Category Archives: Inspirational

Words on the Word – Sunday 27th September

Words on the Word for Sunday 27th September

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 18: 1-4, 25-32
Psalm 25: 1-9
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

Ezekiel 18
What is the thought behind the proverb:
“The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge”?
It is a proverb about consequences. It surprises us.
If you have ever eaten sour grapes then you know full well that you will be dancing about with your mouth all tightened up like you’ve just eaten, well, sour grapes!
You certainly wouldn’t expect your CHILDREN to feel the effects of your action.
Ezekiel is challenging the people about their belief that this proverb applies to sin. The people of Israel were assuming that any punishments coming their way were the result of the sins of their ancestors.
This comes dangerously close to a current incorrect belief in “original sin” – which perpetuates the lie that we are all born sinners because of the sins of previous generations, back to Adam and Eve. Are we, really?
God speaks to us all through Ezekiel: “It is only the person who sins that shall die” – in other words your sins are your own, and belong to no-one else.
That is then where the Gospel of Jesus comes in – it is for OUR sins that Jesus died, and those sins are only those for which we are directly responsible.
We can look at passages like this and ask, “Does God really promise death to those who sin?”
A helpful way to explore this question might be to unpack what we mean by “death” – those who sin are indeed dead, for they do not have the true fulness of life that comes from knowing Christ.
If we sin (“commit iniquity”) then we condemn ourselves to a living death, a going-through-the-motions existence which could never in all honesty be described as life in all its fulness.
When the righteous turn from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it.
When the wicked turn away from their wickedness and do what is right they shall save their life.
Is this unfair?
Listen, says God, Repent and turn from your transgressions, and get yourself a new heart and a new spirit!
I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live!
That word “turn” is what we mean when we say “repent” of course.
This is a call to confession and repentance, to turning from sin / wickedness/ iniquity.
This is a call to righteousness.
This is a call to life.

Psalm 25
There is a stumbling sort of rhythm through this Psalm, with a rather disjointed structure of thought from verse to verse.
It is not surprising, therefore, to find that this Psalm is another Acrostic Poem, where each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet (or strictly, the Aleph-Bet!)
Nevertheless, despite the restrictions that such literary devices impose, there is a coherence within this Psalm which makes its study worthwhile.
We begin with the entreaty of the Psalmist’s prayer, arms raised and head bowed as he prays aloud.
The Psalmist asks God for help against the treachery of his enemies, and this is a request borne out of deep trust in God.
Next we have a section in which the Psalmist tells God his heart’s desires – there are three at least:
1) Show me your ways
2) Teach me your paths
3) Lead me in your truth
All of which tell of the Psalmist’s love of God’s Law, a theme which we have seen many times.
The next section is fascinating, as the Psalmist begs God to remember one thing but not another!
Remember your compassionate and loving character, O God, but do not remember my sins and my transgressions! Remember me simply because you are loving and good!
The Psalm rounds off in this excerpt with a meditation on the character of God.
Which of these four sections would fit most naturally into your own prayers?

Philippians 2
One camping holiday I attended an evening prayer meeting on the site (it was a Christian-run campsite), trying to keep a low profile.
In the course of the conversations, the inevitable “What do you do for a living?” came out and I had to admit to being a Methodist Minister!
Immediately I was invited to lead the following morning’s Bible Study, so with no time for preparation, this was the passage I chose.
What Bible passage would you have chosen in similar circumstances?
I had strong memories of course of having studied this letter in great depth at College, and had been in the Advanced Greek class where we studied this passage in the original language too.
Yet perhaps the memory which served me longest was my love, since childhood, of the hymn “At the name of Jesus”, whose tune “CAMBERWELL” by John Michael Brierley quickly became a favourite of mine to play on the piano.
It was a passage I selected for my Local Preachers Admission Service, and a passage I had also previously studied with a Wesley Guild meeting. I was not coming at this passage completely cold, at least.
It is possible to go very deep in one’s study of these few verses – indeed I have seen in the Bible Commentaries section of St John’s Durham Theological Library, where there is a whole shelf dedicated just to commentaries on Philippians, a book which has been written just on Phil 2:6-11, so not even on all the verses in this reading!
For those who love a good bit of theological jargon, we talk about “Kenosis” in this passage – a word that means “emptying” – the emptying by Christ of all his glory and status until he becomes as empty as emptiness itself: a dead servant hanging on a cross.
Verses 6 to 11 in Chapter 2 were not written by Paul. They come from an ancient Christian hymn we call The Song Of Christ. Paul is simply saying, in his usual rather elaborate way, “Be like Christ”.
Let the same mind be in in you that was in Christ Jesus. “Think like Christ”
It is God who is at work in you. “Live like Christ”.

