Wednesday 27 March 2013

My Easter Hope

When you are a vicar you do lots of funeral services. You cannot, you probably should not, avoid the sobering reflection, "One day that'll be me there in that box... some other vicar will be taking my funeral just like I am taking this one." How to cope with this constant reminder of your own mortality?

Well sometimes people help you through it. A few days before she died I visited a very brave lady who was dying of cancer. Just before we prayed together she said, "I know what's happening to me and, do you know, I've accepted it. I've always trusted in the Lord and I know I have nothing to fear." I was so inspired by her faith! The funeral when it came not long afterwards was as much about triumph as tragedy.

So what does this faith rest on? Easter Day, that's what! Jesus was dead, there's no doubt about that. The Cross happened in front of the Roman governor, King Herod, the chief priests and thousands of Passover pilgrims. But on the third day Jesus' friends started seeing him again. They have left us their witness statements in the form of the New Testament. There is no doubt of the reliability of these witnesses because many of them staked their lives on it. They knew Jesus was risen, so they were not afraid to face death for his sake. The one who had come back from the grave would raise them too.

So death is not the end folks! It wasn't for Jesus, and because of him it need not be for us. My cynical old Scots grandad used to say, "How can we know there's anything after death? No-one's ever come back to tell us." But that's exactly why Jesus rose from the dead. His resurrection tells us loud and clear that there is life in his name!

This is important. A matter of life and death. Too vital to be left hidden under that fluffy pile of chocolate eggs, bunnies, daffodils and hot cross buns. The Easter Bunny isn't coming this year anyway, he's gone back into hibernation...
Give the resurrection some thought this Easter time. If it would help, come to one of our Easter services and find out more – details elsewhere on the website.

Yes, one day it will be me, there in that box… but thanks to Jesus, I can live with that.
(recently published in Pioneer magazine)

Tuesday 26 March 2013


Another few hours spent yesterday with Isla, our beautiful granddaughter – now scientifically proven to be the cutest baby on the entire planet!

And part of it is the beautiful simplicity of her life. She isn't worried about whether there will still be snow tomorrow or how to pay the mortgage or how the big bang started. All she does is eat and sleep – bliss! What a sad contrast to my own anxiety-ridden life.

Why and how did I ever find so many things to worry about? Why do I define the Christian life in terms of activity, instead of being? Can it be that we run around after this and that because we are trying to attract our Father's attention? To make him love us more, as if that were possible? Can't we learn from Isla that our mere existence is enough to provoke the love and delight of heaven?

Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall never go hungry." He also said, "Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." All we need to do – just eating and sleeping…

Thursday 7 March 2013

Just off to see our beautiful granddaughter Isla today. She is wonderful! Thank you everyone for all your kind thoughts, your prayers, and all the cards and gifts. Mum - our daughter Saara and baby continue to do well.

I'm leaving it for Tom and Saara to publish pictures on the web if and when they choose to do so. So if you want to see a picture of Isla, I might just have one on me, if you have an hour or two to spare while I tell you how briiliant she is.

By the way, a series of objective scientific tests, which I have carried out in a totally unbiased way, have established that Isla is in fact the cutest baby in the whole world...
I've really enjoyed our series on Welcoming. It was great to preach on Becoming a Welcoming Community on 24 February at the 8am service. In hopes that people who go to our other services might also like to know what was said, here it is below.

You have to read the story in Luke 7:36-50 to get all the references. It's basically about a Pharisee who invites Jesus to dinner but doesn't bother to welcome him, and a sinful woman who sneaks in to the party and does. There's a picture of it by Rubens that may help.

However I think Chris's talk at 10am on Communitea was much better. Remember those three fab words that guarantee a good welcome? Fancy A Brew?

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Try to imagine what it was like the first time you walked in through a church door…? The person who welcomed you was literally a godsend. They transformed that experience from intimidation to intimacy… Try to imagine how this woman was feeling as she came into the house where Jesus was… So embarrassing! Everyone staring at her!

