Saturday 8 November 2014

The Wall Falls Down

The Berlin Wall – what a symbol of human divisions! what hope was born 25 years ago when that hideous barrier Curtain finally came down in November 1989. The whole Iron Curtain was torn in two. Nations one after another emerged blinking into the sunlight. Even apartheid fell apart at the same time. It really felt for those of us who were there as if a fresh wind from God was blowing through human existence, waking us up from the nightmare, showing us that there could be hope.

Yet those heady days did not last. There are new dangers and new hatreds roaming the earth. We are still divided, hiding behind our walls of hostility. Name some – class? nationality? money? the generation gap? the war of the sexes? religion? ideology? sporty types versus nerds? arty types versus Philistines? Jew / Gentile? ethnic Group? Accent? Somehow we humans feel compelled to define who we are by deciding who is IN and who is OUT. It always comes back to us and them in the end.

Jesus however has come to break down these barriers. Somehow bearing the rejection of all on the cross broke down the barriers by which we reject one another. He broke down the wall in his own flesh when his body was broken for us on the cross. His cross puts the whole human race together in one category – sinners who need to be forgiven. There's no IN and OUT. We're all IN – up to our necks!

But he also puts us all together in a further category. We are all equally beloved: that person who is on the other side of the wall from you because they talk funny or they are the wrong gender or they do a menial job or their skin is different or they don't hold their knife and fork right – God loves them as much as He loves you. So much he even went to the Cross for them.

This is how the Bible puts it:
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. (Ephesians chapter 2:14-18)
God is the fountainhead of love and peace. Our broken relationship with Him takes away our security and destroys our confidence that we are beloved. It drives us to base our lives on fear - we run away and hide behind our walls. But then the Cross comes! It restores our relationship with God and puts an end to our fear...

But only if we choose it. Let's then come out from our trenches and from behind our walls. Let's come to the Prince of Peace who has broken down every wall. And as we draw near to Him, we'll draw nearer to each other too.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity...

These are lines from W B Yeats' poem The Second Coming. They describe a society disintegrating into ruin and chaos. And they have a prophetic sound to them, don't they? They were first published in 1921, yet they could be describing our time. We see with horror the passionate intensity of those who think they are serving God by murdering people who have never harmed them, butchering even children with unbelievable cruelty, raping women and selling them as slaves, looting and destroying everywhere they go. They kill blasphemers, but what greater blasphemy than to proclaim that God is pleased with such wickedness? I mean, if they were worshipping Satan rather than God, what would they do differently? Who could want to get to heaven if it meant living with a blood-soaked  God like theirs?

But this goes hand in glove with Yeats' other line - the best lack all conviction. It is natural for young, idealistic people to search for meaning and purpose in their lives. What's going to happen when society constantly tells them that there is no point in our existence? That we are just animals who have arrived by accident in a random universe? We have made people who are hungry for reality ripe for indoctrination. It is the converts who are carrying out the worst atrocities and it is our moral and spiritual vacuum that is driving the conversions.

Sadly the religion that has become naturalised on these shores for nearly two millennia has been so denigrated, maligned and slighted that it is not seen as an alternative. Jesus' values – show mercy, do not judge, forgive your enemies and pray for them, love your neighbour as you love yourself, take care of those who are different from you, have compassion on those in need – these are the diametric opposite of the sickening news stories coming out of Iraq. What a different world it would be if young converts flocked to Jesus instead of to jihad. If you want to change the world, do it in the name of love!

But the young and zealous look at our unending river of porn, our deep problems with drugs and alcohol, perhaps above all the Gadarene disintegration of our family life, and they don't think Christianity is an alternative. It's not because Jesus has been tried and found wanting. It's because the Gospel isn't wanted, so it hasn't been tried. They see that Christians don't really speak out, so they assume we have nothing to say. And we don't! We have become self-censoring. We've given in to the constant pressure, we've accepted that the name of Jesus or the sight of his cross might cause somebody to be offended, so we've keep quiet while Christianity has been suppressed. The best lack all conviction… Sadly the harvest of this may turn out not be easy-going secularism (if there is such a thing - it's becoming more and more strident) but hard-edged fanaticism.

What's the answer? Not yet more abandonment of convictions, but standing up for the right ones: speaking out for truth, living for love, bringing peace, declaring in word and action that the Kingdom of the God of love is near. I dare you.

Here's the full text of Yeat's amazing poem:

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again: but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Friday 5 September 2014

Holiday Reading...

Great chance to catch up with my reading this summer, especially last year's bestseller and most critically acclaimed novel, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt - all 864 pages of it!

It's about a drug abusing, alcoholic conman - and it ends up full of profoundly Christian themes. It's fairly amazing that a novel with some sort of Christian outlook gets any kind of support from the critics at all these days! Yet it shouldn't surprise us. Redemption, whether it comes to fruit or is refused, is the main spring of drama in most human story-telling - without it there is no story, just moods that go nowhere. Character is vital for the novel, where it is a huge driver, as it is for Christianity, where it reflects humanity in the image of God. Meaning is fundamental to words, as it is for Christianity. Values are the background which makes it matter what characters do - their actions are not just the random processes of animals.

