Thursday 31 January 2013

Jesus' Manifesto
Luke 4:14-21
This is what we were thinking about in the talks in church last Sunday. It's part of our series on Jesus prepares for ministry and it's a very important turning point, because up to now everything Jesus has done has been pretty much private. Mary and Joseph... a few shepherds... the wise men... Simeon and Anna in the temple... His baptism, a vital part of his preparation, seemed to be mostly about his relationship with the Father and the Spirit... even his intense personal struggle with Satan in the temptations was just that - personal between himself and the enemy.

But now Jesus is going public: Launching his ministry with a public declaration of who he is and what he has come to do.

But first, the joke. They are holding an amazing healing service down at St Elsewhere's. The speaker is inspiring, and at the end, the congregation rushes forward for healing prayer. First in the queue is a troubled looking man. The ministry team asks him what can they pray for him. "It's my hearing - please pray for my hearing."

So they give it everything - laying on of hands, anointing with oil, naming and claiming, they even put their fingers in his ears. Finally they ask him, "Well, how did it go? How's your hearing?"

"I'll let you know about my hearing next week," he says. "I'm in court on Tuesday."

I know, it sounds better live. Blame George, he told it to me.

Yes, now Jesus is now going public. Notice that he picks up two issues from what has gone before, in his baptism (which we looked at two weeks ago) and his temptations (last week). These are the issues of his identity and of the Holy Spirit. Remember that the Spirit came upon him at his baptism in the form of a dove, and then led him into the wilderness to be tempted. And remember that the Father affirmed his identity - "You are my beloved Son" - and then Satan tested it: "If you are the Son of God..."

In this week's Bible passage Jesus picks up again on both of these themes. He states who he is. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me" is a statement that he is the Messiah, because "Messiah" is Hebrew for Anointed One (so is "Christ" in Greek). When he says, "today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing," he therefore means, "I am the Messiah the prohets were talking about." That is his identity. And he says that this anointing is the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon him.

But this anointing isn't a sort of award for being a nice person. It is there for Jesus' ministry and mission. He sets this out in the words of the same passage from Isaiah 61:
o   good news to the poor
o   release to the captives
o   sight to the blind
o   liberty to the oppressed

It's all about engaging with people. All of these things are about transforming people's lives. We can take them spiritually, and rightly so as people's spiritual eyes are opened to the Kingdom and they are released from fears and debilitating behaviours. But we can also take them physically, as Jesus clearly did in his own healing ministry (and as we sometimes see happen in the healing ministry today). We can take them politically - look at the huge contribution made to the betterment of human life by Christian leaders like Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce, Elizabeth Fry, the Earl of Shaftesbury... and we can certainly take them socially, as we should know here in Walsall with the tremendous benefits brought to our town through the work of Sister Dora. I bet you can think of loads of other examples - never let anyone tell you that Christianity has brought nothing to the world but the Inquisition and the Crusades, it's cobblers!

The point is that people are transformed when Jesus is at work. It's what he came to do. If we're not seeing lives transformed, it's just possible we ought to stop and think again whether we're doing it right. Because Jesus is still pursuing that mission through us today. We are his body, he's the head. He wants to work through us to touch people in those same ways, through us.

This means all of us, not just a few special people. Jesus' only ordination was his baptism. We baptise male and female – there is no difference. We have all been baptised into him, so we all have a part to play in fulfilling his misson where we are. We together are the body of Christ, through whom he fulfills his manifesto here in Walsall today.

There are three things we really need if we are to do it:
·         the gift of the Spirit. Jesus couldn't manage without the Spirit, neither can we. We were never meant to serve the Lord on our own without the Spirit's power.
·         A deep sense of our identity as children of the living God. Ditto. Any ministry we think we have will soon fall apart if it does not grow out of our roots in God – because it will grow instead out of our own anxiety and insecurity.
·         we must look outwards and engage with others. This isn't just all about me. God isn't just a bit of backdrop for the really important drama of our personal spiritual lives. He calls us to engage with other people around us.

The last thing I want to say is that Jesus defined his manifesto in terms of a Jubilee Year. He said he had come to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour, and the Jubilee year was a special year when slaves were set free, debts were forgiven and everyone shared in the abundance of the land.

Well, we are having a Jubilee this year. We will be celebrating St Matthew's 800th anniversary from 21 September this year (St Matthew's Day) through to 21 Septemeber 2014. How would you like that to go? What kind of things can we do to "proclaim the year of the Lord's favour?" Give it some thought and prayer and let me know your ideas.