Why didn't Simon the Pharisee welcome Jesus? Perhaps he'd invited Jesus to put him on show? Perhaps he'd even invited Jesus to sit in judgment on him as others did – he was a Pharisee after all.

But because of it, look how differently they welcome Jesus. Simon has no real welcome for him. Washing the feet, giving a kiss, anointing the head with oil – these were all standard courtesies given to an honoured guest. Simon did not welcome Jesus. His heart was hard. The woman gives it everything. Simon the righteous Pharisee has been outchristianed by a sinful woman who responds to Jesus with a welcome.

The welcome we give others is closely entangled with the welcome we give to Jesus. Simon doesn't welcome the woman – she's a sinner, she's no right to be here, and she's embarrassing my guests - and he doesn't welcome Jesus either. "As much as you do it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it to me." Again and again the real state of our relationship with God is revealed by the way we treat others. More of this later in the series.

So how to become a more welcoming person: we needn't start kissing each other's feet!

·         the heart – the key difference between Simon and the woman, just as it was between the Prodigal Son and his older brother. The woman's heart is broken, Simon's is proud. If we really get it that God welcomes us, our hearts will be soft.

·         Compassion. Altruism requires an act of imagination, to be able to put ourselves in the other person's place. That's what we've been doing as we've thought about this story – putting ourselves in the characters' shoes.

·         Look past our immediate circle. Surveys have repeatedly shown that churches that believe themselves to be extremely welcoming are not nearly so welcoming to visitors. We are welcoming to our friends – but sometimes we need to look over their shoulders and see who is on the outside of the circle. A welcoming community helps by changing our culture

·         our home – the setting in both examples today was the home. One of our key values from Acts is hospitality – see Acts 2:46b. Is the home the final barrier to welcome? An Englishman's home is his castle – a refuge against the struggles and storms of life. We value our privacy – dare we let others share it?

So let's remind ourselves in communion: God has welcomed us, let's welcome others.
This is actually an old post which somehow got deleted. I hope you will find it interesting because of what it says about prospects for St Matthew's Jubilee Year 2013-4 and regenerating the whole hill top area.

Basically our commitment to sourcing trees for the planters outside Asda is expected to trigger work on the grounds around the church, including the sadly neglected parkland outside our boundaries which provides cover for anti-social behaviour and obscures sight lines to the church. There's going to be a meeting about regenerating the hill top really soon!

The article appeared in the Advertiser recently too, in the Living Faith column.

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Plant a little love...
Walsall tree wardens never give up – not for wind, not for weather, certainly not for whingeing vicars! So there we were in a blizzard – do you remember the one that fell on 18 January with all those severe weather warnings? Our heroic mayor Dennis Anson and me, planting trees in those big tubs outside Asda. "Stop moaning," said Mac as we stood around looking like extras from Doctor Zhivago, "It was ten degrees colder at the last one, and there was ten inches more snow!" At least the digging kept us warm...
The trees the mayor and I were planting were yews. They are our longest living native tree. Some British yews are 2,000 years old. Just think of that – they were already alive when Jesus walked the hills of Galilee. Planting trees is long term! There is no better way to commit to a place than planting a tree. Our yews will still be here for hundreds of years, long after we're gone.
So it was good to be planting these yews in front of St Matthew's. We've been here a long time too, sharing God's love with the community for about 800 years. We want to make a fuss about it. From St Matthew's Day (21 September) 2013 to St Matthew's Day 2014 we will celebrate our Jubilee Year with all sorts of amazing events. Watch this space!
Did you know that trees are big in the Bible? From the Tree of Knowledge at the beginning through to the Tree of Life right at the end. Even the Cross where Jesus died for us – for Christians the turning point of all history – is referred to as a tree in several places. The Cross is both a Tree of Knowledge, bearing the bitter wisdom that we are sinners who need mercy, and a Tree of Life where that mercy is freely given to all who seek it.
So here's some Bible promises for tree planters: "They shall be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, for the display of his splendour…" "They are like trees, planted by streams of water, that yield their fruit in season, and whose leaves do not wither." What does God want to plant in your life today? Are you willing to let it take root and grow?