No wonder then that the greatest novelists of the twentieth century - Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene - were Christians, just as were the greatest poets - T S Eliot and W H Auden. Atheism and don't know-ism just don't cut it in these areas. Of course it doesn't mean that being a Christian makes you a great writer, nor that not being a Christian makes you a terrible one. But it does mean that the right framework for story and character, words and the clash of values is already important to you.

So is Donna Tartt up there with these greats? Well I was so impressed that I've written a book review - see my Book Review blog If you read it I hope it will inspire you to take up Donna Tartt's blockbuster too - just book yourself plenty of time off first...

Our bishop (John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford) is retiring soon. You may know that he is also the Church of England's spokesman on education. His wish as he prepares to retire is that every Christian should read at least three Christian books a year. So I'm plugging my book review blog as it offers some ideas where you might want to start.

Monday 11 August 2014

Walking on water

Last Sunday's talk was about Peter walking on water, or at least giving it a good try. The story's in Matthew 14:22-33. Here's what we said...

I want to talk about your comfort zone. Peter and the disciples in the middle of this storm had a comfort zone. It was their boat. They were fishermen. They'd grown up in boats! They made their living from them, day in, day out.

So stepping out of the boat was leaving the comfort zone. I mean here they were, in the middle of a terrible storm, no Jesus with them, and suddenly they see what most of them take to be a ghost! What would you do? Who'd stay put?

I've heard sermons that rather belittle Simon Peter here – yes he started out fine, didn't he, but then he took his eyes off Jesus, he looked at the wind and the waves – all that's going on around him – instead of trusting in the Lord. So he began to sink… If only he'd listened to my preaching, if only he'd had my faith, he wouldn't have sunk. But Peter's really brave here – would you have stepped out of that boat? Your comfort zone?

When is the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone? It needn't be in a big way. Perhaps you took on a new role – you weren't sure how it would go. Perhaps you went to visit someone – maybe you took up last week's challenge to go and find someone who we might need our company or our help – remember when we ate the fourth bit of donut? Or maybe it was a big thing – you launched a risky business venture, you tried to put things right with someone you'd fallen out with.

Have a chat with your neighbour: when did you last step out of your comfort zone? Where was God in that? ... Anyone want to share? …

As you've noticed, we've actually acted out stepping out of our comfort zone. Opening up to another person about times when we've felt vulnerable – that's stepping out of our comfort zone. Being expected to talk to each other in church – that's stepping out of our comfort zone. 

But why should God want to take us out of our comfort zone? After all, we like it there! And we need to be there a lot of the time - but maybe not all of the time. I think God has three reasons:

1. Because God wants our faith to grow. Faith like a mustard seed is faith that can grow – seeds grow. Put it in God's hands and it will grow – because that's what faith is. It's not about trying to make yourself believe things you know aren't true. It's about trusting in God that He is at work in you. Peter responds to Jesus – "Lord, if it's really you, call me!" God doesn't ask us to do stupid things in the name of stepping out in faith. He just asks that we let Him take the lead in cosmic dance of faith. Faith cannot grow while we play wallflower. We need to get out there and exercise those faith muscles - or they will waste away.

2. Because our comfort zones don't last. Sooner or later, storms come. That's life. Nothing we have will be there forever. Only Jesus is forever – because of His death and resurrection.

3. It's because Jesus Himself is our comfort zone. How do you picture Jesus walking on the water? Scrambling up and down those mountainous waves? No, He didn't scramble, He walked! Peace spread over those waves around Him. Peace spread to Peter when Jesus took him by the hand. Peace spread to the disciples when Jesus got back in the boat. This is a peace that cannot be taken away, because the Prince of peace is forever.

So it's about swapping one comfort zone for another one – a better and more lasting one for one that sooner or later will succumb to the storms and sink. Which comfort zone do you prefer?

For further reading, try this title:

Thursday 7 August 2014

Ethnic Cleansing in Iraq

I am appalled to learn of the horrific violence being meted out to my fellow Christians and other minorities in Iraq simply for not being muslims. This is a systematic attempt to eradicate Christianity from a country where it has been present since the time of Jesus.

The first responsibility for this ethnic cleansing lies with the pack of murderers who are carrying it out, and the second with the wealthy regimes in the Middle East who actually approve of Isis and are bankrolling it to a staggering extent.

But the British and American governments deliberately went in and destabilised Iraq. Whether intentionally or in rash ignorance, they left it prey to these killers. They must surely bear their share of responsibility too.

I encourage everyone who reads this to write to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and their MP and ask to know how the government intends to respond. Can they deploy clandestine forces? Can they take steps against those who fund Isis? What humanitarian aid are they going to offer?