Friday 11 January 2013

People have requested notes for my sermon of Sunday 6 January when I set out some vision and some challenges for the coming year. So here they are. Please note that a sermon summary with discussion questions goes out to our home groups and cell groups every week for those who want to make use of them, so there is a good opportunity to reflect on teaching at St Matthew's in a practical way.

Prospects for 2013

As it's New Year what I really want to talk about is our prospects for 2013 rather than the wise men (Sunday 6th was Epiphany, the celebration of the Wise Men). We'll come back to them later. What has God got in store for us this year?

First, thanks for a brilliant Christmas! Lots of things went outstandingly well:
·         great teamwork
·         good attendances – publicity a factor
·         great atmosphere
It looks great for the future!

Our admin restructuring is in progress:
·         greater investment in admin
·         new four year term for wardens delivering well

roof grant from English Heritage
·         may lead on to further development of re-ordering scheme
·         money will be an issue: the grant leaves us with £115k to find
·         we need to maximise use of our existing resources (eg by gift aid) and find new ones!
·         also applies to other finance: Liz Burley's funding runs out… admin post…

800th anniversary – expect some kind of celebration leading up to September.
·         We'll get as many Walsall people as possible along to this.

We need to redefine our mission – Mission Action Plan has been on hold while we've restructured, but structures are not an end in themselves, they are to bring the Kingdom!
·         So the PCC will be going away to re-draft our MAP from the ground up.
·         Completely revised MAP will be brought to the AGM.

Family and Children's Work will be a major feature! We need to think about how we get new families into the mainstream of church life:
·         cross-fertilisation between Messy Church and Clubs, toddler group and Sundays
·         baptisms, confirmations
·         adjusting our services so that they work well for everyone who attends. Not dumbing down! Awe is a vital part of everyone's spiritual diet, so is solid Christian teaching.

Follow up to year of discipleship: small groups.
·         Meeting leaders this month to consider how we can promote and develop them
·         think about how you can participate…

Finally, what about those wise men?
·         They were tough, they went on a challenging 12 month round trip
·         They were generous: gold, frankincense and myrrh are costly!
·         They made sacrifices to achieve their goals
·         They were filled with awe and worshipped Jesus.

We need those qualities to achieve our goals in 2013!
·         By the end of 2013 picture St Matthew's humming with new families, growing disciples in small groups, birthing a fresh vision to reach Walsall...
·         By the grace of God we will get there. We will need to be committed, generous, make sacrifices and keep our focus on the Lord – as those wise men did.

This anniversary year is going to be a great year for St Matthew's! Happy New Year everyone!
Readers of the Black Country Bugle may have picked up an unfortunate impression of St Matthew's from an article in their edition of 3 January, by someone who visited when the doors were locked and it was pouring with rain. A simple phone call to find out when we were open would have avoided this! Anyway I wrote to the Bugle to set out a more positive view and here is my letter.

Dear Bugle

St Matthew's Church Walsall

Thank you for taking an interest in St Matthew's in the article in your issue of 3 January. It is unfortunate that Mr Workman chose to visit at a time when the church was not open and it was pouring with rain, which accounts for a rather depressing and unwelcoming impression of Walsall's splendid Borough Church. This is far from the truth!

It is regrettable that, owing to theft and vandalism, we are unable these days to keep the church doors open at all times, as Mr Workman pointed out. However times when the church is open are published on the notice board and so is contact information for anyone who would like to arrange a visit at another time, so there is every reason for the public to feel they can get access to their church when they wish. A great deal of further information is available on our website From this you will see that we are a lively and vibrant community of all ages and backgrounds, with all sorts of exciting events and activities going on.

There certainly was a significant makeover of the church in the 1820s as stated in the article. However it would be misleading to view this as a total rebuild. The main alterations were the replacement of stone pillars with latest Black Country technology cast iron, the introduction of balconies to increase seating capacity, and the external sheathing of the building in white Bath stone. Among other ancient features of great interest, we still have in situ a 12th century crypt, a 14th century chancel, some exquisite medieval wood carving, a 15th century font and many 18th century memorials as well as the figure of Sir Roger Hillary which you have mentioned.

I am particularly concerned to correct any discouraging impressions your readers may have picked up because this is our 800th anniversary year. We are very much aiming to welcome the people of the Black Country to St Matthew's during the year. To this end we will be putting on various exciting events to mark the anniversary. We would like everyone to feel they can come along and enjoy a really worthwhile time with us. Watch this space!

I hope you might be willing consider a follow up article giving a more upbeat impression of St Matthew's. Believe me there are some spectacular things to photograph on the inside of the church! Do feel free to get in touch if you would like to do this.

Best wishes etc...