Matthew 21
The question about Jesus’ authority features in all the Synoptic Gospels. Each Gospel writer explores the sense in which Jesus had an authority which was completely new.
It was not an authority that had been conferred upon him by human action. It was not an authority that had been earned through years of education or training. It was an authority which just ‘was’. It was as unfathomable as it was unquestionable.
Not that people didn’t challenge Jesus’ authority. The Chief Priests and Elders find themselves trapped by their own question as Jesus bounces it back in reference to John the Baptist.
What is most extraordinary is that Jesus’ authority comes from his attitude of Servant-leader, the likes of course were unknown before, but which set the pattern for all Christ’s disciples to come.
Jesus does not ask us to claim any authority in earthly terms, but only ‘to do the will of my Father who sent me’. That too is our calling.
The parable of the two sons, which follows, is an interesting read. To use Matthew Henry’s phrasing, we have one son who “proves better than he promises” and the second son who “promises better than he proves”.
We can hear the Chief Priests and Elders of the Law, still smarting from their earlier rebuttal about the question of Jesus’ authority, being forced to admit, through gritted teeth, “the first” – effectively killing themselves with their own words since they realise they have been like the second brother.
Which is better for God – the oafish loudmouth who repents and then does Kingdom work, or the pious pew-filler who is all talk and potential, but never gets round to practicalities?
By his final remark, Jesus then skilfully connects the parable with the original question about the work of John the Baptist.
It’s brilliant.

Grace and peace,
Stephen

Words on the Word – Sunday 20th September

The Lectionary Readings for today:
Exodus 16:2-15
Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalms 105 and 145
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

These readings can be found together online.

The Outrageous Gospel of Grace

In 1997 Philip Yancey published the now classic book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?
If you’ve never read it, buy a copy now. It is filled with story after story exploring examples of grace that catch people completely off their guard. One of the most powerfully moving books on grace ever written. You’re goin’ to need a bigger box of tissues…

Grace is the story that can never be told too often. Grace is the treasure that needs to be seen in churches far more than it is. Grace is the character that demonstrates the transformation we receive when we become Christians, and shows others what God is like. Grace is amazing, radical, outrageous. It flies in the face of the way the rest of the world works. Grace does not use language like “deserves”, “earns”, “worth”, “merit” or even “expected”. Grace is wasteful, prodigal, unconditional, unquestioning.

I want to start today by looking at the Parable of Jonah. What was the truth being conveyed by this story? The truth is, simply, that God is gracious, merciful and slow to anger. The parable provides a helpful and fun way to understand this deeper truth. Jonah is absolutely furious that God desires to forgive Nineveh. Jonah doesn’t want them to repent and be forgiven, he wants them to get the punishment he feels they deserve. The Jews hated the people of Nineveh (see Nahum 2). But God shows that ‘the punishment they deserve’ is precisely what is going to be erased by grace. Jonah’s fierce objection is represented by his going in the opposite direction and by his constant complaining. His sermon is probably the worst ever preached: “In forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!” – that’s the whole sermon, yet God uses it mightily to convict the people of Nineveh to repent, and they are forgiven after all.

Is there grace in the story of the Exodus? Of course! In this week’s passage we hear more complaining, whining and moaning. The whole congregation of Israelites tries to make the case that they were better off as slaves in Egypt, where at least they had food; indeed, they claim that they would have been better off dying in Egypt than wasting away here in the wilderness. Yet God does not punish them for their petulance. God does not send them back to Egypt in anger. God showers upon them blessings of food in the form of quail and “what-is-it?” (= “manna”), and God commands Moses to strike the rock at Horeb so that they have clean fresh water to drink. Everything in abundance. It’s all grace.

The two psalms set for today recount the story of God’s grace as a call to worship. The God who led our ancestors through the desert is the God we worship today. The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love! Give thanks to the Lord! Praise the Lord!