Sunday 3 August 2014


St Andrew's was absolutely packed last Thursday as everyone who could came for Vicki's farewell service. A lot of people had to stand, others were in the Annexe, as close to the door as they could manage to at least hear what was going on. The choir were ousted from their changing room to squeeze still more people in. It's a huge tribute to such a wonderful lady that so many wanted to give thanks for her life and support her family. When you give love, you get it back. When you inspire others, they feel connected to you. That certainly was so for Vicki, who gave so much for other people, and now they came to give something back for her.

There were four vicars there - Simon Douglas Lane, Andrew Parry and John Harper as well as myself (not to mention Carolyn our Baptist Pastor). It just goes to show how much and for how long Vicki has been part of our church's life.

It was a very emotional service at times. For me that was especially when members of her family got up to say how they felt about her as their mum and grandma. It also came when we sang I the Lord of Sea and Sky, when I found myself thinking about how Vicki herself had echoed the words of the hymn in her own response to God and to His hurting people - Here I am Lord... Is it I, Lord?... I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart. Vicki all over, isn't it? But it was also an inspiring service as we sought to honour Vicki's great faith. She knew where she was going, didn't she!

Here's the Bible passage that was read at the service. It's from 1 Corinthians chapter 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

And here's what I said about it and about Vicki in the sermon. First I read a eulogy specially written for the service by Bernie and the family...

Thank you Bernie, you have really brought Vicki's younger self alive for us there, haven't you, for those of us who haven't know her as long as you. She usually had a bit of a twinkle in her eye, didn't she? I can see that was as true back then as it is now.

Well, other people have shared a bit about Vicki's family life in the lovely tributes we heard earlier, and Beryl will say a bit about her life in the church and community when she leads our prayers in a few minutes. So I'm going to say a bit about our Bible reading from 1 Corinthians 13. I hope you will agree as we reflect on it together that there is so much of Vicki in there…

For she knew that love isn't in fine sounding words – the tongues of men or of angels. She knew it isn't in grand but empty gestures – giving away all you have and surrendering your body to the flames. It's in kindness. It's in making time for people. It's in being there when they need you. It's in listening to them. It's in having a generous heart and a gentle spirit towards others.

There's a spiritual exercise some people do to see how they are progressing in the Christian life. You take out the word "Love" from this passage and put in your own name. Try it some time – Colin is patient and kind? H'mmm. Colin is never arrogant or boastful or rude? I wish. Colin is not easily angered, he keeps no score of wrongs? Ouch! Colin bears all things? Fallen short miserably again! No-one is perfect – as it says in 1 Corinthians, everything we know is only in part, the best we can see is just a dim reflection, through a glass darkly. Everyone, including Vicki, stands in need of God's mercy and forgiveness.

Yet surely Vicki ticks far more of those boxes than most of us. She is an example to us of how to live the Christian life, as the many people here who have been blessed by her kindness, her prayers, her thoughtfulness, her practical caring, her unfailing support, will testify.

There is another name we can put in there instead of our own, the name of the only person who ever managed to live out this wonderful Bible passage with complete consistency. It's the person Vicki herself loved and followed. Jesus is patient and kind. Jesus is never arrogant or boastful or rude. Jesus is not easily angered, he keeps no score of wrongs. Jesus bears all things. He does this because He is love incarnate, God Himself come to walk among us in human form. He is Vicki's life and inspiration.

And it's because God is love and has made this love known in Jesus that the greatest of these is Love. Because for Jesus, Love meant giving Himself to the uttermost for us on the Cross. He died for us, not because we are perfect and deserve His sacrifice, but because we are sinners and we don't. That sacrifice was the only way to bring us forgiveness and make a new start with His love inside us.
But God's love was stronger even than death. On the third day, Jesus rose from the grave. He was seen alive by many witnesses. Many of them gave their own lives to testify to Jesus' victory over the grave. So it's because of Jesus that Love endures for ever. As our Bible passage says: "these three things remain – faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." It's our destiny to live in God's love forever and ever. And, by His death and resurrection, Jesus is the way God has provided to do just that. This I know was the cornerstone of Vicki's radiant and magnetic faith, the inspiration for all she was and all she did.

Today as you all know is Vicki's 70th birthday. It was to have been a day of joy and celebration for all the family – sadly that was not to be. Yet a part of me pictures Vicky enjoying the best birthday party ever as she has gone to be with the Lord she loved so much. "You prepare a table before me… my cup is running over…" Heaven celebrates the culmination of seventy years well and faithfully lived.

The name Victoria means "One who conquers, who is victorious." I don't know how many of you know that Vicki did in fact defeat cancer once before, many years ago, when survival was far less common than it is now. Unfortunately this time things didn't happen the same way. Yet Vicki has gone to enter into that greater victory that her Lord Jesus has won on her behalf and on ours. Vicki I know would want me to ask you today: make sure that you take your place in His victory, by following in His footsteps, as she did. Then there will be all the greater rejoicing when we meet and celebrate together in Heaven's great party.

