Abraham. He made a lasting promise (a covenant) with Abraham. This was reconfirmed by the giving of Commandments and Law. This promise had been demonstrated to the Israelites in Egypt on the night of the first Passover, the night before the Exodus; their rescue. This first covenant was a promise to Israel.
When Jesus shared his last Passover meal with his disciples he made a new promise (or covenant), the symbols of which were not the sacrifice of a lamb, but his own broken body and shed blood. This was no longer a promise to one group of people, it no longer required the observance of laws and the ongoing sacrifice for breaking them. This new promise was a once for all, encompassing all, embracing all, in a covenant signed in the blood of God himself.
That moment on the cross saw the birth of a new era, a watershed between the burden of the law and the freedom of knowing God, for all humanity. In Jesus faithful journey to the cross, we are invited to join in this new promise. A promise of knowing the closeness of God, and the promise of life in all its fulness.
Rev Steve Godsell
I work for an education charity which encourages children to consider a career in engineering. We recently ran a workshop entitled “Strong Structures”, in which we looked at how bridges and tall buildings are built. Architects and engineers use shapes, in particular arches, in their designs to give their buildings strength. In my preparation, I learnt that the Great Pyramid of Giza was the tallest man-made structure for over 3,800 years until it was overtaken by Lincoln Cathedral in 1311. The medieval master builders worked out how they could use arches to build magnificent churches and cathedrals to honour and worship God.
In verse 22 of Psalm 118, we hear that “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.” The capstone is the centre stone in the top of the arch and holds the whole arch together. Jesus referred to this verse, calling himself the capstone. (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17). He was rejected by many, but he is now the “capstone”, the most important part of the church, holding the church together.
It is interesting that the lectionary places this Psalm in the readings for this week. Palm Sunday is when we remember how Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem by crowds of people praising God and waving palm branches. Psalm 118:22, now quoted by Jesus, gives us a whole different perspective as we think ahead to what will happen to Jesus. It doesn’t take long for the people who cheered him coming into Jerusalem to reject him, then for the events of Good Friday to unfold. Jesus knows that he has to be rejected by the people so he can become the capstone: the most important part of the church. Amid all the celebration we are reminded of what is to come.
This verse also prompts us that through all the difficulties that life presents us with, Jesus is our capstone, holding us altogether. Whatever the circumstance or personal troubles we are going through we must look to Jesus as our strength and our refuge.
Pam Curtis – Eleven Team Member
I have no interest in sport or competition but I have been involved in artistic performance, of a sort; ringing challenging peals in complex methods on church bells. From this I learned what most elite sports people know, you must leave your mistakes behind you and look forwards. If you make a trip or mistake and keep thinking about, it impairs your concentration and you will make more mistakes.
This is what I take from what we read St Paul telling the Philippians: but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Paul is declaring that our faith is forward looking, primarily about a future goal rather than the present or past. I love that sense of striving and urgency in St Paul’s words. Most modern Bible editions use those words “straining forward” to give this impression. It is only too easy to be gripped by our past, our present, our mistakes, so that we must strain and strive to focus on what lies ahead.
Even if we do accept that we must leave the past behind, we may still claim that we must deal with all those present problems; this is where we are after all. An answer to this is the story from John’s gospel, where Mary is criticised for wasting valuable ointment on Jesus’s feet instead of selling it for the poor. Jesus responds: the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me. He is not advocating ignoring the poor, of course, but is saying that we must not let the inevitable problems of the present occupy our whole attention and prevent us from focussing on our ultimate target, to become one with Him.
So, we must put the past and present in their proper place and concentrate on straining forward to change the church, society and ourselves to become what God intended us to be. In the words of CS Lewis: there are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.
Steve Chandler - Reader
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