Paul urges the Philippians to show grace, even to their opponents. After all, he explains, this is what Christ Jesus showed to his opponents. Father, forgive them. So live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Finally, then, we open our gospel reading to find an example of grace so shocking that it continues to anger Christians today. Even church folk say, “It’s not fair!” but this parable, like those in Luke 15, opens up our eyes to the possibilities of God’s grace far exceeding our assumptions of rewards in proportion to effort. Everyone receives what they were promised when they were hired – is that not fair? No-one receives less than the salary agreed. So think instead of the workers in the story. Think of it, if you will, like those dreadful team-picking ordeals at school, where being picked last was only out of grudging duty. Who are the labourers picked first? Why, the healthy, the young and the strong. These people represent the righteous and the ‘religious’ – yes, they get their reward. So who is picked last? Well now it is the weak, the elderly, the infirm. These people represent the ‘outcasts and sinners’. Does the owner of the vineyard treat them the same – oh yes!

What is Jesus saying in this parable? Clearly, that it matters not what ‘points’ you have accrued in your lifetime by the long list of your good works, your church service and your religious behaviour (whatever that means!) – is this becoming a laboured point? I hope so! Whether you have been a Christian all your life, or whether you turn to Christ with your dying breath like the thief on the cross, the reward is the same.

That’s grace. And it really is amazing.

WOTW – Sunday 13th September

Words On The Word this week are based on these lectionary passages:

  • Genesis 50:15-21
  • Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13
  • Romans 14:1-12
  • Matthew 18:21-35

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Year A

Genesis 50:15-21 – Does Joseph Bear A Grudge?
The story of Joseph is the longest narrative in Genesis. If you have ever taken part in the glorious production “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat” then you will probably know the story well. It bears repeating.
Joseph, the Dreamer, upsets his brothers in Canaan who sell him off to some passing Slave Traders heading for Egypt, pretending to their Father that he has been killed. They never expected to see him again – indeed, they all lived as though Joseph was no longer alive.
Meanwhile, Joseph has worked his way up, by a succession of ‘God-incidences’ to become the right-hand man of Pharaoh himself, from which position he oversees to storage of surplus grain for the approaching period of famine.
When the famine hits Canaan, Joseph’s brothers come with their begging bowls to Egypt, where they do not recognise Joseph until he makes himself known to them privately. He forgives them, and says that God has brought him through it all.
Joseph is reunited with his father – itself a ‘return from the dead’ story not unlike the story of the Prodigal Son – who is finally able to die a happy man, in Egypt where his family are treated like royalty.
Nevertheless, Joseph remembers his father’s wish for his bones to be buried back home in Canaan, so he makes the trip with his brothers back to Canaan before returning to Egypt again.
It is on the way back that the brothers realise that now Jacob (Israel) is dead and buried, Joseph could well assume the Patriarch role and turn on his brothers for their earlier betrayal of him.
That is how, here in Chapter 50, we find the brothers needing to hear from Joseph whether his forgiveness offered way back in Chapter 45 was truly meant.
And of course, we hear that the forgiveness was indeed real. No grudges. All in the past.
Joseph weeps. The brothers weep. It is a beautiful, sacred moment.

Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13 – Bless The Lord O My Soul
Matt Redman’s anthemic song “10,000 Reasons” rightly continues to top the Christian music charts, not just for its use in church worship contexts, but also in personal devotions. It is a powerful song, loved by young and old alike. And it came out just too late to be included in Singing The Faith!
Its refrain “Bless The Lord, O My Soul” is taken directly from Psalm 103 (and also Psalm 104), where it is a phrase of almost ecstatic joy and worship.
Contrast, then, the exuberance of Matt Redman’s music, with the far more reflective Taizé chant of the same words.
But why the praise? What has God done that the Psalmist is so thankful to God?
The answers tumble out in the Psalmist’s words, phrase cascading upon phrase – the “10,000 Reasons” of the song’s title. Even the Taizé version sums them all up in its simple phrase “He leads me into life”.
The “life” of course is nothing less than God’s loving mercy. One commentator describes this Psalm as having through it all “A heartbeat of God’s forgiveness, mercy and love”. A heartbeat that keeps calling us back to who God is. A heartbeat that desires to beat the same way in our lives, so that others might see the Divine is us too.