"And so these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love."

A last thought. Vicki's passing has left a great hole in our church. It was so strange to be in church today and look around and not see Vicki. I could picture her so clearly, sitting where she used to sit, talking and sharing with others, immaculately turned out as ever, smiling that lovely smile. But it's not only in that way that we miss her. She did so much to help and support us, to encourage us and befriend us. Who will take on those roles now? Perhaps the best way of all to remember Vicki is to live our own lives by the values she exemplified: to love God with all our hearts, and our neighbours as ourselves.

"Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master!"

God bless you, Vicki. Colin x

Saturday 2 August 2014

Buried treasure...

Jesus said, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field -- and to get the treasure, too!" Matthew 13:44

Two pirates met after many years at sea. One seemed none the worse for his many adventures, but the other had a wooden leg, a hook instead of a hand, and an eye-patch.

"Whatever happened to your leg mate?" the first pirate asked. "Arrrr, well you see, we were in this sea battle. Along comes a cannonball and takes me leg clean off. Luckily we got a great ship's surgeon and he kitted me out wi this peg-leg, good as new!"

"All right then, but what about your hand? How'd you get that hook?"  "Ah-harrr! We were in a fight in a tavern, along comes a sailor with a cutlass and hacks me hand clean off! Lucky again there, the surgeon gave me this hook and pretty good it is too!"

"Well, what about your eye then, me hearty?" Arrr-ha-harr! We were sailing along as sweet as you please, when along comes a seagull and poops right in me eye!"

"Come on mate, a bit of seagull poop wouldn't take your eye out!" "Arrrr, but you see, I wasn't used to me hook yet..."

Why have a pirate joke when talking about the Gospel? What has last Sunday's reading got to do with pirates? Well of course it's because pirates hunt for buried treasure. In his parable, Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like treasure buried in a field. One day someone discovered it there, and was so keen to get the treasure that he sold everything he had to buy the field. 

What does this tell us about the kingdom? That the greatest treasure we can find is to know God and enjoy his love. And it tells us what we need to find that treasure trove too… We need three things to find it, mostly beginning with "M." So all aboard me hearties, let's go in search of hidden treasure!

Motivation. A few years ago a hoard of exquisite Saxon jewellery was found near where I used to live in Walsall. Remember the Staffordshire Hoard? The guy who found  didn't just stumble across it by accident! No, he went searching regularly with his metal detector and finally came across something worth all those hours. In the same way we ought to be motivated to find out what life is all about, what is our destiny, is there a God, what happens after we die – all the big questions of the kingdom. Because God says, "You will seek me, and you will find me, if you seek with all your heart." Why should God share His Kingdom with people who are not really bothered? Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean had a special compass that showed him what direction to find his heart's desire – the treasure.

Map: Of course all pirates have a map to tell them where to look on that desert island. Our map is God's word. It may be that we hear it from somebody who tells us how to draw closer to God. It may be that we tell somebody else about the treasure we have found. These are important parts of sharing God's word as we live it. But in the end it goes back to the Bible. Here it is that we find all we know about God's promises, His provision for our salvation, His forgiveness and His amazing love. The Bible is God's Map for our treasure trove.

X Marks the Spot: For Christians we want to draw the X like this: +. Because the Cross of Jesus shows us where that treasure is to be found. It is when we come to the Cross that we receive God's forgiveness, that we are reconciled to Him, that we enter His presence and become inheritors of eternal life. If we don't come to the Cross but try to get the treasure in some other place, we will come home empty handed – because the Cross marks the place where that treasure is to be found.

But interestingly we also need an X to mark where we are. When I went to Finland this summer there were maps put up in public places to show the way round. Unfortunately in one of them somebody had removed the sticker which showed "Olet tässä" - you are here. Without knowing where you are, the map is meaningless! In the same way, we must be honest with God about where we are if we are to receive His treasure. If we pretend that we are holy enough already, that we are doing God a favour by coming to Him, that we have somehow earned His love by our own efforts, we are not being honest. Because the Cross says that we all stand in need of mercy and forgiveness, that we are far from Him and that we can't draw near without God's help.

Conclusion: But that X also says something else – that however desperately we need God's mercy and help, He is even more willing to give it – so willing He even gave Himself for us on the Cross. Because this is one of those strange parables that we can take in two ways. Yes it is saying that God should be our treasure, the one who is worth so much to us that we would gladly lay down all that we have and our to have Him in our lives. But surely it is also saying that we are His treasure. Isn't He the one who in Jesus came to seek for us, and sought with all His heart: and when He found us, He gave everything to have us, just as the man in the story gave all he had to but the field: He gave His everything on the Cross, even laying down His own life so that we could be His. So brothers and sisters, we are His treasure. We are of infinite worth in His sight. Let's let His infinite love for us motivate us to seek to love Him with all our heart.