Romans 14:1-12 – It’s Not All About You
Let us not use this passage to have a go at meat-eaters, vegetarians or vegans in our congregations, please! This is no proof-text for any dietary preference, of course, but rather a lesson in judging others generally.
The passage could equally be applied to those who believe their view of Scripture is better than another’s, or that their grasp of politics is more ‘right’, or those who agree with them on the chairs/pews battlefield are ‘correct’ and the others are wrong. For all such categorisations, the passage here is applicable.
Who are you to pass judgment? asks Paul. Who are you to think that the you are numbered amongst the ‘godly’ and others are not? Indeed, it is not about us at all.
“We do not live to ourselves… – we live to the Lord!”
How does this fit in with our theme this week of forgiveness?
Can you see yourself amongst those whose ears are burning at Paul’s words? Is there someone – not like you – from whom you need to seek forgiveness?

Matthew 18:21-35 – Forgive, Forgive And Forgive Again
Picture it – a new app on the iPhone App Store (other smartphones are available) called “Matthew18”. It’s great. Every time someone sins against you, you simply tap on their name and their count goes up by one. As soon as they get to 77, you don’t have to forgive them any more!
Is that really what Jesus had in mind here? Of course not! This is not a literal number, so pedantic discussions about whether the true text is “Seventy-seven times” or “Seventy times seven” become immaterial. Jesus was simply saying “over and over again”. For those who care about such things, “Seven” was in those days a number which had a sense of ‘completeness’, so “70+7” and “70×7” both meant “a completeness of completenesses” or simply “never ending”.
Forgiveness is at the very heart of what it means to be church. For if a church is to offer anything different from the world, it must reveal Christ. Where two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ Name, there is bound to be a disagreement! Therefore forgiveness is essential, and where there is forgiveness, so there is the presence of Jesus in their midst.
What do you understand by forgiveness? What, indeed, do you understand by sin?
Perhaps one understanding of forgiveness is the sense of letting go, especially of a sin against you. If someone has sinned against you, what is needed for you to let go of it? This is not saying that forgiving is the same as ignoring or forgetting – far from it; for the sake of good order, some sins (most sins?) will have consequences which must be addressed, but once dealt with, moving onwards is important in order to repair the relationship.
Why do we love to keep tabs on how people have wronged us? Why do we take pride in warming to our theme of judgment of a person by saying “And here’s another thing”? Why do we, even as Christians, continue to hold grudges, even years after an event?
Forgiveness is not about seeking power, or gaining the upper hand, it is about restoring right relationships. Indeed, forgiveness is less an act but more a process. A process that requires serious commitment. Perhaps we could translate “Seventy-seven times” as “Seven days a week”.
Forgiveness is therefore a sign of church, a sacred sign – in some churches the rite of confession and absolution is even called a sacrament.
That is why, in every church service, gathered together or dispersed online, we need to include confession, forgiveness and sharing in the peace. As God’s forgiven people, we can better worship God as the united Body of Christ.

Grace and peace,

Stephen

WOTW Sunday 6th September 2020

Lectionary Readings this week:

Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 149
Ezekiel 33: 7-11
Romans 13:8-14

Matthew 18:15-20

These can all be read online using today’s Lectionary Page.

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Exodus 12: The Passover Lamb

In terms of its significance, this passage is HUGE. The story of the Passover is the story of the escape from slavery in Egypt. It is the story of God’s faithfulness, it is the story of new beginnings, and it sets the scene for the whole New Testament. It’s huge.

In this passage we read about the death of the first born son, and the freedom from bondage which follows. Jesus claims this story for himself, especially in John’s Gospel. For John, Jesus is clearly the first born of God (the ‘only-begotten’ son of 3:16). The death of Jesus (“the first born of God”) brings escape from slavery (to sin) for God’s people. John makes a further Passover connection by making Jesus the ‘Lamb of God‘ and setting the Crucifixion on the day of the Passover, thus making Jesus the Lamb slain with the other Passover lambs.

What must die in order to bring life? In this Post-COVID Era, might even the Church be required to die that it might be born again?

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Psalm 149: A Victor’s Praise Song

What was it like to hear that the war had been won? Many in our Sutton Park Circuit can recall the end of WW2, and many more the news of Victory in the Falklands Conflict of 1982.

Was the victory in each case ascribed to God? There certainly were many joyful church services in England, with church bells ringing out their victory peals. I wonder if German or Argentine Christians ascribed their defeat to God too?