Sunday 29 June 2014

One Year On…

I can hardly believe it's only a year since my induction service, on 10 July 2013! It's partly because so much has happened in that time – it feels as though Horton, Wraysbury and the Gibsons have been through a lot together already! But it's also because you have so taken Elisa and myself to your hearts that we feel like old friends already. So I'm afraid my excuses - "Sorry, I didn't know, I'm new" – are wearing a bit thin now…

For me, two particular highlights just recently have been the Village Fair and the Confirmation Course. I never expected a smallish community like ours to be able to put on such a spectacular show: so many people, such brilliant stalls and events, that amazing Noah's Ark, and a fantastic atmosphere. Well done to our members from both Wraysbury and Horton who organised our own stalls! You refreshed many people and gave away lots of lovely Bible sticker books.

The Confirmation Course was a small group of seven people but we all got such a lot from it! We laughed and sometimes cried together and learned so much from each other's knowledge of God, gained through life experiences. It's so exciting to see the Christian faith come alive for people as we go deeper with God together and receive afresh of His love. Is anyone up for another course? Please let me know and we'll see what we can do. The confirmation will take place On Sunday 12 October at St Mary's Church Langley at 6.00pm. Please support our confirmation candidates in prayer and come along on the day if you can.

I wonder what God has got in store for us in the next twelve months? I bet it's going to be exciting!

Mission Action Planning Questionnaire

We have been talking on and off about how to do our Mission Action Plan (MAP). Now is the time to start with Stage One! There is no point whatsoever in writing an MAP that none of us wants, so we are beginning with the churches' views.  Please fill in the MAP questionnaire now available in both churches and let us know what you think: what are our strengths and weaknesses? What are your hopes for our future? Who do we need to reach to achieve them?

We would prefer short bullet points as it makes it easier to analyse your points of view. But if you think you can only say what is really on your heart with an essay, feel free.  We've left your name optional in case there are things you would prefer to say anonymously, but it could be helpful to us if you do in fact choose to add your name. If you find it easier to form your views by talking them over with another member of church, you're very welcome to do so. It's not an exam!

The deadline for returning your questionnaires is Sunday 20 July. Please return your questionnaires to Anne Munday or Gina Jefcoate (St Andrew's) or to Angela Inger or Carolyn Wheeler (St Michael's).

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Running on Empty?

Last Sunday was the Day of Pentecost, celebrating the time when the Holy Spirit came explosively into the lives of Jesus' Disciples and gave birth to the infant church. Here's an article I wrote up about Pentecost for our June Newsletter...

Can we really know God?  Can it possible for us mere human beings to know his Presence with us? Or even living inside us?

According to Christian spirituality the answer is Yes.  Jesus promised before he went to the cross and rose again that He would send the Holy Spirit to be with us for ever.  By his death and resurrection he made a bridge between us and God. That means we can draw near to God.  

But this bridge carries two-way traffic! If we can cross the bridge to come to God, God can also cross over to us.  And this is what he did when sent the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

That's why Pentecost is sometimes called the birthday of the church.  When the Spirit comes, the Christian faith comes alive!  No longer is God just an absent Father, Creator of all perhaps, but a million miles out of our league.  Because his Spirit lives in us, now he is our Father, and we are his beloved children.  No longer is Jesus just a wonderful person from the distant past.  Because his Spirit lives in us, he is now our Saviour and our friend.

So it's good news that God promises the Holy Spirit to everyone who believes in Jesus his son.  We were never meant to live the Christian life on an empty tank, just going through the motions. We need the fuel of the Holy Spirit to get us out on the highway!

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Holmes and Watson consider their most baffling case...

Thanks everyone who said nice things about the Holmes and Watson sketch on at the New Life service in At Andrew's on Sunday. Here's the script if you want to follow the great detective's investigations again. If you want to check out more evidence for the resurrection, you could have a look at Who moved the stone? by Frank Morrison, The case against Christ (some statements for the defence) by John Young, or just Google evidence for the resurrection.

Well Holmes I don't like this case one little bit

H'm? What's that?

This investigation! The Alpha police have asked us to find out if somebody rose from the dead! It's absurd! What are they up to?

I don't see what's so absurd about it, Watson.

O come now, Holmes! You can't prove that somebody rose from the dead, can you? I mean, it just doesn't happen, does it? You don't need to be a medical man like me to know that. I'm sure this Jesus of Nazareth was a very special person but – rising from the dead? Come off it!

Just take us through the facts. What do we already know about him, Watson?

Well… We know that he lived. I checked it all out with that nice Nicky Gumbel. Loads of evidence, loads of eye-witnesses, no doubt about it whatsoever.

Very good Watson.

And we know that He was crucified. All took place in public, hundreds of people there, the Roman governor, the chief priests, King Herod, everyone who was anyone involved in it…

Elementary my dear Watson

So that's it – end of story. No-one comes down from one of those Roman crosses alive. This whole case is just a sick joke if you ask me.

Remember Watson, when all other possibilities have been eliminated, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. So let's go through all the possibilities and see if any can be eliminated.

Right… Well, suppose Jesus didn't really die on that cross after all. Supposed he just fainted, from the shock and the pain. They put him in a nice cool tomb - after a few hours he comes round - he comes out of the tomb and - hey presto!

You're a medical man, what do you think?

Absolutely impossible Holmes! Crucifixion rips you to pieces! There's no record of anyone else surviving it. They even stabbed him to make sure he was dead. And if he did come round in the tomb, there's no way he'd be able roll back the stone that covered it. Have you seen those things? They weigh tons! And he'd be so battered there'd be no way whatsoever that anyone who saw him could imagine for one second that he had just conquered death!

Excellent Watson. Consider that possibility eliminated. Any other suggestions?

H'm. Well, suppose his followers went a bit hysterical. They were into all this faith malarkey, so they'd believe anything. They so didn't want to think he was dead, so they… hallucinated. Yes, that's it! They couldn't accept their great leader was dead! They wanted to believe he was alive so badly that they made themselves see him!

Interesting… Have you come across cases like this before Watson? In your medical career? Mass Psychosis? A whole lot of mad people who all see the same thing at the same time?

Well… No. Never.

In fact all the evidence shows that his followers didn't expect him to come back. The first visitors to his tomb brought spices for his burial – they believed there was a dead body in there. Some of them weren't even sure they wanted him back. They'd betrayed him, run away in his hour of need… Their morale was broken.

All right then Holmes, so that one doesn't hold water either. But what about this? Perfectly simple. Somebody stole his body – and that's how the story got about that Jesus is alive.

And just who would that be, Watson? Who could have stolen the body of Jesus?

His followers of course. They announce Jesus has risen from the dead, they hide his body so nobody can contradict them, then they get to start a new religion and pull in lots of believers, influence, fame…

Sometimes I despair. Haven't you followed any of this case at all, Watson? Don't you know what happened to those followers? They risked their lives for their beliefs. Many of them were killed for their faith in Jesus. The only reason they were ready to lay down their lives for Jesus was because they believed he had conquered death. How could they possibly do that if they knew they'd faked it all themselves?

Well it needn't have been them, need it? It could have been the priests, or the Romans… That's it! I bet they were worried that the grave of Jesus would get turned into a shrine. Lots of people would come and make a martyr of him – there'd be so much trouble they had to stop it! So they just took the body!

Think, man, think! What's the one thing worse than having a dead Jesus turned into a martyr? It's having a living Jesus who's risen from the dead! If you are one of Jesus' enemies, and you've got his body, and you've got rumours flying around that he's come back, what's the first thing you're going to do? You're going to get his body out, aren't you? "Look, here he is, here's your Jesus! Doesn't look very resurrected, does he?" If they had his body, why didn't they do it? There's only one explanation. Neither the followers of Jesus nor his enemies had his body.

But Holmes, if his enemies don't have his body, and neither do his friends, then where is it?

All other possibilities have been eliminated Watson.

Great Scott! You don't mean…

Only one explanation remains. Jesus Christ… is alive.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Easter Jubilation!

Here's a picture of St Michael's Easter Garden, isn't it gorgeous?

Big thanks to my friend Colin Townsend who came round for a visit and took this photo. Bigger thanks to the hardworking people at St Michael's who created the Easter garden in the first place (those rocks took some shifting!) And biggest of all to everyone at Horton and Wraysbury who gave Elisa and me such a great first Easter with you all.

Hallelujah, the Lord is risen!

Monday 21 April 2014

Easter reflections - Jesus takes over!

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday. We saw Jesus riding into Jerusalem and taking over the Holy City: He's the Son of David, the King. 

Then we saw him striding into the Temple, chucking out all the stuff He didn't like. He's taking over - He's the great high priest. He sits down in the priests' seat and takes over their authority to teach the people.

Then on Good Friday He comes to the place of judgment, sin and condemnation. But he's come to take over there too - to destroy sin and make an end of our condemnation. 

And on Easter Sunday we see Him bursting from the tomb. He has entered the darkness of death – and taken over! He's not having it any more! He is saying to death, "Your reign is over! I may let you exist a bit longer, but you are not in charge any more. I'm the boss here now."

So here are four reasons to be joyful this Easter Sunday, now that Jesus has taken over:

·        Death is not the end. We are no longer lost in an aimless wandering. Our life is no longer random. We are on a journey to the heart of God, that's our destiny, and because of Easter Sunday, nothing whatsoever, not even death, is going to stand in our way. So we can live lives of passion, commitment, purpose. Eternal life starts now and changes us now in the presence of the Risen One! So be joyful.

·        You can get through any darkness – consider Mary. The risen Jesus knows you personally and says your name as He said hers. I don't know what you are going through… I know all this talk about joy will seem really glib to many people  – "Colin, how dare you tell me that my sorrows are so easily left behind… You have no idea what I have to bear right now." All I can say is – the Cross. Jesus gave it everything. This is not a cheap victory. But it is still a great victory. So be joyful.