God’s people emerged from their oppression under the Egyptians (see the Exodus reading) with much thanksgiving of the kind recorded in this Psalm. “God is on our side!” was their rallying cry. They felt invincible. But then, slowly, they ascribed their fortunes less to God and more to their own strength – God became sidelined and then they suffered defeat. “God has deserted us!” they cried.

Those of a more mature faith will praise God not only when victory is being celebrated but also in the very depths of despair. Indeed, in despair, faith is the only thing which can be grasped. It is the only possible expression of hope.

Extremism is dangerous – not just for its acts of terror but also for its warped sense of doctrine. I am talking not just about Islamic extremists, but also Christian extremists. Crying “God is great!” in either English or Arabic before marching out with weapons aloft is essentially suggesting that God requires murder in order to bring about peace. Really?

Walter Brueggemann, always a worthy read, offers this thought in his reflections on this Psalm:

This ready juxtaposition of praise to YHWH and exaltation of military power is a recurring liturgical-ideological practice when a nation is at war. The purpose of such a ready juxtaposition is to legitimate military action and to identify such action with the purposes of God. This temptation is a palpable one, of course, in the Old Testament, where “church and state,” “temple and monarchy,” were so closely intertwined. In a directly derivative way, the same practice reappears in the contemporary United States, where chauvinism regularly and readily identifies national purpose with divine intention. Thus, in World War II, it was “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” In more recent U.S. military adventurism in the Mideast, it is recurringly “God Bless America,” a compelling echo of Israel’s ancient and theo-military claim.

Brueggemann, Walter. Psalms (New Cambridge Bible Commentary) (p. 617). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Do we also tend to confuse national purpose with divine intervention? If not on a national scale, do we not tend to muddy the waters between our choices and “God’s plan for my life”? How can we explore the interface between the two with integrity?

Yet perhaps we began all this discussion on completely the wrong foot. Reading this Psalm through Christian eyes, rather than through the eyes of God’s post-Exodus people, maybe we misunderstood the very basic word ‘victory’. For surely fighting against ‘flesh and blood’ is not what we are about any more. Just read Ephesians 6. Maybe the only context for which we should be reflecting on ‘flesh’ and ‘blood’ is in the context of Holy Communion, where our meal together represents the flesh (bread) and blood (wine) of Christ, the living body, the Church.

Maybe instead, the real meaning of ‘victory’ is actually ‘salvation’. Maybe, after all, the victory is indeed ours in Jesus Christ. When we re-read this Psalm with a praise song in our mouth because we are victorious over sin and death through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – then we take this Psalm to a whole new level. Even the double-edged sword of Psalm 149:6 is actually a reference to the Word of God.

To God be the glory, great things he has done!
So loved he the world that he gave us his Son,
Who yielded his life in atonement for sin,
Who opened the life-gate that all may go in:

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son;
And give him the glory—great things he has done!

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
To every believer the promise of God!
And every offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives:
Chorus

Great things he has taught us, great things he has done,
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
But purer, and higher, and greater will be
Our wonder, our rapture, when Jesus we see:
Chorus

Frances Jane van Alstyne (Fanny Crosby) (1820–1915) Public domain text

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Ezekiel 33: The Prophet Must Call For Repentance

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you” my mother used to call after us as we rushed off on yet another ill-advised scheme. Another favourite was the paradoxical “If you break a leg don’t come running to me!”

“You proceed at your own risk” warn the stark signs by the weather-worn coastal footpaths. In other words, don’t sue us. OK. We get it.

Stay safe! has become the new sign-off in emails. The risk of COVID-19 transmission is real and we have had to rely on experts to help us reduce the risk of contagion as much as practically possible. We are all better off because of the advice heeded.

In other areas I wonder if we are increasingly risk-averse. Of course we want to be safe and to keep our loved ones from unnecessary danger, but to my mind a few grazed knees and the occasional bloodied nose are better teachers of risk for children than the cushioned asphalt and soft bark in today’s playgrounds. Indeed, it has been demonstrated that men, in particular, need a certain level of risk to be stimulated – if one risk is minimised (for example the forced use of seatbelts in a car) then they will look for ways of increasing risk elsewhere (for example by driving faster). And who doesn’t love the thrill of the chase in the latest James Bond movie?