·        You can face any challenge – consider the disciples. They are given a job: "Be my witnesses." It's not an easy job, lots of people aren't going to like it. But they can do it because Jesus is with them! Life is an adventure with the risen Lord. So be joyful.

·         You will have peace. The first words of the risen Jesus in next bit of John – "peace be with you." So be joyful.

Wishing everyone a joyful Easter Season, 

Reflection for Easter Saturday - the Burial of Jesus

It's very hard to talk about the burial of Jesus - you hardly hear it preached about. The very nature of the event means that in some ways there's nothing to be said. The situation is beyond all words. The worst has happened and nothing we can do or say will ever be able to retrieve it.

Those who have been bereaved will recognise the appalling numbness that sets in. All the sorrow we have spent, every tear wrung out of us, has changed nothing. The terrible fact is still there, the unimaginable disaster has happened, the person who meant the world to us has gone. Other people don't know what to say to us - what words could possibly be adequate? We speak of the silence of the grave. Our hollow words drop into it and vanish without trace.

And yet this very finality reflects the vital importance of Jesus' burial. So important is it that the manner of it was prophesied 600 years beforehand by Isaiah, who said the Messiah's body would be placed in a rich man's tomb. God wasn't play acting when Jesus died for us. If there had been no space between the cross and the resurrection it would have trivialised the sacrifice of Jesus. He didn't bounce back like a jack-in-the-box. What He came back from was death in its full enormity and finality. 

The silence of the tomb would also have had an unmistakable resonance for Jewish readers of the Gospel, because of course Jesus lay in the tomb during Shabbat - Saturday, the Sabbath. This was the day when the whole of Israel went quiet, when no work was done, when no-one was about because no journey over 1,000 paces was permitted. The Jews did this because they believed that God created the world in 6 days, then rested on the seventh. It was part of a primordial pattern of the way things are, a music beating in time with the rhythm of God and his creation.

There are some remarkable links between the creation story and the last week of Jesus' life. On the first day of the week, God begins creation. On the first day of His last week - Palm Sunday - Jesus enters Jerusalem. On days two to five, according to Genesis, God continues to work, creating and then populating his creation. In the same way Jesus continues His ministry of teaching and healing in the Temple, the place that spoke most powerfully to the covenant people of God's presence on earth. On the sixth day God completes his work by creating the first Adam, the expression of his love, hope and purpose. But on His sixth day, the second Adam, Jesus, who as Son of Man is the fullest expression of God's hopes for humanity, is cut off, abandoned and destroyed. 

Finally, on the seventh day, the Sabbath, God rests from the creation. And Jesus too spends the holiest Shabbat in the calendar resting in the stillness of the tomb. His rest is not from the work of creating the world, but from the work of redeeming it. The implication is clear: it is a restatement of the primordial rhythm of work and rest. The God who created everything rested from his labours on the seventh day. the Lord who redeems everything rested from his dreadful labours on the seventh day. The world has been re-created, nothing less, through what Jesus has done.

Old Testament scholars will recall though that there are two traditions about the Shabbat rest in Scripture. The Exodus 20 version goes back to Genesis and the pattern of creation work and rest, but the Deuteronomy 5 version goes back to Exodus. It tells us that the reason for Shabbat rest is because you were once slaves in Egypt, but now you rest to demonstrate that you are no longer under slavery. The Shabbat resting of Jesus in the tomb shows us that our slavery to sin is over. Its power is broken and its hold on us has been destroyed.

The book of Hebrews teaches in chapter 4 that this Sabbath rest is something that all Christians enter into by virtue of being in Christ. True Sabbath rest is therefore found in Christ, through His death and burial, not in outward observances. The great acts of salvation which Jesus carried out for us are at work in every Christian because we belong to Him. We are probably used to thinking about the crucifixion in this way - "We have been crucified with Christ" says Galatians - and about the resurrection - "We have been raised with Him" says Ephesians. But it also appears that we should consider ourselves dead and buried with Him:
  • Romans 6:3-4 says: Don't you know that all of you who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death.
  • Colossians 3:3 says: For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
  • Romans 6 again: Count yourselves therefore dead to sin, but alive to God.
It all sounds a bit grim, doesn't it? We're supposed to be the walking dead! But there is an up side.
  • A dead person can no longer be condemned or punished. They have already paid the ultimate price. We too, as those who have died with Christ, are no longer under any condemnation.
  • A dead person no longer has worries about how they look or what people think of them. If we die with Christ we are freed from the anxieties brought on by our insecure egos.
  • A dead person has nothing left to lose because his possessions no longer mean anything to him. If we have died with Christ then we have surrendered everything into His hands. Nothing can hold us back. We are free.
  • A dead person is at peace, no longer troubled by the world.
But the best part of all in being dead with Christ is that through it we are alive to God! We can drink in His presence and His love as never before! All the things that stood between us have been done away with - they've been put to death!

The trouble is, if you're like me, you know you're supposed to be dead, but you're still kicking! Perhaps it would help us to spend some more time thinking of Jesus, and resting with Him in His quiet tomb. Let's do that for a few minutes today.

Friday 18 April 2014

What do we make of Jesus?

Good Friday reflection at St Michael's Horton today.

What do we make of Jesus on this Good Friday? Let's stand with 3 people who had to make up their minds about him on that first Good Friday: Caiaphas the Chief Priest, Pontius Pilate the Roman Governor, and Herod King of Galilee…

Caiaphas says:

What am I to make of you Jesus? You are a threat! You come marching into my city as if you own the place! Saying you're David's Son – It was David's Son Solomon who founded my Temple! So sure enough, you march into my Temple too. You throw out the money changers – that's my livelihood you are messing with there. You sit down and teach the people – teaching them is our job, not yours! You couldn't make it plainer that you are taking over – you even say it's "Your Father's House." Well I'm telling you it's ours, we're in charge here. And then you insult us, call us hypocrites, in front of everybody. Well, what did you expect? You're a threat! I have no choice but to get rid of you.

So what about us?

What do we make of Jesus? Are we threatened when he asserts his sovereignty? To be our Master and Lord? To be our judge? To take charge of our lives? To demand that we take up our cross? Is Jesus a threat to us?

Pilate says:

What am I to make of you Jesus? You are an embarrassment! Why don't you realise what an impossible situation you've put me in? I don't want to kill you – my wife had a terrible dream about you, and I have a horrible suspicion in my heart that you might just be who you say you are. But I have so many people to please. I can't upset the priests – without their influence Jerusalem would be ungovernable. I can't risk the crowds rioting either – they all seem to want you for their King – or do they? And I certainly can't upset my bosses in Rome. If law and order break down here, that's the end of my career. Which lot do I please? You are an embarrassment Jesus!

So what about us?

What do we make of Jesus? Is he an embarrassment? Would we sooner our friends didn't know we follow him? Will they think I'm a fool? Or weak, needing a crutch? Are we caught between one world, where Jesus reigns, and another? Wanting to follow, but frightened to be seen to follow? Keep him somewhere safe! Lock him up in church all week where no-one can see and just fetch him out on Sundays. Is Jesus an embarrassment to us?

Herod says:

What am I to make of you Jesus? I expected some entertainment from you. I've heard about your miracles – so when it came down to it, why won't you do one for me? You could at least have had a cosy theological chat with me, like the ones I had with your cousin John – pity about him. Then again, come to think of it, he was a bit on the dull side. But you – you won't even say anything! Where's your amazing teaching suddenly got to? Well I'm bored. As far as I am concerned Pilate and the priests can do what they like with you.

So what about us?

What do we make of Jesus? Is he just there for our entertainment? To make us feel better when the enormous questions about life, death and eternity come too close for comfort? Have we got used to him, picking out the bits we like and ignoring the inconvenient bits? Is he just one more experience among many - and after a bit we move on to the next experience? What about our worship – is he at the centre? Or are we just entertaining ourselves with the hymn tunes we like, the preacher who says what we want to hear, the people who we feel are our sort? Is Jesus really just there for our entertainment?

But the central person, as ever in the Gospel story, is Jesus.

What do you make of us, Lord Jesus?

As you stand there quietly, head bowed, we desperately try to fill the silence with our volume of empty words: "Don't threaten my way of life! Don't challenge me! Don't embarrass me in front of my friends! Don't ask me to take up my cross! Don't bore me! Gave me a safe, comfortable easy life…"

And I wonder as our words come rattling out before you, who is judging who? Our words tumble fruitless into the vast serenity of your silence. They seem so petty before your nobility, your compassion, your patient suffering, your amazing gift of love.

What do you make of us, Lord Jesus?

Thursday 10 April 2014

We had a great time!

Wraysbury Beavers came round to St Andrew's last week and we had a lot of fun together. What a lively, thoughtful, intelligent and curious bunch they are. Parents, you should be very proud of them!

They wanted to investigate the church, learn about the Easter story, find out what I do as a vicar and think about a story featuring good and bad for their faith badge - a tall order for just one hour, but we managed it. We had a good look around the church. We thought about sad things I do, like when someone we care about dies, and happy things too, like weddings and christenings...

Just like that... 

We told the Easter story by thinking about what we use crosses for. I got asked some really deep questions, like "just how did Jesus rise from the dead?" And we sang a song about Easter together, with actions! 

Our God is a Great Big God - and He holds us in his hands

That was fun! Finally we needed a story where we could ask what people did that was good, and what they did that was bad, so we had the parable of the Good Shrekmaritan:

So there was this OGRE...

I hope that helped with your faith badges, Beavers, and you are welcome back any time!

All photos used with parental consent in accordance with Child Protection Guidelines