We are hopeless about calculating relative probabilities of risk anyway – we may be up in arms about the perceived risk of a new mobile phone mast near our home, while blissfully carrying on smoking or sunbathing – each carrying far higher risks than the most powerful mobile phone mast.

Can this be taken too far? Warnings are still important of course. In this passage we find Ezekiel being summoned to warn the people of God or face God’s wrath himself. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Ezekiel warns the people, but it does no good. God’s people chose to ignore the warnings and so ended up taking full responsibility for what followed.

And that, my friends, is how the story of the Exile begins.

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Romans 13: Love Is The Fulfilling Of The Law

Let’s get this straight. Again. Being a Christian does not mean “Keeping the 10 Commandments”. Paul had plenty to say against that sort of teaching (known as “legalism”). Being a Christian is following Jesus into fullness of life, a life he named as “The Kingdom of God” – a life of justice, joy, peace and love. This is the passage in Romans which explains why Love has effectively abolished the 10 Commandments.

Love, says Paul, is what you are supposed to be doing. It’s not some wishy-washy gooey feeling, it’s meant to be hard work. Love is patient, kind – all of that – yet it remains a conscious choice and one which we must cultivate. When we love, says Paul, that’s when we are fulfilling the Law. In fact, “Love God, Love your neighbour” is absolutely the same as your prohibitions and exhortations of the Commandments of Moses. For if you loved God, you wouldn’t set up false images or profane God’s name. If you truly loved your neighbour, you wouldn’t murder them, steal from them or sleep with them outside marriage. Love does no wrong, so love is the Law of God.

It’s as clear as day is from night, urges Paul. Live in the day, live in the light.

Wake up, live, and love.

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Matthew 18: Unity Within The Church

Every sermon I’ve heard on this passage, and probably every sermon I have preached too, has started with the phrase “If another member of the church sins against you”. It struck me this week that perhaps we have been getting it wrong all the time.

You see, it’s so easy to define the church from our position. To start with the premise that we are “in” and then to go on to justify our in-ness and then define what “others” have to do in order to be counted as “in” as well. To put it bluntly, we often say, “I’m saved/redeemed/doctrinally-sound and this is what you have to do, poor you, in order that you can be too”.

The stark picture from Scripture, however, is that wherever we draw the circle around ourself and our friends, and call the circle “church”, we find Jesus not inside the circle but outside it with the “outcasts and sinners“. Let’s just get rid of the circle altogether, and remind ourselves of John Wesley’s “Four Alls”. No-one is beyond the reach of God’s love. And that, only by God’s amazing grace and mercy, even includes us.

So look at this passage again. Perhaps you’ve been attending your church for years. Now read the opening words of Jesus in this reading as though they are addressed, not to you, but to someone else. Maybe even to one of those ‘outsiders’ who has only joined the church recently. Jesus is saying to them, “Has somebody grieved your Spirit? Then speak to them and point out their fault.”

And maybe that person at fault is actually you, and it is you who are being summoned. Then, maybe, because you find it all so preposterous, they are obliged to bring others along, and eventually the whole church. If you still can’t be reconciled with them, then perhaps it is you who has to leave, not them.

Yet this passage is not about creating division but about working for unity. It is absolutely not a proof text for forcing others to change to be like us, nor even for others to force us to be like them. It is, however, a call to love. A call to forgive. A call to reconciliation.

The church that reconciles itself amongst its own members is a better beacon for God’s love than a church with any number of grand words or costly outreach programs. And there, then, gently within its midst, where the church is gathered not in the name of bruised egos but in the name of the risen Jesus, there Christ is among them.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

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Grace and peace,
Stephen

Hybrid Church

Is a Hybrid Church the new way following Lock down?  A brief report by Marion and Tom Watts following attendance at two virtual meetings organised by the Learning Network, West midlands.  Led by Deacon Kerry Scarlet, John Pedley and Geoff Bond.

Marion and I and others from Sutton Park Circuit were at two interesting and exciting virtual meetings on the mornings of Tuesday and Thursday 28 and 30 July about worshipping in a Hybrid Church.  What is a hybrid church I hear you ask?  Well very simply it is “a gathering online and in person”.  Prior to the virus lock down we met for worship in church and since lock down some of us have worshipped in virtual congregations via technology, face book etc.  A hybrid act of worship could combine the traditional worship in our buildings for those able and interested and link it to those who want to be part of worship via the use of modern technology.

Note for number geeks: Some figures from the first meeting, if every link counted on a virtual worship on average represents two people worshipping (some just one, others couples and up to families of five) then the Birmingham District Easter Day Service had well over 1,000 worshippers during the service and we have over 500 worshippers on a typical Sunday.  I have included those thoughts to let you know about surveys mentioned in our meeting.  Three separate surveys have recorded that between 24% and 27% of people in the UK are joining in a virtual act of worship on a Sunday.  Surveys prior to the virus showed 7-10% attended worship in a Christian Church on a typical Sunday.  We don’t have to be a number geek to see the potential!

I’m sure that everyone who has watched a virtual service cannot fail to be impressed by the number of different people from all ages and all backgrounds who have taken part in the leading of such services; demonstrating its potential.  The first grouping of these additional numbers applies to the younger elements of society.  It has been a breath of fresh air to be part of the Birmingham District acts of worship on Sunday mornings, the music has been to an exceptional standard, the sermons have been challenging with real Good News and the testimony supplied by the younger members of our churches has been amazing.  We would all agree that the future of the church lies with people younger than 40 and particularly those aged below 25 and it is these age ranges that have shared their faith so openly and so meaningfully.

The hybrid church is seen as worship that is available both in our re-opened buildings and also available to people’s homes by technology.  This means that our churches have the opportunity to attract those tasting the Christian Faith by technology, those who have difficulties in making it to church on many Sundays and those who want to return to the building; particularly for direct fellowship with each other.  If we are unable to sing in the building, then there will be those who may for a change want to join the services online so that they may enjoy singing along.  All of which demonstrates the wonderful potential for bringing worship into today’s world and attracting new people and others that have previously given up.  One thing that this will mean is that congregations need to brush-up on their evangelism, sharing with new people online, discussing worship styles and introducing new ways and telling people that church now offers the possibility to worship within a building or at home, all making use of exciting technology that we can share together and with our communities.

The second meeting was particularly showing interest in inclusive church particularly for people with disabilities.  Hybrid church will mean that we can be available to people who may consider themselves on the margins of society, those for whom going to a church building is fraught with difficulties, those who can’t always get the transport organised and also those for whom Sunday morning is simply too much hassle.  Some more figures: 20% of children have special needs and therefore this often means their families find it impossible to attend a church building; yet it does not necessarily mean they’re not interested in the Christian Faith.  45% of people with disabilities are over 65, how many of these might find hybrid church as their way to Jesus?  Finally, 90% of families with children, who have special needs are unchurched; surely the church should be able to respond to such families with the love of God.

The leaders of these meetings will shortly be letting us have more details about the meetings and the way forward for the Christian ‘Hybrid’ Church and we will hope to be able to share these with our circuit churches.

So, Hybrid Church!  How exciting is that, how many more people will be given the opportunity to come to Christ because God’s gift of technology is at last being put to real use, how many of our churches will be able to share the love of God with people on the fringes of faith?

With prayer, discussion in house groups, reading of the new ideas as they are born, more discussion in church meetings, with volunteers and of course the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps, as has happened so many times throughout the history of God’s people, just perhaps, this terrible time of lock down and suffering will, with God’s Grace, enable us in the Sutton Park Methodist Circuit to bring hybrid church to our community, country and, who knows to play our part in reaching out to the world the world.  With God’s help we may become a church that doesn’t sit and wait, but a church that reaches out; Alleluia amen!

Marion and Tom Watts

Peggy Hunt

On Friday, July 17th, Peggy Hunt, a dearly loved and cherished member of Kingstanding Methodist Church and of the Sutton Park Circuit, died at Good Hope Hospital, after a brief period of illness. Our prayers surround her brother Bob and the wider family, and all her friends and colleagues at this sad time of loss.

Peggy was held in deep love and respect by all who had the privilege to know her. Her faithfulness to God, her great generosity, her wisdom and patience, and most especially her love, inspired us all. Her family have been close at her side.

I will count it as one of the most wonderful privileges of my life to have been with Peggy as she travelled to be with her Lord, taking the hand of Jesus and stepping on into glory. We praise God for Peggy and all of the gifts and graces that she shared with us, as we entrust her to God’s everlasting love and goodness.

Rev Kathryn Darby.

NOTE

On 19th July a recording of Peggy, made a couple of weeks before she died, features in the evening Circuit Service.